Creativity Vs. Structure – Group Discussion

When I was young, middle school and high school age, I wrote with reckless abandon. I had no idea what a ‘writer’ was. I just wrote, because I had to. My hunger to write was derived more from youthful driven emotion than in understanding that I was writing. It was a release from all the conflicting emotional and physical changes occurring in my body and my home life. Most of what I wrote was true and taken from inner thought and experience. Most of it wasn’t pretty. But, I wrote poems, too. I recorded first love, friendship, pets, and the pain of parental disappointment and anger. I battled with God. I battled with myself. I also created worlds where there was hope and success.

In high school I was fortunate to have two English teachers who inspired and helped shape my early writing style. One was young, reckless, and free-spirited. Her creative writing class was raw and true. It didn’t matter who you were, you were accepted and appreciated in this class. The lowliest could mingle with the holiest, and we discovered humanity by appreciating and sharing our writing. Every day, we began our class with a free-write. She called it “stream of consciousness” writing.

“Don’t worry about what is right or wrong, good or bad, commas or periods, sentence structure or form, JUST WRITE! Write what you feel. Pour it all onto the page; your anger, your happiness, your dreams, your failures. Write it all and write it fast! Don’t think about it, just keep writing ANYTHING until the timer stops. If you don’t have anything to say today then just write words over and over.”

This teacher read and commented on our journals. It was scary as hell, and we eagerly grabbed our journals to see how she responded to our teenage ramblings. We all thought she cared about us. It was the ultimate environment to learn, and feel comfortable in sharing ourselves. We didn’t have to hold back, we could write raw and dirty, and when we did have assignments requiring poetry rules and form, we were happy to explore and give it our best shot. We craved the approval of Ms. Wild.

Mrs. Kasmy was quite the opposite in personality. She taught the ‘advanced’ writing and literature classes. She was older, prim and proper, and a grammar Nazi to beat all grammar Nazis. You got by with nothing in her classes. You conformed or would be conformed. But, I learned deep symbolism in her Short Story class and how to write about it and explain my discoveries clearly and concisely. I learned I loved reading deeply, and finding hidden meanings and exploring human frailty and strength in characters and situations. I hungered for assignments in her Expository Writing class, loving the structure and voice required for each exercise.

One thing that both of these teachers shared was their dedication to write meaningful comments when addressing our writing and homework assignments. I appreciated them both, as they were dedicated to the teaching of children. Their diverse styles conjured up an amazing pathway for my early journey as a writer.

What they ultimately taught me was that our writing has no borders… There is a time and place for every kind of writing imaginable. Creativity thrives on ideas, imagination, deep emotion, and passion. Structure gives order to creativity. It can be used later in the process we call editing. Sometimes, structure isn’t needed at all, depending on the type of writing that is accomplished. If we are to write a book, we need structure. If we are journaling or writing a poem, maybe it’s not so important. One thing rings true for me; we need both.

Creativity and structure are at the heart of our writing. My belief is that they both need to be explored. As a writer, freedom to write is extremely important, and the fear of ‘breaking the rules’ can hold our fragile egos back from writing with reckless abandon; the way we wrote before discovering what a writer, supposedly, is.

Let us write as innocent and naive children, again. Pretend you don’t know about the rules, and JUST WRITE! Then, allow the adult writer voice to go back and begin to organize this miraculous pile of ‘dung’ into something more polished. Use them both, and enjoy the ride.

 

I would love to hear your thoughts on Creativity Vs. Structure. What opinions and experiences do you have on the subject?


Author Notes

15 Comments for “Creativity Vs. Structure – Group Discussion”

Tim Hillebrant

says:

Hey Becky!

I’ve been looking forward to commenting on this as I read the older posts. I’m glad today I get my chance!

Two things come to mind when reading this. 1) Did you ever see the movie, Finding Forester? It was one of the last films Sean Connery did before his retirement, and is one of my favorites. In it, a young man learns about writing from a teacher who seems to be a blend of what you describe here. Your post strongly reminds me of that movie, because of the things you suggest. Structure is important, but creativity is too.

Which leads me to my other thought, 2) I think when I first started writing in earnest, and even more after joining WC so long ago, I learned I was writing creatively, giving little or no thought to structure as I was mostly ignorant of it. To my own detriment, I didn’t pay the attention I could and should have in school, and now I wish I had. It was as a member of WC that I’ve learned most of what I have when it comes to the importance of structure. I look back now at my earlier stories, and cringe. Not because they’re not good, some of them aren’t bad if I do say so myself. But the structure within those stories is seriously lacking. Something I’ll have to go back and fix one of these days. LOL

Thanks for this post- I learned a lot, and enjoyed the read immensely.

