Ever painted a room? You can skip the steps of measuring, taping, and sanding if you like and just jump in. If you’re careful, you’ll stay mostly inside the lines, with only the occasional splotch to touch up later. That is, if you’re careful and you’re good. Me, I’m not a great painter – not for walls at least. If I get going with a roller and no tape, paint can go everywhere. And touching up afterwards becomes a nightmare. So I’ve learned to spend a few hours pain-stakingly laying down tape to keep myself within the lines.
I’m starting to see that writing a novel is a lot like painting a room. Taking a bunch of time to lay down guidelines doesn’t feel very creative. In fact, if you’re impatient (like me), it can seem like a pointless time-suck. But, after having done a few novels from instinct – the same instinct that got my paint everywhere – I’m starting to see that doing it without guidelines turns into a nightmare. I’m on my sixth draft of one book, trying to futz it into perfection. Six drafts! Very little of the book is how it started. If I didn’t love the project so much I’d have given up, packed up, and moved on long ago.
So, from sheer frustration, on my brand new project for NaNo (https://www.nanowrimo.org/), I’m putting down guidelines. I have an outline, character studies, maps, political interaction charts, the whole nine yards. It might be overkill – in fact it probably is. I imagine I’m going to be frustrated with it more than once and chuck the whole thing across the room. But. After getting words everywhere, after cleaning up one too many times, I’m determined. This one is going to be different. This one is not going to need six drafts.
What about you? What kind of “tape” do you put down to structure and book and how has it worked for you?