Coping with the Complexity of Writing

While conceptually simple, in actual practice, writing is a complicated art and all of the approaches involve some considerable degree of complexity. One of the most common reasons why writers fail is the inability to deal with the unforeseen knottiness of writing. To succeed, a writer must find manageable ways of dealing with the endless horrors of ramification or branching. Once a project is underway, any change we make in one place will usually lead to necessary changes in other places – often a great many other places. Since everything in a novel or story must remain consistent from start to finish, we must track down those places and make the needed changes. Then, of course, there is the likelihood that some of these secondary changes will necessitate further alterations of their own; and so on, in what can seem an endless tangle. If no plan is in place to deal effectively with the situation, the work will inevitably bog down – sometimes fatally.

Diagram of interrelated writing elements

Making even small changes in a piece of writing can lead to seemingly endless ramifications. (Image: Thomas Cotterill)

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The Tao of Writing

“A good artist lets his intuition lead him wherever it wants.” – Lao Tzu

Ancient drawing of Lao Tzu riding the ox

In practice, relying on intuition to guide your writing can lead you badly astray in ways that are hard to fix. (Image: public domain.)

In my experience, following your intuition can lead to poorly organized works of unwieldy size. Doesn’t that remind you of the movie, “The Princess Bride”? You know, the part in the fire swamp with the ROUS or “rodents of unusual size.” Big rats, in other words. Anyway, I started my first fantasy novel (still unfinished!) in the mid-nineties. I decided to write “off the cuff” (no outline, no plan – I was really big on Taoism in those days) and set myself the goal of writing six pages every evening. The pace was too much for me, yet three months or so later, I had 200 pages of prose on my trusty Macintosh Classic II (with the deluxe 40 MEGAbyte hard drive – quaint, yes?).

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A Few Select Books About Writing

I would like to recommend a few how-to-write titles. Every author collects a small shelf of these books as they learn their craft. You may have a few (or a lot) already. If you do, then you probably have your own favourites. Perhaps I can add a title or two to your list. If you are just beginning, the books here will ensure you get off to a good start.

Bookshelves with assorted books.

From the earliest days of writing, aspiring authors have garnered shelves of books about writing in all its aspects. A few select titles become inspiring favourites. (Image: Wikimedia)

I am new to being an indie, but I have been writing for over twenty years – mostly as a keep-me-sane hobby in a chaotic world. Yet, I still like to revisit the odd how-to-write manual now and then. Doing this helps eject any bad habits that may have crept in (and they do keep creeping in!). Some of the recommended books go back a ways, but sound writing principles have not changed over the years. The classic books about writing are the ones found useful by large numbers of writers. Many of today’s most successful writers (of any kind) got started with these very books.

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