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A kick in the pants

If you’ve been keeping up with my posts the last few weeks or months, you’re probably starting to think I’m schizophrenic. One minute I’m lauding the wonder of structure and pre-planning, and the next I’m lamenting the missing magic when I write within a structure.

Basically, you’ve been watching me try to find myself. I cannot regret having any knowledge of structure, and I will admit the lure of it is great for a logic-minded person like me. However, I’ve come to the conclusion that I may have to fly by the seat of my pants in order to find my best story. I can work the structure back into it later, or keep it in mind as I go.

I hate admitting that, but it’s better than struggling to force a method that doesn’t work for me right now. (I’m always hopeful for the future.)

Just over a year ago, when I started writing seriously, the time spent writing was pure joy. Yeah, I struggled and backtracked and cut, but overall the process was (mostly) fun. The story just came to me as I went, like brainstorming on the go. All three of my completed works (one which is never mentioned in public) were written that way.

My left brain rebelled and demanded that there had a to a better, more efficient way to do it. And there is. But (apologies to one of my favorite gurus, Larry Brooks) it’s not my way. Not now. When I tried it, I couldn’t get more than 4-5000 words before I lost the spark, lost the desire.

Today, I read an article that helped me come to terms with my “pantsing” ways. It was written by Jo Beverly, and it walks us through her “process” of writing from scratch. She calls it “Flying into the Mist”. I highly recommend it to all writers who won’t or can’t pre-plan, and to the people who love them. 😉

Writing by the seat of your pants doesn’t mean you can’t incorporate GMC, characterization, and good story structure. They’ll still be on your mind, but the story will unfold as you go, and you may have to go back and strengthen it in the edit/revision process. Or after you write each scene.

The whole argument about the right way to write reminds me of the working mom vs. stay-at-home mom debate. I’ve been on both sides of that one too. There’s no right or wrong answer. There’s only what’s right or wrong for you, right now.

Be true to yourself, embrace your own method, and, as always, write on.

UPDATE 2/25/11: In case you haven’t been following along, After an incredibly successful trial run for NaNoWriMo, I’m back to outlining to give myself guideposts, but flying through the mist in between. What I’ve found is that I have to give myself time to play with the (really basic) outline to make sure the story is solid before I start writing from it. This has worked really well for me now, and I might just be sticking to it. 🙂

0 Comments

  1. Martha W

    Reply

    Okay, this is hilarious. Right now, this very second I have LB’s Story Structure open in front of me. And I love it. But then, from the get-go I’ve outlined, saved pictures of my protags/antags, layouts of their houses, what cars… yada, yada.

    His style appeals to me on soooo many levels. But I could see how it wouldn’t for others (and obviously you are one). Each writier I think has to find their own style and method – none being exactly the same.

    So, here’s good luck to both of us!

    Great post. Perfect timing!

    • Reply

      LOL. I totally loved his style, too. I’m just having trouble making it work for me. I’m not completely giving up. I think understanding good structure will help me make better decisions as I write on the fly.

      Yes, good luck to both of us!

  2. Reply

    I totally agree. I have taken on line classes about structure and when I try, it never works for me. Letting my imagination tell the store than clean it up works so much better for me as well. I too home to someday become more structured. I am sure it will improve my manuscript, but not my storytelling.

    Thanks for the post and the Flying in the Mist. It’s comforting to know I am not alone in my structure struggle.

  3. Christine

    Reply

    I am a hybrid–most likely bipolar as a writer. I need structure to start, but the freedom to fly when I am in the story. Of course this means ENDLESS revisions till I carve out the better story, but it’s the way it works for me.

    That article was a revelation to me as well. I realized I totally wrote the first book by the seat of my pants.

    • Reply

      Definitely eye-opening. I’d hoped to avoid the endless revisions part. I guess I just need to get better at writing really good first drafts. 😉

  4. Reply

    Hi Gwen. I heard Jo Beverly give a presentation on flying Into the Mist at RWA many years ago. I remember thinking at the time that she had just detailed my exact process and I liked being a Mister much more than a Panster. 🙂

    Your search for your writing self parallels mine in many ways. Years ago I was writing a lot and doing well but I simply burned out. I needed to step back because there was nothing in the well to tap when I sat down to write. Now I’m back at it again but it’s sort of like driving a car after living in the city and not needing one for years. I remember the basics but I don’t have a good feel for it anymore. It’s no longer second nature. So, like you, I’ve been experimenting with different methods. So far nothing has clicked so I made a decision yesterday to revisit a story that I know well. My current plan (subject to change 🙂 ) is to try to work a better structure into a story I wrote from my heart.

    Good luck with your plans. You’re definitely not alone. That Jo Beverly workshop on Writing into the Mist was packed to overflowing!

