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.”