I’m not much on labels, but in 1981, Betsy Flowers published an article in Language Arts that talked about the four different kinds of writers. Without going into too much detail, here they are:
Madman: Unleashed, uninhibited writing that’s a free-flow from brain and heart to parchment.
Architect: Planned structures of the story, plotting out the beginning, middle, and end with precision and perfection.
Carpenter: focused writing with an understanding of the bigger game plan. This writer likes to get to work and get the work done.
Judge: Critical, judgmental, stickler for details. This writer can’t sleep at night without making firm decisions about semi-colons and Oxford commas.
In most of my larger writing projects, such as Fossil Five, I’ve been the avid architect to a fault. When I get into the actual writing, though, the madman takes over and tries to push the Carpenter to the margins, giving him little to no respect in the process of writing.
Frustrating, to say the least.
This has, very unfortunately, created a 100,000-plus word document that is nowhere near finished, with scraps of solid writing that is woefully disjointed from the rest of the story line. For months, I have been trying to sew it all together like some kind of Frankenstein story, but to no avail.
That’s because it’s impossible to sew up the works of a madman and stick to the carefully constructed plan of an architect. For more times than I care to count, I have jumped eagerly into the story, determined to finish it and get it ready for publication, only to hit the brick wall of this impossible scenario and walk away screaming, pulling my hair out, and moving on to…nothing.
A few months ago, I decided to take a slightly different approach, and stick with the core manuscript and just work from chapter to chapter, adjusting the story as I went along. But even that didn’t work out, because I still felt too glued to the original architectural plan that, on paper, seems perfectly logical.
Frustration emerges, and I shut down once again.
I will never finish this book, I thought.
Fast forward to this weekend, where I started re-reading Stephen King’s 11/22/63. Great book. I recommend it highly. As I’m reading the story, I’m thinking the whole time that his planning must have been crazy tight to make this work. That led me to pull his memoir, On Writing, from the shelves and give it another read, too.
Instead of gaining great wisdom from one of my writing idols, I wanted to throw the how-to book across the room and burn my own manuscript-in-progress. I don’t think I ever felt more like a failure up until that moment.
I found my fellow creative Jodi Cleghorn on line and shared my thoughts with her. As always, she offered sage advice from halfway around the world in her Australian home.
First, she reminded me that the present is the perfect time, always, to write. And what we create in the present is exactly the way the story is meant to me.
Great advice. I absolutely swallow this medicine full-spoon.
Second, she offered me a plan that seems so simple, yet so brilliant. Stuff your pack and fill your water bottle and go on a 5-day writing hike with just the manuscript. Then, on days 6 and 7, break out the maps, check your course, and plan the next 5 (loosely).
Brilliant. By this time, I’ve thrown the spoon over my shoulder and am now taking full swigs from the medicine jar.
So today, I did just that. I let go of the maps, the outlines, the plans, and I listened to the whispers of what I’ve written on the pages, and what still needs to be written between them.
What I realized in re-reading both works by King and listening to my fellow creative Cleghorn is this:
Somewhere in the middle, between the madman and the architect, the carpenter has to be given the chance to modify the plans. Both the madman and the architect need to take a break, release the creativity to the hammer-hitting writer, and trust the process.
Yes, trust the process within the process.
The result? After writing, revising, and reconstructing for nearly 7 hours today, I now see new possibilities in the major structure of the story. It’s simpler, but deeper; more chronological, but suspenseful. It’s like nothing I ever imagined for this story, and yet it does not alter the major plan for the full story.
Jodi is exactly right. Today’s story is perfect, because it took everything I’ve done in the past few years to get to this point today to let go. To let the story and its structure emerge from the wild writings of the madman and the over-structured planning of the architect.
So tomorrow the boots go back on, I sling the backpack over my shoulder, and I fill my water bottle for another day of writing.
After all, there’s no time like the present.