I have a confession to make: The most difficult writing task for me is sitting down to write something and then writing that specific thing — with the intended subjected, scope, and contentions hit at the exact right points within the work.
Until about five years ago, I couldn’t do it at all. Or I thought I couldn’t. Because when I went full time as a writer, I started doing a lot of pitched client work for other sites, paying clients. And when you do that, you have to propose a topic, provide a sample outline, come up with word count, and offer a deadline for how long it should theoretically take you to complete the project.
It turns out that I can do it. Now that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. Sometimes when I have to do it, I have these spasms of terror while I’m sitting trying to deliver the work I promised — and failing. In those moments, I’m convinced I lost that skill and will never be able to write in a structure way on a topic to a client’s scope ever again.
But it always turns out not to be true. Thankfully. Even though in the moment it feels true. And tragic. And insurmountable. Before I find a way.
Aren’t These Conventions Supposed to Make It Easier?
The wildest part is that in my discussions with other writers, I’ve found that my experience is far from universal. I’ve found that there are plenty of other writers who are exactly the opposite — who find this kind of targeted writing easier than sitting down and writing whatever comes out. And figuring out what to do with it later.
These writers who crave structure find it reassuring to have a plan and a scope.
So I often find myself wondering if there are a couple of different camps here: The writers who find imposed structured freeing VERSUS writers who found imposed structure scary.
In some ways, I understand that conventions can have utility. Because there are some ways that I do find structure helpful. For example, I definitely have contexts where I find outlines useful. Especially when it comes to longer pieces, an outline can help make sure the pace is even, which helps make it less likely you’ll be left with a nightmarish edit (pacing problems are the hardest to fix on an edit).
But when it comes to shorter pieces, I can almost feel my creative writing centers in my brain clench up protectively when I go, “Okay, let’s write 500 words on X.” There’s something stubborn in there that doesn’t like to be told what to do. I’m left to try to coax it out of her.
And It’s Not Just Writing…
And it doesn’t just apply to writing either. I often have a hard time using conventional organizational systems. This doesn’t mean I’m disorganized. Frankly, I’m told by others that I am very organized.
But it often looks bizarre to other people. I’m not the person highlighting things in a notebook with color-coded markers. My knickknacks aren’t lined up neatly. I do use to-do lists (and live and die by them), but they look strange to other people (it’s an odd mix of stuff, usually in no particular order). And I have terrible handwriting.
It’s always been this way. I have an excellent memory, and for some reason, I can walk into cluttered rooms and find things (for other people, even — I’m really good at itemspotting, even when it’s not my stuff).
But it was only just recently that I started, say, writing meeting agendas before holding one. I’ve been known to wing meetings (and get away with it). And to give great talks without notes.
Something within me rebels against conventional structure… and I wish I knew why.