I’m having to unlearn a lot of things these days, a lot of things that have served me very well in the past but are not – at this stage in my writing life – serving me well at all. The biggest of these is that I don’t need to have a structure until, well, I have a structure. (Laraine, I heard you, friend.)
I was trained as an academic writer. For years, I’ve crafted thesis statements, drawn up outlines, and worked toward a definite goal in most of my major writing projects. Before I put any paragraphs to paper, I’d have a sheet of college-ruled notebook paper with the word “Thesis” underlined at the top and followed by a perfect, textbook outline – I. A. 1. a. I knew exactly where I was going before I started.
Yet, I have no idea where this book is going. Unlike John Irving, who often talks about how he has his last line in mind when he starts to write, I am at a total loss for where I’ll end up. I find myself struggling to know where to begin most days.
I keep finding myself wondering what the chapter sequence will be, what the climax will be, where the book will end up. I am not, however, John Irving (for more reasons than just this), and so I have no idea where this will end. I don’t even know where it will begin, and that stuff in the middle . . . might as well be made of marshmallow fluff for as much structure as I have for that.
I don’t like this feeling. It was so much easier to write an academic paper because it had a frame – it even had a built-in structure: introduction, body paragraphs, conclusion. I knew my purpose in writing. This book – I’m not even sure why I’m writing it, except that i compels me. I don’t know what point I want to prove (probably because I’m not really trying to prove a point at all) and I certainly don’t know HOW to prove anything. I do know one thing though: I know how to craft a sentence. A whole bunch of sentences make up a paragraph, and a whole bunch of paragraphs make up a chapter, and a whole bunch of chapters make up a book. . . So it goes, as does all of life, one step, one day, one choice at a time.
If I’m going to write this book (and I AM going to write this book), I have to write. I have to sit each day and put words on the page. I have to let my mind filter through the tidbits of what I’ve been thinking, and I have to find out what I think. This is the best part of writing for me – to discover what I knew but didn’t know I knew.
As Shawn Smucker told me, “Whatever you do, don’t let questions about direction keep you from getting the words down.” Amen to that.
I also do not furrow my brow as well as John Irving, nor could I write his books, which I love, including his most recent one, Last Night On Twisted River.