Have an idea for a story, but aren’t sure what steps to take or how to do it? Don’t worry. You’re not alone.
It’s hard to start a new writing project, and looking for advice on how to tackle your story might even make it worse.
Now, I don’t want to come off as a doom-and-gloom writing instructor…what I’m really talking about is the fact that there are many different ways to approach your story, and because people are human, most everyone loves to shout about how their method is the best and only way. It makes it hard to pick which way to go.
But here’s the thing…while it seems that there are dozens upon dozens of different approaches to writing, they really break down into two different camps: structure and style.
The structure people say you have to outline, outline, outline and figure out each little thing before you start writing.
The style people say you need to learn how to write decent sentences.
And boy, can these two camps hate each other. The style people say that all the outlining takes all the spontaneity out of writing and make it formulaic. The structure people say that the style writers waste tons of time because they don’t know where anything is going and will have to do endless rewrites.
Most literary fiction writers tend to fall into the style camp. Most screenwriters tend towards structure (I did say most…not all).
As for me, I’ve been lucky. When I was working on my MFA, I studied both approaches, and after my grad degree, I continued to study both…and I think I know why I did this instead of picking one over the other.
I’ve been doing martial arts almost all of my life. It’ll soon be 30 years of study I’ve put in, with the vast majority of that time spent in Jeet Kune Do, Bruce Lee’s martial art. I’m also honored to be an instructor under Guro Dan Inosanto, who was Bruce Lee’s top student.
And one of the things that has made the biggest impression on me, aside from how to take a punch, is what Bruce Lee said about absorbing what is useful. Here’s the full quote…
“Research your own experience. Absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.”
You see, the great thing about Jeet Kune Do is that it’s not just about how to win fights. It can teach you some great ways to approach life…and writing.
I won’t belabor each point of the quote. You can do your own research about different ways to approach writing, you can discard what doesn’t work for you, and you can add in what specifically and uniquely helps you the most.
The one I do want to talk a bit about is how you can absorb what is useful.
Whether you are working on your MFA or writing a screenplay, know that you aren’t stuck with just one approach. If you are working on a literary novel, do some outlining, so you know where your characters are headed. If you are stuck on a spot in your outline, start writing that scene and see where the prose leads you.
Jeet Kune Do stresses the individual over any particular art or approach. Do the same with writing. Put yourself and your process ahead of any particular school of thought on how to write. Just remember to have fun.
And I want to help. While I’m releasing my novel Schism here on the blog I’ll also be posting information on both structure and style, so you can absorb what is useful.
Let me know any questions you have along the way!