As a writer, I find I'm always looking for new ways to flesh out my ideas. Not because I'm looking for an excuse to not delve into the words themselves, but because I don't want to get stuck in a rut. Outline only. Or mindmap only. Or writing down questions only ad nauseam.
But at some point I actually have to sit down and write. It's a constant dance between creativity and structure. Between ideas and linear thinking. Between the-sky-is-the-limit thinking and tight, concise writing.
What's the difference? And how do you know when to dig into the realm of structure and when do you let yourself float into creativity?
Structure is when you need to let your logical and linear side take over. Maybe this is where plot your timeline of your story or outline the eight steps of your self-help book. Or you figure out the chronology - what comes first, second, third. Maybe you detail the profile of your ideal reader. It's the flow and connection between giving form to your creative thoughts.
Creativity is when you let your mind loose and play. Maybe you write down as many words and phrases for your theme as you can think of. You let your eyes land on one or two and then explore that particular concept, with no agenda or expectation. Or you journey down a particular path that wasn't in the original plan, but you decide you want to play in that playground anyway.
Is one better than the other?
Here's the secret: structure isn't king - and neither is creativity. You need both. There is no rule about how long to spend in each realm. I've worked with writers who are frustrated after spending months on character development. They shouldn't be frustrated; they need to realize that they just need to spend this much time in the creative empire. There's also nothing saying that you can't move back and forth between these two realms. Be logical and linear and write three pages. Then spend five days looking out the window and dreaming up a new character.
One informs the other. The more you allow yourself to be creative, the easier the time spent doing the structure work. And the more of the logical and linear you can get down, then the more you can allow yourself to stretch in the creative land.
Don't let writing books fool you. Some writing experts will tell you that you need to outline your entire book. It's as if they expect all writers to think logically and linearly all the time. Which seems a little backward since writing itself is creative as well as logical and linear. It's not a coincidence that I recently just bought a writing book on structure and a separate one on creativity - at the same time. Indulge both sides of writing. Fly high and dig deep. And back again.