Method and Madness
The life of a very methodical person can at times lack excitement. When I say methodical what I mean is that sort of person that follows a set of steps to reach any given outcome and that the outcome they arrive at was expected from the beginning. In many ways I am this person or at least I have been.
When I wrote D is for David my lead character was an obsessive compulsive clean freak with an attention for detail. While I will never be a clean freak it is the attention to detail that I can identify with. It was the only way I was able to write my first drafts. The story was already mapped out. The chapters and episodes were mapped out and themes and guidelines almost locked in for each chapter before I began. It was the only way for me. But this method can cause problems and is probably why I find substantive editing so hard. How can I go back and chuck out or rip up a chapter that was meant to be there in the first place. It is this rigidity that can let a writer down. Unfortunately this is inherently in me but that said it’s something that can be worked on.
When I was a kid I always had my days mapped out in my mind. I had an unwritten agenda and that was how it was going to be. So when my mum would come to me with a change of plan I would panic or protest. That was not what was arranged as far as I was concerned. I was an inflexible little eight year old brat. I am now an inflexible thirty eight year old brat but I like to think that inflexibility comes from a long standing back injury rather than my inability to make timetable changes. My mum used to say ‘you need to be more spontaneous’ or ‘go with the flow’. It was hard for me then but it’s a lot easier now although I can still err. There is this element of exploration to spontaneity where you can learn something about yourself or another if only you would divert from the set path.
Parties are probably one of the best ways to illustrate this theory. Remember your late teens/early twenties (perhaps you’re still there)? I remember them fondly and when it came to parties, the more planned and organised they were often the more lame they turned out. I distinctly remember it was the last minute random parties that were the most fun. When I think about my reaction to being invited out at the last minute it was usually like the toss of the coin. I would either respond like ‘I’m just going to chill’ as a ‘I’m not in the right head space’ kind of reaction. Inevitably my mates would give me a report the next day and it always sounded awesome. I was then full of regret. For those times when I would go out at the last minute, I was often distracted or tired or unenthusiastic at first but almost always I would get in to the swing of things and have a hell of a night. And no it wasn’t just alcohol or mind altering substances that made for a good night although they did help sometimes. It was all about the vibe that comes from being spontaneous. Stepping out of the method and embracing the madness just a little bit.
This can be applied to your writing. If you feel that perhaps one of your characters is stuck in a rut or perhaps your process is stalled because of an over reliance on a tried and tested method perhaps this is the time to inject some random event or unforeseen personality glitch into your work. Remember that doing this will likely make your work more human. After all, we are designed to be unpredictable by nature it’s just that some of us, myself included, have forgotten we have this beautiful characteristic.
Embrace the madness (in moderation of course).