Writing is like running. Authors need to warm up their creative muscles every time they sit down to express themselves. The structure that you apply to your writing process and to communicating your thoughts is the equivalent of the runner’s warm up.
In fact, as I sat down to write this blog, I started in about six different ways – and deleted each one (I can’t believe I still do that after 20 years!). Then I finally asked myself: what am I actually trying to say? I wrote down four key points. Then I looked at the order of them, rearranged them, and here we go.
High tide, low tide
Creative folks have a tendency to self-destruct, have you noticed? Janis Joplin, Dashiel Hammett, Jackson Pollock; the list is a long one. One reason is a desire to always be in a creative ‘high tide’, according to psychologist Julie Crabtree, who researched the relationship between creativity and mental health, and co-authored with her husband, Jeff, an excellent book called ‘Living with a Creative Mind’. High tide is when creatives are floating like a boat on a tide of self-expressing, ideas flowing, racing along, traversing new territory. But creativity also has ‘low-tide’ moments, the equivalent of cleaning the barnacles off the boat’s hull, repainting, swabbing the decks. For authors this is might be reading, research, interviews, tidying their writing room, setting up writing templates. And Crabtree’s research convincingly shows it is not possible to have one without the other. I find this metaphor so helpful in my everyday writing life.
Structuring your book is your creative low tide – essential, unavoidable, and the very basis of successfully navigating the high tides of your creative expression. In other words, structure enhances creativity.
Your structure includes a lot of elements, not just organising your thoughts and words. For me, it involves having a template to write from that is aesthetically pleasing. My chosen font at my chosen size, spacing of 1.5 between the lines and wide margins all make it easier for me to read my work. Using the styles panel in Word helps me to reorganise my blog later if need be. I turn off the radio, TV and any music that has lyrics, and turn on my Keith Jarret Pandora radio station. I have water or tea at hand.
These simple processes help me not to use my actual writing as a ‘warm up’. Without that structure, I will start by writing waffle. How many times have you read a paragraph or two in a blog before you get to the exciting bit? That’s an author warming up with words instead of structure or process. And most of us stop reading after even a sentence of waffle. As authors we need to always start at the exciting bit.
Structure creates time
If you are struggling to fit writing time into your day, structure is the answer. The more structured your approach to your book, or blog, the more time you will find to write it. The purpose of your structure is to break down the task of writing into tiny pieces. Each piece of writing comprises four steps: idea, research, writing and review. If you have to write a blog by next Wednesday, for example, you might pick your topic on Thursday, Google it on Friday, write down three points on Monday, write out in full on Tuesday and review on Wednesday. The whole process is two hours. Each step is half an hour or less.
The doable gets done
Structure frees you to create. Instead of spending creative energy sweating the small stuff – like fonts or research – you can put all your effort into the expression of your ideas. You will have time to add a metaphor or an anecdote – the polish that makes your work a compelling read. Remember, structure is the work done at low tide that makes your little creative boat float fast and free during high-tide.
PS: Thanks to Vicki, a participant at my recent event, How to Write an Awesome Book that Sells, for the question that sparked this blog.
PPS: Want more. Read ‘How to judge if your book topic has been done to death?’