I’ve never really had a problem writing at length before—whether for a class, my own personal writing endeavors, or for something as innocuous as a journal entry (though I would hardly call my journals from my high school years innocuous…embarrassing is more like it). In fact, writing too much at length is generally my problem. Whether or not I actually have any idea what I’m going to write about. This has frustrated me and I have pinned it down to the reason that I could never discipline myself well enough to actually complete anything of any merit that was not already an assignment or some other construct with strict guidelines that I must meet.
I’ve written before about my need for an endpoint in all things that I voluntarily take on. The problem with creative writing, however, is that the endpoint can hardly be arbitrary and the possibilities for setting one are virtually limitless. I once had what I thought was a great idea for a writing project—not one that was to be of any seriousness or real literary mettle, but just something silly that would at least result in a completed story of sorts. (Spoiler alert: I fail in the end…but I learn something!) Walking downtown one day through a particularly touristy section of New York, I happened across a souvenir stand that was selling really cheesy looking postcards—worse than usual, even. Luckily, for such poor quality, you didn’t have to pay much and on a whim, with the beginnings of my plan in mind, I bought 30 postcards for a mere dollar.
What was my BRILLIANT plan? I was going to send one postcard every day—or every other day at least—and on each postcard would be an installment of a story. The postcards would be numbered in sequence and I would have exactly the space provided on a standard card for each missive. Surely this would be an amazing thing! I eagerly started in on my story, filling up three postcards without stopping…or even thinking of where I would eventually want my little fairy tale to go in terms of inevitable conclusion. I only had 30 cards on which to do this and getting more would feel a little bit like cheating. No matter, I mailed off the first three on consecutive days to some (very dear) friends all the way across the ocean.
Caught up in the excitement, I was over 20 cards in before I realized that I was still in what I thought to be the introduction to my story. This was disastrous! Even though I continued to write about my doomed princess in the notebook I had recorded each card in for my own sake, I knew that I had once again failed to edit myself properly, had not done what should have been so simple and laid out at least the most basic of plans for what should happen. This is, I say again, a constant problem of mine. I get excited by an idea, start in on it full steam, and realize too late that in neglecting an outline or forethought into consequences, I have reached yet another dead end in my writing.
While writing a lot may not always be a problem, writing too much too soon without proper planning seems to be a prevalent one. Does it make sense to structure your work so rigidly? Does this block any real creative flow, or is some sort of guide necessary in order for any work of fiction to really happen? Just writing is always my go-to method, but clearly, it doesn’t always quite work. How do you resolve these issues?
(P.S. My friends, I think, liked the incomplete, introduction-heavy story anyhow.)