When you spend the better part of your life not being a writer only to discover that you may actually be one, you have to play a little bit of catch-up. You have to learn the tricks of the trade and figure out how to write (or at least determine how you write). As you improve and discover, you begin to form your own ideas (usually stolen) about the act and the art of writing.
The more I think about it (and boy have I been thinking about it), I can’t help but believe that writing is one of two extremes: setting yourself free on a blank page or forcing yourself into a firm structure. It’s taking an idea, running with it and seeing where you end up or it is limiting yourself to a single thought and rigidly sticking to a plan. The potential writing styles are vast, but regardless of this and the infinite tools, tips and tactics we use, you are always somewhere between letting yourself go or boxing yourself in.
Let Yourself Go
This often tends to be the starting point for many of the writers I’ve spoken with. Inspiration strikes, you finally set to flesh out a previously captured idea or, if you are truly daring, you pop open a blank page. From there, you play. You see where your ideas, instincts and fingers take you. You might have a direction, but you really don’t have an end game or the route you hope to take in mind. Oftentimes the goal is as surprising to the writer as they hope it will be to the reader.
Box Yourself In
Much of what we learn about structured writing comes from our early experiences at school and we (or at least I) tend to resist what we learned there. Yet the more ambitious our projects become, the more value there is in putting up walls and carving a clear path ahead. Getting a simple point across is no easy feat and a complicated one can be near impossible. Knowing not only what you want to say, but how you plan to go about saying it can go a long way towards helping you realizing your ambitions.
The Best Of Both
None of this is to say that writing is black and white; in fact, the best work seems to come from finding the balance between freedom and structure. When we strike this balance, we avoid the kind of overly structured writing that comes off as predictable or boring while steering clear of excessively free prose that often feels incomprehensible or unreadable. The more I experiment, the more I write and the more I discover the limitations, the more I begin to understand the true potential of both styles.
I know this is all a bit theoretical and I welcome any feedback from real writers, but for those who are interested in how this might actually apply to actual writing, check back for a follow up look at how I’m applying these ideas to my writing.
(Thanks to Yuvi Zalkow and Erin Feldman for letting me bounce some of these ideas off of them. They will more than likely recognize a few of their ideas, if not their actual words in the passages above.)