The idea of structure in a novel used to scare me. I had images of an ossified underpinning that hampered creativity, interrupted the flow of prose and character development.

In the past few years, I’ve decided to overcome that fear. I realized that it’s not always wise to depend on instinct to give structure to a novel, and that thinking about it and studying its principles could make a novel stronger, more compelling to the reader.

I also took a course, an online course, which I followed pretty well at the beginning. But about halfway through, I knew what I had to do with my manuscript, and I abandoned to just go and do it. (The course was Story Structure Safari, taught by Lisa Miller as one of Margie Lawson’s Writer’s Academy courses. This isn’t an endorsement or an exhortation, just something that made sense to me.) I had also already read several books that offered their own methods for structuring a story, books by Lisa Cron, Jeff Lyons, K.M. Weiland, and others. I think everything I absorbed in aggregate helped develop my conception of structure, which really only actualized something I understood on a subconscious level. But sometimes I have to put a concrete form to an idea in order to fully grasp it.

All this is perhaps more interesting to me than to my readers, but for aspiring writers out there: don’t be afraid to tackle the elements of the craft, and when you do it, use every tool at your disposal. I have an entire shelf of books about writing, and I continually add to my e-book collection as well. Sometimes when I feel a little stuck, I go back and re-read, and often find the answer to my writing problem.

Take courses if you can afford them (like the wonderful workshop I attended with Randy Susan Myers), read lots of great novels, and read books by great writers about writing. But above all, keep writing, keep thinking, keep growing.