Why writers, and not just stories, need structure

So I’m just entering into my Christmas vacation period and am looking ahead to a writer’s paradise. No ‘official’ work, plenty of time for the ‘would be work’ that is setting ink to paper (or fingers to keyboard.)

However I’m also realising that if I’m not careful, that the results will be underwhelming; after all it isn’t the case that all responsibility ends when the holiday begins.

 

 

Time to write will always be a limited resource for each, and every, person who gestates a manuscript.

I’m not looking for sympathy, just setting the scene; you see I haven’t come here to day to talk about work/writing (hang on isn’t that work?)/life balance. Rather about the structure needed to make anything of the time you do have.


“Come now Will, writing is an organic process, you cannot cage the muse!”

Well if that’s what you think you might find some support from notable writers. Most extreme might be Hunter S. Thompson.

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Why do I get the feeling that the ‘writing’ time was not the most regimented of experiences?

For those of for whom “drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity” doesn’t work, one might look to the less psychedelic world of J.R.R. Tolkien. who, according to A Brief Guide to J. R. R. Tolkien (Nigel Hawthorne), found time to write anywhere between 22:00 and 02:00, such were the constraints of working academic life.

Now, at first, Tolkien certainly wasn’t writing towards publication, but even after the Hobbit became quite the rage, he confused one publisher by submitting seemingly random sections of the yet unpublished Silmarillionpresumably as he created them.

One suspects that, at least to some degree, his writing approach was sans structure.

Joan Didion, she of The Year of Magical Thinking, has an evolving process, which climaxes with her preoccupation with a manuscript to the point of sleeping with it, preferably in a remote location.

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Adapted from Love Krittaya (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
However, the signs have already appeared that such avenues are not for me.

Consider my, slightly, prolonged delay since last posting here. It’s certainly not the case that I have not been writing. Rather, I find my time dominated by two projects, both based on Wattpad, and both of which are of sufficient merit to warrant my attentions.

Now one of these is a piece of short fiction, that will ultimately be suitable for posting here also. So, in a sense, there is a natural synergy.

However, I only now realise, when writing this piece, that another short story I wrote for a Wattpad competition, is now eligible for publication here; and has been for several days. It’s hard to see any cause for such an oversight other than a lack of organisation; a lack of structure.


Now, after the briefest of searches, and you’ll find no lack of authorial advice which enshrines a good daily routine. From Stephen King, to Maya Angelou, they have their rails, and they run on them.

I, kinda, already have that. Basically it looks like this: all time that isn’t reserved for work, domestic chores, and needed relaxation is for writing. Brilliant, huh?

Yeah, that needs some work; and not just that.

Because, frankly, an unknown author has greater demands on their time than their established colleagues. Why? Well because, as Michael J. Sullivan, a self published phenom who learned the hard way,  points out,

“Obscurity is your biggest problem”

(paraphrasing from a Wattpad conversation) 

Thus work has to happen on two fronts, simultaneously: creating masterpieces, and creating your audience.

Or at least that’s the conclusion I’ve reached. Yes, J.K. Rowling, in absolute anonymity, sent her manuscript to two agents; and was picked up by the second. Yes that agent found her publisher, inside a year, and the rest is history.

Frankly, however, how many J.K. Rowlings are there in the publishing world? Exactly.

So the structure I must bring to my writing life must be multi-dimensional, or, I’d be as well buying a lottery ticket each week, and putting my faith in that.


Organically speaking, some structure has already emerged, with only a little conscious input from myself.

WordPress and Wattpad have emerged as my two central publishing platforms. The former because of it’s global, diverse reach; the second due to predominance as the online centre of all things ‘authorial.’

At this point, other online platforms, such as Booksie, and Writers’ Cafe have been, essentially abandoned. You might think, “Oh but Will, how hard can it be to upload the same material to different sites. Why sacrifice some potential audience for the few minutes it takes?”

Well, frankly, I simply lack the time to invest in more than two platforms and their communities. I’ve had the best, most constructive response to my work on the two remaining , by a comfortable margin. It’s not broken, so I’m not going to fix it.


Fortunately, there is plenty of advice, much of it good, readily available when it comes to blogging and writing.

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Thanks Stephen!

I’m in the process of reading The Million Dollar Blog by superstar blog guru Natasha Courtenay-Smith. I’ve been reading it since September (spotting a trend here anyone?) Frankly the advice it provides is evidence based, and accessible.

What my reading thus far reveals, is that I have a lot of work to do. From personal branding to generating traffic, optimising really doesn’t quite cover the work required. That’s time not writing, it’s essential, and it will need to part of my structure going forwards.


So, why is it that, with time available I amn’t happy with what I’ve achieved?

Yes, I’ve generated a healthy amount of content; feedback is consistent with being a noted ‘producer’ of material.
Yes, I’ve got a blog with some followers, which is generating useful feedback, and is growing, if slowly.
Yes, I’ve won a competition on Wattpad, and my ‘reads’ are increasingly virtually daily on multiple works.
Yes, I have multiple works in progress, which I have a good opinion of, and can expect to generate positive results.

Yes, but, I’ve also published stories, ones I believe are not poor in quality, which are still languishing in unread anonymity.
Yes, but my posting schedule on WordPress is erratic, and the content, whilst I think solid, lacks obvious unifying structure to the reader.
Yes, but other than having produced content, I couldn’t confidently say I’m more than a few steps closer to becoming a published, working, author.

That will change, indeed has to change. I aim to court success, not hope for it.


 

How will I do it? I shall look to How to Be a Productivity Ninja by Graham Allcott. Would anyone like to guess if I’ve finished reading it?

I was reading it towards a totally different professional pathway; when that closed, I set it aside. Time to stop being quite so short-sighted.

This is a well researched, evidence based guide, based on the work of Think Productive. If it’s good enough for their clients, which include the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, it can’t be utter nonsense.

Essentially I need to learn to work smarter, identify priorities, make better decisions, and do so with zen-like calm (the first characteristic of the Productivity Ninja.)

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My cat Jazz leading the way with Zen-like calm.  ©WJQuinn

I also expect this process to be highly liberating  because, as Julia Cameron said, “In limits, there is freedom. Creativity thrives within structure.”


Now in forming this post, I  have realised it provides me with an opportunity. In changing how I work, it is a perfect opportunity to blog about it. My hopes being that this will be of interest to other content creators, no matter their tribe, and of interest to anyone who might, at some point, describe themselves as a fan of my work.

If any of the above rings true with you, then I’d love to hear how you approach it. If the content I am now inspired to create is of any use to you, then I’ll be incredibly glad.

If everything I write suddenly ceases to make too much sense, and my content revolves around neon green rats, then I’ve probably picked up the wrong how-to guide; and found Hunter S. Thompson’s instead.

But anyway … how do you bring structure to your creative ventures? All comments will be carefully studied for advice I can rip off, sorry, synthethize.

 

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