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    My daily writing--emails, journal entries, marginalia, more emails, blog posts, and tweets--shapes me as a writer, helping and hindering the big stuff I'm trying to accomplish. Every word counts.

    My name is James Black. I'm on Facebook and Twitter. Friend and/or follow me if you like.

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Structure: Thinking It / Feeling It

I get plot and structure when I *see* them; I don’t seem to be able to fully realize their potential when I *do* them. Like anyone, I know how to tell a story, to get the job done. I’m really trying to understand what I already know, so I understand why authors I admire get away with things I’m trying to do.

Analyzing the design of stories really does thrill me. I love tearing them apart to see how they work. I was an English major because I wanted to be; I wasn’t one of those students who ended up in the department by default. But analyzing stories (including novels) that have been praised and loved is different than analyzing a story (especially the novel) I’m writing.

Structural design is, for me at least, the algebra of the writing process. I got through algebra, but I had to go over lessons again and again. The work made my eye twitch and I had to keep it in my mind at all times so I wouldn’t lose what I’d learned. Algebra fulfilled my math requirement, so as soon as I got my A, I ran (did not walk) from anything math-related beyond balancing my checkbook.

When I try to apply principles, theories, rules to my own writing, I feel as if I’m doing algebra, which, considering I’ve forgotten so much about algebra, is probably not even an effective simile.

How about this: it’s an attempt to quantify what has been qualitative, to give my lump of literary clay some form. Which is a good thing, but fucking frustrating. I need to know if what I’m *trying* to communicate is making sense *at all*.

It reminds me of that episode of Golden Girls when Blanche spends 72 hours writing her memoir. She scrawls her life story in numerous spiral notebooks and, upon finishing, enters the kitchen to share her work of genius. Blanche’s brain is on the verge of collapse from lack of sleep, but she’s so cranked up on arrogance that she can’t wait to have Rose read it. Rose can’t make sense of the sprawling text.

Like Blanche, I really have to *feel* what I’m doing. Unlike Blanche, who assumed that without any training she could just crank out the Great American Memoir, I am not so delusional, in large part because I’ve studied writing for years. Learning has taught me a lot, but the more I learn, the more questions I have, and I have to find answers–or at least some educated responses–to those questions so they can sink into me and somehow, hopefully, come out my fingers someday.

I’m sure I’m using what I’ve learned as I feel my way through the writing, but if I consciously plan too much, the writing is stilted if I can do it at all. When revising, I’m happy to analyze and can easily move things around in this analytical mode. But the writing must always be play, must always be generative, whether it’s first draft, rewriting, or adding to what’s already there, or else it’s like trying to swim up a waterfall.

I know that I shift between overthinking and underthinking all of this. In my best moments, I’ve got it in mind, just below the level of consciousness. Actually, that’s how I figure out most problems. I ask myself a question as I go for a walk or sit in meetings, as I’m going to do today. I ponder the artistic problem as I deal with the present action, much like my characters do.

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