Writing with Craft versus Chaos

One of the often repeated prescriptive pieces of writing advice is to not think as you write. Simply churn out words and worry about the results later. After all, the first draft is supposed to be messy. The rewrite is for fixing it.

I can’t work that way. It’s too chaotic.

It’s not that I don’t do what the advice is actually promoting: Let your imagination run free without limits placed on it by rational thoughts. (That idea is based on the outdated concept that the right-brain is creative and inventive, which you use to write your draft, and the left-brain is critical and logical, which you use when editing. In reality, a person’s abilities are strongest when both halves of the brain work together.)

In my writing process, I do the creative activities before I begin writing. I brainstorm and from that I create mind maps and outlines that guide me through the story. When I begin writing, I know the story and apply writing craft skills the moment I begin putting the story into words. This greatly reduces rework caused by having to rewrite because the first draft was such a mess.

That’s not to say I don’t apply creativity as I use craft skills to write. Knowing the overall story does not mean knowing the details. Discovering the details as I write is one of the addictive aspects of writing — every new discovery causes a rush — but I always know where I’m going with the story.

An example is my current project. When I began, all I knew was that at the midpoint, the human paladin and dragon paladin have a great battle, a battle that leads to the Paladins’ Peace at the end of the story. Beyond that, I had no story ideas. With the don’t think approach, I would simply have started writing and hoped that something would materialize, something probably incoherent that would have require a lot of rework to fix. Instead, I invested time in brainstorming, mind mapping, and outlining based on sound story structure principles. Once I had the story designed, I began writing.

Marvelous things have materialized as I’ve created the details, but the story’s structure has not changed. I’m pleased with the orderly progress I’m making. I would not have been pleased if what I created was a mess.

We each must find our own method that creates the results we seek. It works for some people to write as if they had just walked out the front door and will discover what the day brings. For me, forethought works best. I make plans before I walk out the front door.