Tim

says:

I can write like I am crazy. It is structer that ensures safe , good delivery. Structure is not my strong point so I am cautious with what I post. One thing out of place can cause such bad judgement by others. I wish I knew structure like how I am albe to put thoughts on paper.

says:

Just keep at it, Claudine. Don’t let inner fear stop you. You have so much to share. I can tell by what I read from your posts. When I decided to write more seriously, I took a few online classes to help me with grammar and structure. It really helped, and gave me more confidence. I will continue to take classes to help me. Trust yourself, you are doing great!

Write On!
Becky

says:

You were lucky to get such teachers, dedicated passionate and obviously inspiring. When at school there was no grammar teaching. “When you need a breath put in a comma, when your finished put in a full stop. If someone speaks they need room so give them a line to themselves”.
Once I was held before the class for my acute waste of exercise books, I had filled one whole one with my story and that was in English?…
Yes you need both, the structure and the discipline as well, I love the freedom to just flee.
Myself first drafts are mostly pantzing, as my pen/pencil pours straight to paper without a breath. I am not slowing to find keys on a keyboard (I am quite good with three fingers) not disturbing the flow with corrections edits and such. My educational gap is slowly filling and I took two on line courses last year, as I was horrified by my lack of punctuation knowledge particularly.
I have used this site to help and I have just about stopped pantzing on here. Though I am right now….

says:

I was fortunate to have those teachers, Ellen. I have also taken online writing courses to help me in my struggles. I will continue to do so, as learning to improve my writing is ongoing. There is always more to learn. I know I am a “pantser” at heart, and love to free-write. I also know that if I am to write longer works and publish more work, that I have to become more familiar with structure. Keep up the good fight, Ellen, and learn as much as you can! I know you have the passion…. 🙂

Write On!
Becky

says:

A great story to open the discussion, Becky. So: am I a pantser or a plotter?

Well, that depends. I have a lot of success free-writing flash fiction. I often write the dialog first on a spark of inspiration and then go back in and layer the rest of the scene. Sometimes it works the other way.

The problem is that every time I go to write a longer work, the pantser approach falters and my story flounders. I take the time to plot things out and I’m good to go.

I think it’s a blend of both approaches. I like to think of adopting ‘minimally rigid structure’– just enough plotting to keep my pantser heart beating.

says:

I think I have similar experiences with my writing, Doug. Because I can be fairly successful at writing a first draft for a flash fiction piece, or poem, and only do minor edits, I struggle with taking the time to plot out my ideas, characters, and scenes that would take me on to longer works.

I need more discipline…and time. But, also love the freedom and pleasure of free-writing!

Thank you for your thoughts and personal approaches to writing.

Write On!
Becky

Raymond Tobaygo

says:

Good afternoon, Becky

Excellent article. Structure is a bare, unpainted room and creativity is the color of paint and how one furnishes and decorates the room. Sometimes, what creativity I may have , at times oversteps the structure.

Again, well done!

Take care and stay safe,

Ray

charles stone

says:

I never had a plan in my writing life. I never concern myself with structure. Fixing mistakes and errors are my last thoughts when I write. I write the story as it comes, I know their are a thousand grammar and structure nazi to fix my work later.

says:

LOL, Charles! I love your attitude, because it shows how much freedom and the lack of fear you have concerning writing. Nothing is going to stop you, and I envy and appreciate that. Can you direct me to those thousand grammar nazi’s? How much do they charge? Send me to the free ones, please….lol

Write On!
Becky

says:

Hi, Becky!

Good food for thought here. I admire those free thinkers who can do stream of consciousness. I’m so obsessive about structure, I freeze up (I can safely mark it as a contributing cause to my writer’s block). If I could dredge up the gumption to just let ‘er rip, I’m sure I’d be more productive…

says:

I never would have thought of you as a “slave to structure” in your writing!! It is always so creative and bizarre. I love your writing. Let ‘er rip, my friend! You deserve the freedom. 🙂

says:

Hello Rebecca I am terrible at grammar and structure as such. So I write poetry which limits the mistakes I make in that sense. The strict rules of certain poetry definitely helps me to conform to rules but for sheer enjoyment I just love to write rhyming quatrains that flow well regardless of structure or rules. It works for me cheers

says:

With your love of poetry form, I have always considered you as a more “structured” kind of writer. I totally agree with writing for sheer enjoyment. I know I do, too. It is one of the great beauties of writing… something that gives release and pleasure. We are lucky to have found this outlet. 🙂

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