Starting work on a new novel right now and I’m finding myself stuck in a familiar ditch. At some point early in everything I write I end up here and, as frustrating as it is, it’s not something I can avoid.
Structure, you are my master.
There are things you do early into a story that are very hard to unwind later. If you write half of your book with short chapters all from the same character’s point of view before realizing one character’s POV isn’t enough, you can’t unwind that by dropping new chapters in-between the others. At least, I can’t unwind it like that without stressing myself into tossing the book aside for a couple of weeks.
I do the same thing when I program. I spend a lot of time figuring out how I want to name things, how I want to structure my classes and methods so that it all makes sense in the larger scheme of the project. This doesn’t put me behind schedule, and in fact it usually pays of at some point, but it can feel like a lot of spinning your wheels while it’s going on.
So while a part of me wants to just start slinging words onto the page, I’m keeping the parking break on. Because I know that at some point in the future of every project I’ll hit a point when taking the time to make elegant changes is no longer an option. This is the point in programming when someone dumps some unmentioned critical business process onto your desk and needs it in by go-live. Your only option is to race madly through everything you’ve already done and patch the hell out of your work. There’s no time to think about how it should best be structured, not anymore. It’s fire and motion and crossed fingers.
And when that happens, when I hit some point in the story and realize the ending will only work if I add in some unthought of plot threat, I have to hope that the structure of the story is sturdy enough to support a little extra weight. When you get into the rhythm of something – a story, an application, whatever – you kind of get an instinct for how it all fits together. That instinct is all you have to guide you when you need to start patching your work midway through.
At times like this, all you can do is hope that you’ll fit the pieces together quickly. There’s a price to pay for jumping the gun, and that price is a third of an unfinished novel that you hate too much to think about. It’s hard enough finishing these things. I don’t need to give myself any more reasons than I already have.