A quick note about my own writing and the way I’m working these days. I plan to do a more extensive post on this soon.
Way back in 2001 or 2002, I interviewed Joss Whedon. The questions were submitted to me by Bronzers. My lovely Bronzer friend andyourlittledogtoo asked, “How long did it take to go from the conception of ‘Restless‘ until the finished product? And can you explain your writing process?” “Restless” is the finale of the fourth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and it’s one of my favorite episodes. You can read more about it just about anywhere on the internet, and you should… But ANYWAY, Joss’s answer has stuck with me for 17, 18 years now:
My writing process is about two things: Structure and emotion. I’m incredibly strict about working out a tight structure, every piece fitting, so there are not too many surprises in a first draft. But it all stems from emotion. What emotion are we in love with here? What do we need to feel? What do they (the characters) need to feel (a dif ques). We build from that. with RESTLESS, i had to throw structure out the window. It was a poem. Though I knew what it meant and what the dramatic flow was, I literally just had to sit there (or lie there – I got my appendix out during that script) and wait for the next thing. It was very liberating for me. When i was BEGGED for an oultline for act 4, i made one — and then ccouldn’t write a word, because it was wrong. Had to wait for the flow.
I think a lot of people write first and structure second. I don’t know how common this is in academic writing. I’ve always been a structure-first kind of gal, though that structure can take various forms. I used to be all-in on outlines, but my professor Barbara Wildemuth really hit mind-maps hard, and now I tend to bounce between synthetic notes, mind-maps, outlines, and memos. And the point when I transition from one to the other, and when I know I’m ready to begin drafting, has everything to do with structure.
Until I know the structure of a piece, I just write in little chunks. As I write, I re-arrange. I toy with new structures. Color-coding with pens is involved. I want to document this piece of my process better in the future, so as I begin my next lit review chapter, I’ll try to.
It feels good to remember that one of the writers who has influenced me the most works mostly from structure first. (How much of “Restless” was induced by the painkillers Joss was on for his appendectomy recovery? We may never know.) It feels good to know that there are as many ways of writing as there are writers.