Chaos versus Control









There are two very active spider webs side by side on my back deck. I am not a fan of spiders, so when I saw them, my first impulse was to grab a broom and sweep them away. But as I looked closer, the startling differences between the two webs intrigued me.

One was classic, elegant, perfectly aligned, with spokes of geometric precision so perfect that one wonders whether the spider has terrible OCD. It is clean and orderly and efficient. No wasted space. No wasted energy.

The other is scattershot, crazily strung from chair to rail, like the spider was on a drunken bender. This has gathered leaves and dirt and is littered with bug casings. Its chaos and disorder and sheer disarray works, but looks like a downright mess.

I know these are the webs of two very different spiders.

It is also an excellent visual metaphor for two very different writers.

Writer A – let’s call her Control Spider – has a process. A method. She rises early, gets some exercise, eats a good breakfast and starts work with a clear head. Control spider probably outlines her story, so she knows what she has to tackle during that day’s writing session. She edits her previous day’s work, then forges ahead, clear about her path. She gets her words down on the page then breaks for the day, utilizing the afternoon to read, run errands, prepare a meal. She goes to bed at a decent hour and does it all again the next day.

Writers B – Chaos Spider – is scattered. Like her messy web, she has no process, no method. Her writing day is not structured. She is catch as catch can, writing when the spirit moves her or the deadline gets close. Chaos spider may even be a daily writer, loading the page with words, having exultant moments when the words, characters, story take her places she never expected. She is often surprised when she sees her word counts at the end of the day, but never feels fully comfortable with her process.

Chaos Spider and Control Spider make their deadlines, they just do it in two very different ways.

The question I’m sure you’re asking yourself is which way is right?

The answer is: Both.

While on the surface Control Spider looks like the better method, she can get into such a routine that her work becomes stale and ordinary. Precise, yes, but even perfection can get boring sometimes.

On the other hand, Chaos Spider can spin works of sheer genius, her far-flung web bringing together pieces of life in ways no one imagined before, but won’t remember to wash her clothes or cook her dinner.

It’s best to find ways to incorporate both aspects into your writing day. Control Spider needs to build her web next to Chaos Spider so she can see that even when you break the rules, you can still catch your prey. Chaos Spider parked herself next to Control Spider for the same reason, to see how the other half lives, to watch the precision and beauty with which Control Spider spins her web, and absorb some of the benefits to being next to that serenity.

Having a plan and a goal is wonderful, commendable even. But allowing Chaos Spider to crawl onto the page, even for five minutes, will bring a fresh perspective to your writing.

Which are you? Control Spider or Chaos Spider? I must admit, I’m a bit of both.