One of the first pieces of advice I ever got about novel writing from someone who knew what they were doing was, “You’re going to have to be willing to lose control…”
She gave that advice to our whole novel-writing class, but she repeated it to me in particular several times. As someone who tends toward short stories, and sometimes toward poetry, I want to have control over every. damn. word.
But novels are bigger than that. I end up choking myself off into very nicely written lyrical sections that can’t connect with anything of greater breadth.
I was reminded of this when I picked up an old teacher’s book on playwriting which advised novices not to adhere to rules they’ve built up in their heads about how plays should look. The kind of thing he meant, he continued, was personal rules, things like “each act must contain three scenes” or “no scene can have fewer than four characters in it.”
As I attempt to write in novel length, as I try to give up control, I realize how many of these rules I have. In short stories, they give me some advantage. Writing with a rule like “each section can be no more than 300 words” turns the writing into a kind of game, gives me an experimental form and structure to react to. I enjoy setting rules like that for short stories, and changing them from story to story.
But it’s a different process, this novel thing. Giving up control… I don’t like that. It’s not my native habitat. But I’m going to learn how to do it. I’m going to take control of losing control. Or something like that.
How do you balance control and writing? Do you switch between poetry, short stories, and novels? Do you disagree with the premise that novels require less control than shorter forms?
Is any blog post that ends with asking questions forever going to be too reminiscent of this?