Trees or Forest?

January 19, 2013

ForestDo you see the trees or do you see the forest? In writing classes we learn that this metaphor describes how we as writers get our stories on paper (or bits and bytes — choose your poison).

Those who see the trees are ones walking through the forest, passing one tree at a time along an unfamiliar trail. This type of writer likes to sit down with a blank screen or paper and begins writing with no plan. Rather, they like to see where the story takes them. Occasionally there may be a diversion onto a trail that goes nowhere, but the adventure was not lost and can be helpful somewhere further down the trail. Usually there are a higher number of revisions to this process, but these writers like the exploration.

Other writers may like to have a map of the forest in front of them, before they begin trekking through unknown territory and risk getting lost. With a pre-determined plot already outlined, the process of writing the narrative is quicker and the book falls into place much faster. Some writers say this method hinders creativity during the process of writing. And staying strict to a pre-determined plot results in a stifled story.

One camp of teachers and writers will advocate that structuring a plot before you write is the best way to go. But others, even famous novelists, will tell you that they sit down in front of a keyboard and begin typing a book from beginning to end, without ever planning where it goes.

The truth is that there is no absolute correct and proper writing procedure. But, we as writers need to figure out how we work best. That much is essential if we are to succeed in our writing.

For over a dozen years I always thought of myself as a “tree” guy, liking to make up a story or non-fiction article as I go along. However, I have a lot of false starts on my hard drive because of this.

During the three years I wrote online articles for a living, I learned to start with at least a basic structure. I outlined how-to and “tips” articles so all I had to do was fill in the gaps.

When 2013 rolled the calendar I decided to re-visit my fiction writing, and I applied similar structuring to my stories. So far I have a novel in progress with a basic outline, and dozens of scenes sketched out. I feel more confident that this story is going somewhere and am encouraged to keep writing.

Perhaps you need to take a look at your writing method. Is your current paradigm working for you? Take some time to seriously consider whether you should change to a look at the trees, or view the forest to help your writing more productive.

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