A Rigid Structure Will Set You Free

I’m learning a ton from Pam Houston here in Provincetown at the Fine Arts Work Center workshops. One of the most important things is how adopting a form or structure for your writing can set it free. Let me give you an example. In Pam’s latest book, Contents May Have Shifted, she decided to write 144 chapters, each of them taking place in some location around the world. She is a big traveler and constantly collects and writes about moments that resonate with her. She calls these moments “glimmers.” As soon as she decided (and it was a process much more involved than what I’m describing here) to write the 144 chapters, she felt relief because she knew where she was going. She also decided that twelve of those chapters had to take place on a plane. There were other “rules” she imposed on the writing to give it form, but that gives you an example.

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The Exploratory Draft

I’ve started doing something completely different. Instead of trying to write a story. I’ve begun simply to write. The writing is more like riffing or freewriting. I focus on the characters, or the situation, or the setting, or the emotions, or the back story and just go. My goal each time I sit down to riff like this is 1,000 words. I’m capturing some nice phrases and images in the process. I’m also capturing snippets of scenes. When I have sentences that I like, I copy and paste them into a separate document — the story. Continue reading