Example: In my first week back in the U.S. after nearly two months away, I felt a little at loose ends. I wandered around the apartment, frequently looking out the windows to where another building is being erected. I checked email and Facebook far too often, only to find the usual, including NaNoWriMo's common question, "Are you a plotter or a pantser?" (National November Writing Month asking whether I outline novels and stories or just write by the seat of my pants.) And then, while catching up with copies of The New Yorker that piled up in my absence, I stumbled on John McPhee's essay on structure in writing.
There it was. Structure. I'd been seeking a return to structure in my life and writing. Thank you, Gods of the Pen.
As McPhee pointed out, structure in writing doesn't always have to be an outline or chronology. It can be a doodle or just a bunch of words with arrows connecting them. I related this to my husband, who commented, "With me, it isn't even written down. But I think it through and decide where I'm going. Then I begin to write, and the writing is the outline."
We agreed that the advance thought, written or otherwise, is the most important thing in getting a piece of work done. Along with John McPhee, we are plotters, not pantsers. Even when I think I'm "just writing, not planning," I have a structure. While I wrote Fish-Eye Lens, I wasn't sure exactly how the women were going to stop Benny Royston, but I knew they were going to do it. And I knew I wanted to tell the story in a way (structure) that was based on gossip. That was not writing by the seat of my pants.
There's more to this, however, than my profession. Just as writing without structure is messy, so is living without it. I don't believe we can plan our lives, but I do think that structure allows us to live them with creativity and sensitivity. How can you think outside the box if there is no box?
I'm putting my box together right now.