Much to her chagrin (I assume) I became a writer and a teacher (and thus doubly cursed to make less-than-decent money). While I'm not entirely sure when I decided to be a teacher (I always wanted to be a writer), I remember distinctly when I chose not to be an architect: As soon as I realized there was math involved and a whole shit-ton of work.
|Pictured: My mother's ideal son.|
I just wanted to draw stuff.
I am reminded of my mother's dashed hopes and dreams for me because I spent a goodly portion of this past week talking with four authors (Michael Pitre, Scott Thompson, Richard Monaco, and Cherie Priest) about our writing processes and a quote by George R. R. Martin:
This conversation began when my school hosted Pitre as our resident author for this month. While he and I were talking in my office, this came up and we discussed what kind of writers we were. Pitre sees himself as an architect. He planned out his novel from the start: figuring out how many words it would take him to tell his story, then how many chapters he'd need, how many words per chapter, and even the chapter titles, before he ever put pen to paper with his story.
Scott Thompson, too, considers himself an architect. He plans "carefully" before he writes, generating "thousands of words of notes for each novel" before he begins typing.
I, on the other hand, see myself as much more of a gardener.
|Don't laugh. Gardeners are brave, steadfast, and true. |
Just ask Sam
Richard Monaco, too, is a gardener. For him the story isn't even his story; it's his characters'. "I'm just the amanuensis for my characters," he claims. "They tell me where they want to go and I write it all down."
And some writers, such as Cherie Priest, do not have a preferred writing method and may flip back and forth between the two. "It depends on the project," she explains, "because some require more structural pre-planning than others."
In truth, I suspect most writers agree with Priest: writing technique depends on the project.
|Architectural gardeners, or maybe gardening architects.|
However, this is idiotic advice.
Like architecture, gardening takes planning. You have to know where and when to plant corn and soybeans and melons and tomatoes. Floral gardens require knowledge of when particular flowers bloom and what color they will be. The gardener needs to arrange these seeds in specific places so that when they bloom they will be pleasing to the eye.
These third writers are not gardeners no matter how often how loud they claim to be. They are random strewers. Artistic beauty does not generally arise by happenstance.
|The effects of gardening (left) vs. the effects of random strewing (right)|
Yes, there is a certain amount of self-expression in any writing, but it is not the purpose. In truth, no one buys a book by an author they do not know because they are curious about how this stranger expresses him/herself. The purpose of writing (at least for an audience) is to tell a good story well. Even poetry, perhaps the most expressionistic form of creative writing we have, is not ultimately about self expression as much as it is about using an experience (preferably one common to most readers) to express universal truths or ideas.
In short, if your experience is not applicable to the stranger reading your work, you are not writing for an audience. If the purpose of a piece is solely self-expression, it is not, in fact, writing; it is instead narcissism.
This is not to say you cannot begin from a place of self-expression. You can, and most writers do, I suspect. However, you cannot stop there. Planning and organizing, drafting and revising, are the processes by which we take our own personal concerns and make them applicable to others. They are the necessary components that take narcissistic self-expression and transform it into universal comprehension.