Losing Control – Then Regaining It

People used to teach writing by starting out with an outline, but then the sixties happened and the value of the right brain, of discovery, of losing control was understood. The argument went that an outline created too much restriction on creativity and imagination. Pre-writing, as it was called, is a wild, creative and chaotic time. The beginning of a piece is full of possibilities, of limitless potential, where we figure out what we want to say, where we imagine all the ways we could say it. Fiction writers find their voices; their characters might start talking to them. The plot structure or outlines comes after this joyous or terrifying or disheartening chaos.

Writers are encouraged to explore tangents because they might discover better ideas, something sparkling and wonderful. Earlier writers were scolded if they strayed from the outline. The process movement decried this as comparable to a strait-jacket.(Straight-jacket? You’re not supposed to worry about spelling in the pre-writing stage.)

I reveled in the new found freedom of the process movement. I banished my critic for a while. I played with language. My writing grew, my voice sharpened, my images grew richer. This worked great for poems and short stories, even essays, but when it came to finishing a novel, I was wandering in the wilderness—which is supposed to be a good thing in the process movement.

People seemed to forget the rest of the process, though: drafting, revising, editing, and publishing. Those require a commitment to form at some point. Being lost became a virtue. I know a writer who has been discovering his book for forty years. That’s a bit much.

For me the answer came from Joseph Campbell and the hero’s journey. Also Robert McKee’s book and seminar Story. I found vessels to pour my chaos into. I outlined my novels. I even tried outlining each scene using the form from The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing. This is the extreme opposite of the process movement. I tried it out. I found Wordsworth was right:

Nuns fret not at their convent’s narrow room;
And hermits are contented with their cells;

Now I’m writing something that demands I jump off into the unknown, that I lose control, and I’m remembering the value of the process approach. I hope when the time comes I’ll find the form and then finish this novel and it will sparkle with both sides of my brain, both sides of chaos and control.


Author: Theresa Crater

Award-winning author Theresa Crater brings ancient temples, lost civilizations and secret societies back to life in her visionary fiction. In The Star Family, a Gothic mansion holds a secret spiritual group and a 400-year-old ritual that must be completed to save the day. The shadow government search for ancient Atlantean weapons in the fabled Hall of Records in Under the Stone Paw and fight to control ancient crystals sunk beneath the sea in Beneath the Hallowed Hill. Other novels include School of Hard Knocks and God in a Box, both exploring women in historical context. Her short stories explore ancient myth brought into the present day. The most recent include “The Judgment of Osiris” and “Bringing the Waters.” Theresa has also published poetry and a baker’s dozen of literary criticism. Currently, she teaches meditation, as well as creative writing and British lit.

8 thoughts on “Losing Control – Then Regaining It”

  1. 1. Your work on scene-craft shows in your writing. You write wonderfully structured scenes.

    2. “…finish this novel and it will sparkle with both sides of my brain, both sides of chaos and control” = YES. It will.

    3. Forty years IS a long time on one novel. No judgment….just awe at the dedication.


  2. The more I write the more I try to find a balance between diving into the unknown and mapping out my route. I’ve always been a pantser, though occasionally the need to turn in a synopsis has given me a more general idea of where I’m going. Good, thoughtful post.


  3. Forty years is a long time. I did have to chuckle at the spelling (no, don’t worry about it). I’ve found that for myself, the first draft is wild abandon. The second draft is where the structure comes in – reining in all that chaos is it’s own kind of exhilaration.


  4. I’ve always been a pantser, but I have discovered the writing goes better when I have a three arc structure with at least ten points per arc and I bullet point my chapters before I write them. Does everything happen? Nope, but it does let me wander with a roadmap back home.


  5. I’m late, but I have to say, what a lovely post! I mean, the content is fabulous, but the writing itself was especially beautiful today (or, yesterday). I’m a pantser, but I’m working on learning plotting (still). I think I need a wee bit of structure around the chaos! I love the visual of finding “vessels to pour my chaos into.” Somehow I picture these Turkish olive jars I found at a garden show once. Kait, thanks for sharing–I think I will try this next.


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