Still Grappling with the Method

I’ve been in the serious writing mode for a little over six years now. Fear is my worse enemy, which isn’t surprising seeing it’s an obstacle many writers have. In a valiant attempt to get rid of the ambiguity I feel when I sit at my desk and try to write something decent, I’ve tried to use the “plotter” approach but, it never fails—I end up being a “pantser”.

Yes, I know there is a slew of writers who don’t do the outlines and summaries before forging ahead with their fingers dancing over the keyboard. Regardless, most, if not all those writers don’t have the cognitive problem of short-term memory loss gnawing at them day in and day out. Of course, I do have my little cognitive tricks I use that usually keep the memory-chomping monster at bay. These gimmicks are for those times when I don’t want to trip over a beat during my daily life though. They aren’t designed for the woolgathering mode I’m in while I write.

I assume most people, when they mull over something seriously, when they’re on that all-important quest, find their brain going lickety-split through the scenarios. Their brain is capturing everything without having to be prodded in any way. Their brain can retrieve from 65 seconds, 4 minutes, or 20 minutes before adding or deleting without any problems. And after that is done, they’re able to continue from where they left off. This, unfortunately, and disastrously, is not what I can easily do. My brain can trip over a beat at almost any pothole during the deliberation process. I can derail at any curve in the journey. Anything I’ve written 3 minutes ago may most likely have flown out of my head. And it isn’t just that I can trip, derail, or forget. The chances it will happen are about 85 to 90%. It takes me some time to get my bearing again too. To be fair, the forgetfulness isn’t that bad when it comes to the events of real life—at least, not usually. But then, those tricks normally come into play.

These phrenic obstacles are physical, not psychological. Changing how I think isn’t an option. Because of this, the fear, the self-doubt settles in, causing gobs of frustration that gum up the works. I’ve been in dire hopes that being a “plotter” would help me. I read articles and blog posts galore about story structure. I had even subscribed to the blog, Story Grid in hopes the posts written there would help me get the hang of writing using a formula.

Then I read an article by Colum McCann written in May of 2017. One passage was so revealing to me that I had to ponder on it a while: “You should not try to stuff your story into a preconceived structure. A proper structure mirrors the content of the story it wants to tell. It will contain its characters and propel them forward at the same time. And it will generally achieve this most fully when it does not draw too much attention to itself. Structure should grow out of character and plot, which essentially means that it grows out of language.”

“Plot takes the backseat in a good story because what happens is never as interesting as how it happens.”

Here I had been putting so much time and drudgery into trying to be a “plotter”; doing all that preliminary work of filling out questionnaires, writing outlines, and brain mapping, when come to find out, it wasn’t necessary. Oh yes, I know there are writers out there who swear being a plotter is the only way to go. If you’re one of those, I do believe it’s true—for you. Keep on truckin’ with that process. It’s working for you.

But, for me, I’m going to listen to Colum McCann and start enjoying the process again as I did with my first WiP. I didn’t just dive in without any preceding groundwork. I had some details written about my major characters and my settings.

Are you a plotter, a pantser, or something in between? Do you mind explaining why?

“For most of the process, nothing but faith, fueled by your own stubbornness, will be pulling you along. The work that you’ve done on the book so far won’t be much comfort, because so much of it will be insufferable crap, until the very last moment, when you figure out how to fix it and everything comes together.”

Kristin Cashore

12 thoughts on “Still Grappling with the Method

  1. Glynis, I don’t think anyone should write – or paint or dance or act or sing or create in any format – unless they feel joy when doing so. That doesn’t mean there won’t be moments of doubt or frustration about the work. I don’t think there is any one perfect road to success because that implies that not only is the achievement perfect but that it’s lauded by the public, whoever they are. I’m glad to read that you’re returning to doing something you love. I wish the process was easier for you and I certainly send my best wishes to you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Shari, again, thank you for your moral support. You are one of the few on this internet that I believe said what she means 100% on the time so I end up feeling more protected, touched by your words.

      Life is a challenge. I don’t, for one second, think I am the only one with cognitive problems who loves to write This particular strife of life is one of the few things that gets me up in the morning. Sure, it isn’t easy but, in many ways, I look forward to the battle each and every day. It gives me purpose.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The trick to successful anything – is knowing where you are going. The harshest critique I have ever heard came during the unveiling of a computer system at work. A manager said, “this is an eloquent solution to the wrong problem.”

    Sure, sometimes characters can lead us in new and fascinating direction – but that might be a swamp.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I really like the notion that, “Plot takes the backseat in a good story because what happens is never as interesting as how it happens.” Still, I think we have to know what is going to happen. Perhaps a mix of planning where you are going, but letting things flow on the way there.

    I am solidly somewhere in between. I keep a myriad of notes about topics for blog posts and longer works (if that day ever comes). I guess it’s because I don’t want to forget the idea that seemed so good at the time. I also keep track of web pages that relate to various topics that I know/think require more research. There’s a certain degree of comfort in having a big pile of information to fall back on, even if I don’t ultimately use it.

    However, sometimes, something strikes me and I start writing, ignoring the notes and the research, and rendering it fodder for some future attempt to revisit or expand on the subject. I have bits of longer stories (too long for a blog post) stored in the same place as those notes, because one day it just seemed like I knew how to write something,.

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    1. I have notes, bookmarks, and even whole articles in notebooks in my Evernote program. I am utterly aware of the fact that a good percentage of it will never be used. Still, for those larger writing projects, I want to keep the preliminary stuff at a minimum. Part of my reason is I’m using a flash drive for these projects.

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  4. Knowing what I do about you, I would have guessed being a plotter would be a good solution. Darn! I look forward to fitting all the disparate pieces that bob around in my brain into a story, then fleshing it out. I need an outline for that, not as a construct but so I see where I’m going. Like a map to drive from A to Z.

    Sigh. It’s not easy, being a writer, is it?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “It’s not easy, being a writer, is it?”
      Boy! You’re not kidding, Jacqui. And yet, we do it so willingly. We’re gluttons for punishment.

      I honestly thought outlining and summarizing would be my ticket out of despair too. But I’m absolutely miserable doing all of that preliminary work and I don’t really use it when I get to the actual writing.


  5. I decided to be a plontser if that makes sense 🙂 a mix of plotting and being a pantser. It’s no perfect method at all but it works for me. You have to do what feels good for you.
    I usually start as pantser and when the story starts to get complex, I write down some plotting points to make sure I don’t lose it in the way. The plotting part is not that heavy, only some general structures of things I need character X to find out or to happen to them. It’s usually only a one-page list. I revisit these plotting “tips” from time to time to make sure I’m on the path and sometimes I cross out some of them and add new ones. With my last manuscript, this worked very well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like your idea, Carla. I was able to write the 1st draft without having to go back and untwist anything but it’s a story I’ve had on my mind for about 40 years. I have other ideas for novels that may need to be untwisted along the way. If so, I’ll probably use a form of Jami Gold’s beat sheet. []

      Liked by 1 person

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