As I’ve reported here before, it took years–decades, even–to write Blood and Loam, my first novel. As I make my first tentative starts toward writing the next novel, I have one goal in mind: make the process less painful.
To that end, I recently enrolled in a Writers’ Digest Online writing workshop on Plot and Structure. Our text is Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell, himself a former member of the Tortured Writers Club who learned how to stop suffering and just write. As a result, he now has several books to his credit.
Bell offers an organizational strategy that I’ve resisted for years because I was convinced that it would take the fun out of writing. Truth be told, writing the way I have in the past, spontaneously bleeding onto the page, hasn’t worked well. Yes, I enjoy the freeflow of ideas that bring me to places of surprise. Unfortunately, creating something cohesive out of that freeflow is quite another matter. I am reminded of the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Finishing Blood and Loam was a sheer act of will. I’d hope that the next book is at least somewhat easier, and that maybe I could get it done in, say, two years instead of twenty.
I find it odd that I resist the idea of organizing my novel. In the rest of my life, I am uber-organized. I manage multiple to-do lists, one for overall projects, and then individual lists for each project. It keeps me on track, productive, and less stressed. Yet somehow I think the rules should be different for art. Why not apply what works for me to the art itself? After all, the quality of a book is not diminished by having structure, any more than a dress is diminished by being placed on a hanger. The hanger just keeps the wrinkles away.
This morning, less than a week into the new class, I started playing with the structure of the new novel. What happened? I found myself led to a place of surprise, to a beginning for the novel that hadn’t occurred to me. Hmm, so even my outlines can allow me to express creativity? Is it possible that I can produce quality work in a reasonable period of time AND stay sane?
I don’t know yet if I’ll adopt Bell’s methods. Maybe in a few weeks I’ll get bored and go back to my old, wicked ways. But I do know this: when something I am doing doesn’t work, I’m willing to try something else. I want to write novels, hopefully books that people will want to read, and here’s a guy who knows how to do that. Time to pay attention. Time to do something different…time for some sanity.