Story Structure Stress

It’s been a tough month.  I spent the month of October preparing for NaNoWriMo – actually plotting (gasp!).  A definite first for me.  And now that November is here, I feel like I have a good grasp on what I need to do and how I need to do it, but it took some doing.

I had serious doubts about calling myself a writer this month.  Of course I write.  I’ve always written.  Lots of random scenes.  A couple of very solid starts to novels, which never got a middle, let alone an end.  I’ve partially written a couple of novels.  My one main work in progress is hovering at 62k words, with a very solid beginning, most of a middle, and a rough “this is how it’s going to end” ending.  My other main work in progress, hovering at around 50k words, has a shaky beginning, an iffy middle, and an abrupt ending.

Oh, I can tell a good story, and I have some serious dialogue skills, don’t get me wrong.  I know that what I write is fairly strong.  But, to be perfectly honest…I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing.  It’s the plotting and outlining that have had  me frustrated this month.  I had serious doubts that I have the aptitude to be a writer, simply based on my inability to outline.

Beyond one creative writing class in high school and a couple of writing workshops in the years since, I didn’t study writing.  I didn’t read The Greats.  I didn’t pick apart a hundred plots to determine turning points and climaxes and resolutions.  I didn’t learn about 3 act structure or 4 act structure or The Hero’s Journey.  I’ve read many books on writing, hundreds of blog posts, and I still had issues structuring a damn plot.

Which begged the question – What hope do I have at being a writer?

My husband, bless him, suffered my mini-breakdown a few weeks ago over this and told me to shut up.  He’s read what I’ve written, and he says it’s good.  (Is that like your mom telling you that you’re pretty?)  He said I should stop worrying about all that other stuff and just write.  He said my structure is fine and I know what I’m doing, I just need to stop thinking about it.  Stop reading the hundreds of different ways other people do things and just do it my way.  That there is no right way, no correct answer.  And he’s absolutely right, and I never thought otherwise.  But I wanted to outline, to connect the dots, and I kept trying all these different ways to try to figure out my way and that’s what drove me batty.

Oh, but the joy of mini-breakdowns.  Clearing out my head like that made me better able to function.  I wanted the outline to happen within an hour, the plot to be perfect immediately.  And I wanted each new blog post I read about structure to work for me.  But none of that happens immediately.  Writing is still a study, a practice, like yoga.  Each practice makes something new click, stretches your mind further, but you will never be perfect each and every time you sit down to write.  Your muscles might be sore, your balance might be off, your mind may wander.  You just have to do the best you can that day.

NaNo starts in 13 hours.  I’m ready.

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Categories: The Writing Process, Writer Sara Johnson | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Story Structure Stress

  1. gedwardsmith

    Hello Sara,

    I’m a new writer and can feel your writing pains. I always had these great ideas and would jump right in and start writing to my hearts content only to hit the wall, so to speak, in the middle of my story. Where do I go from here? What am I trying to say? How do I get from A to B? Outlining never seemed like much fun to me and never had much luck at it until I came across a little book called ‘Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success’ by K.M. Weiland. For some reason it just flipped a switch in my brain and now I can’t even write a short story without at least a weeks worth of planning and outlining. I’ve become much more confident in my writing with the help of pre-planning. Any who, I look forward to reading your stories on here.

    Glenn–your newest follower

    Write Fearlessly

    • Hi Glenn! Your method of writing is exactly what I used to do. *Exactly.* I think the key is really to find what works *for you* – of course, that unfortunately involves a lot of trial and error and self-doubt. But we just have to keep writing, because if we don’t, well, I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t even know who I was anymore!
      Thanks so much for following!

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