Just as there are multiple ways to tell a single story, there are multiple ways to approach the writing of that story.
At the most basic level, we all understand that some writers prefer outlines while others discover their story in the act of writing. Brad Haseman talks about this in relation to academic research where he describes that a creative researcher may have an ‘enthusiasm of practice’ that carries them throughout their research project.
Traditionally, academic research projects begin with a question that the researcher/s aims to answer, but that’s not always the case for creative researchers. Rather than starting with a question and using that as a guide, they instead identify a problem or issue that they wish to explore.
How does this relate to your writing?
Rather than approaching the blank page with a specific idea about, not only what will happen in the novel or story, but how you will write it, you can instead approach your craft with open curiosity. You could choose a topic, a premise, or a quandary and then explore that through your writing. This means that you will discover the answer (and the story) in real-time rather than already knowing the answer and then expressing it.
The reason why an enthusiasm of practice is often relevant to researchers is because, sometimes, you may begin a project without really knowing what the ‘problem’ is that you are hoping to resolve.
And that’s a scenario that many writers can relate to.
Obviously, every writer works differently and every project is different, but what this idea gives us is a way to move forward when we hit a creative roadblock.
For instance, if you are trying to create an outline for your entire novel but are struggling to map out a solid middle and ending, then choosing to follow your enthusiasm is one way to get you started. Rather than getting stuck behind the idea that you don’t know how this story should end, you can instead let your curiosity lead the way as you discover the answer while drafting.
Brad Hasman describes ‘an enthusiasm of practice’ as ‘something that is exciting, something that may be unruly, unmanageable or mysterious […] Perhaps it is just fun to do.’
The idea with this approach is that you decide on an experiential starting point and then you allow your practice to then carry you forward. Rather than getting trapped, stuck, or obsessed with planning, you instead dive straight into making.
Obviously, whatever comes out of this approach will be unique to each writer and there’s no guarantee that this method will lead to a positive outcome, but it is one way you can move forward with a project if your creative practice has started to feel stale or if writing itself no longer feels playful or exciting.
Creating art is funny business because, in one way, we need loose, free exploration so that we can generate enough interesting material to work with. Once we have that material, however, we then need to apply order to that chaos so that it can be presented to an audience.
As Henry Moore wrote, ‘I sometimes begin a drawing with no preconceived problem to solve … But as my mind takes in what is so produced a point arrives where some idea becomes conscious and crystallises, and then control and ordering begins to take place’.
The trick is, you need to know when enthusiasm or order are needed.
Using order too early in the drafting of a novel or story could limit or stifle your writing. The writer, Ann Patchett, has said that she resists creating outlines or drafting scenes while she is still developing her novel ideas because once she has written something out it starts to feel fixed.
Outlines can be tremendously useful as they can act like a safety net that can get you started, but often the ideas we create in that space–the space that existed before we started writing–does not always translate once we are working on the page. A particular event we mapped out may no longer feel organic and a major plot choice may no longer feel authentic to your protagonist.
These are the types of discoveries that happen once you are in the mess of writing; some problems can only be discovered, and then resolved, in the act of doing rather than thinking.
Believing that you have to have everything figured out before you start writing can easily become a form of productive procrastination. You may think that this endless planning will result in an efficient and smooth writing process later, but we all pay the same fee somewhere along the way. The time you invest in outlining may mean fewer revisions later (though not necessarily) and diving head in may mean that you uncover the shape and scope of your story quicker (again, not necessarily).
And that’s the problem with making something out of nothing. No one can tell you how to do it–including yourself!–but knowing what tools to use when can make it all the easier. Enthusiasm is just one path that can lead you to The End.
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