Most writers grapple with maintaining a balance between creative flow and creative control.
Flow is the spontaneous outpouring of material, while control is the intentional, logical shaping of it. They’re both necessary for producing successful writing. If an author lacks control, their writing can be an incoherent mess. And if a writer lacks flow, sometimes they can’t produce work at all, because they self-edit themselves into a crippling writer’s block.
If you, as a writer, lean more heavily toward one end of the spectrum, you might be tempted to place a higher premium on the other end. Personally, I tend to be a very controlled writer. I try to write as concisely as possible, within very intentional structures. Before I wrote the first draft of my novel, I outlined the whole thing in great detail, and then stuck religiously to my outline. Why do I do it? I suppose because I place a high value on craft, and because I have some idealistic vision wherein every sentence, every writerly choice, is crucial to the story’s cohesiveness. Like, water is two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen. If you add or take away anything, it’s just not water. That’s how I see every story.
But it’s exhausting! All this nitpicking and attempted perfectionism is very tiring and tedious. It’s not a methodology I would recommend to others.
Personally, I can’t help but envy those writers who write with abandon, and who aren’t afraid to veer into the realm of purple prose or confusion or digression. I can’t help but envy those writers who just use all the adjectives, instead of obsessively rewriting to find the perfect one. The writers who just shrug and say, “I don’t really care what the reader thinks.” Those who show up to writing workshops with a piece that they just whipped up the day before, totally unafraid to present that raw, just-birthed story. Those writers just seem so much more creative than me.
But do I want to be like them? Not entirely. I value balance. I think it’s important to assess where you, as a writer, stand on the spectrum. If you’re too far on the fringe in either direction, it’s probably worthwhile to cultivate the attitude of the other and to try to move a few notches closer to a balanced middle. Personally, I’m trying to cherry-pick some of the more productive elements of the “flow” mindset. Like, the fearlessness—the “go for it” attitude that lets them ramble and make wacky associations that are sometimes brilliant.
So, what kind of writer are you? Where are you on the spectrum? Are you more about the flow, or more about the control? It’s worthwhile to ask yourself that so you can get a handle on your habits and natural tendencies—and also open yourself up to new possibilities as a writer.