    • Reply

      I think that’s a good plan, Mary. I guess that’s what I’ll be doing with all of my stories from now on, unless something changes. I started a new one yesterday, and I’m having a lot of fun with it. It’s no more of a struggle to figure out what comes next than it was trying to determine what the plot points will be. And I’m getting lots of ideas as I go.

      We’ll see. Good luck with yours!

  5. Reply

    Okay – so now I’m laughing and blushing. I should have clicked your link before I typed. The workshop I was talking about was the one you linked. I knew it was a long time ago but I didn’t think it was THAT long ago. 1999. ouch

  6. Reply

    Hmmm… I’m a pantser, and I’ve been thinking I can save my sanity a bit to plan things more in advance as I get into my next MS. I guess we’ll see if I find out a lose a bit of the magic that way. Thanks for the post and the link!

  7. Reply

    Well said! I’ve tried writing both way too and learned I’m like you, a pantser. My last book was written from 5 sentences then I kept a notebook with notes of threads I’d left & needed to pick back up. I found that my subconcious managed to structure it all on its own.
    Great post!

    • Reply

      Thanks. It seems I’ve hit a hot button. This is the beauty of the writing community. Learning that we’re not alone, and that everyone has their own process.

      The structure has to be there, but how it gets there is unique to each of us. Thanks for stopping by Beth!

  8. Reply

    Check me out on this. As I read “Flying into the Mist” against the back drop of hard core structure planing I wondered, ” has everything in our culture been divided into camps and become a debate, even story writing?

    I got on this merry-go-round a long time ago. I don’t every remember plot points and their cousins being a big discussion with the intensity that it is now back-in-the-day. I don’t remember writers having to even think about declaring or even defining themselves in terms of how structure showed up in their stories. Granted a James Bond thriller didn’t have much of a chance showing up on a band book list like The Grapes of Wrath. But, none of us lost much sleep over it either way.

    I’m wondering, has technique and the quest for being “more productive” driven us to add a layer of useless division to a process that is as old as humanity itself — telling stories?

    I’m also wondering, if technique has become that defined and that controlling why not a computer program based on the story as structural development model of say a Larry Brooks. Sort of a hopped up plot book. Then all the writer needs to do is feed the machine the necessary fill-ins.

    Here’s is what I’m betting. Everyone that shows up on this blog are story tellers. Every last one of us. And, I’m betting if it’s in us and has to be told we will find the way to get our story told. That’s what I’m betting.

    But, then, like I said. I’ve been on this merry go round a long time. I still bet on people before I bet on machines or the technique that drives them. There is just something about the restless human spirit that is, well….. it’s just there.

    • Reply

      Good point, Curtis. There’s always room to learn how to be a better story teller, but the quest for productivity has definitely led some of us to question our own practices.

      Thanks for chiming in. BTW, I meant to tell you to check out the updated word frequency link for Scrivener. I didn’t realize I had it linked to the wordle post until you said something. There’s a function in Scrivener for this: http://gwenhernandez.wordpress.com/2010/02/09/tech-tuesday-word-frequency-in-scrivener/

      • Reply

        Gwen. thank you for the info. on word frequency. I tried it out. And, i am really glad I did. After I got the hang of it I found a corrupted file, I guess. WF works great on every thing I set up since the 50,000 word NaNo book. Of course. 🙂

        When I attempt WF on the Novel > file it hangs the computer. I do a force quit. I’ve renamed the file and saved the file. Then imported the “new” 50,000wd Scriv. fill into a new project. Still hangs the machine when I View>Stats>text stats. One thing I do notice when I Shift-click there is no entire edit mode possibility. What ever caused the problem is at that point in the program with that file.

        I think the only safe thing to do with this file is use not one piece or part of it. Print it. Scan it. Then import it into a new Scriv. project. Then delete the old Project.

        Unless 50,000 wds is more than one file in Scriv. should have in it and I doubt that. I’m thinking the scan plan will fix it. But I thought I would run it by you first. I did get the Sriv. “Help Desk” address correct didn’t I? 🙂

        • Reply

          Hmm, maybe I should start charging for this. It might be the only way to make money from my writing. 😉

          I’ve never encountered a corrupt file in Scrivener, but I do know it can handle files over 50K. My last one was up to 68K at one point, and David Hewson writes 100K+ books.

          I would maybe print it if you can spare the paper. Then, try exporting it to Word, and see if it’s okay there. If it’s good in Word, import it back to Scrivener.

          If that doesn’t work, you might check the Scrivener forum at http://www.literatureandlatte.com/forum/ and choose the Technical Support thread. The guys over there are great. (Or do this first. ;-))

          Good luck!

          • Reply

            I gave it one more shot. This time with just a smidgen of patience.

            Solution…. with a 2.2 MB file on my computer. When text stats is selected
            go make a cup of coffee. It takes a minute or two. 🙂

          • Reply

            That’s the problem with me not being able to see what you’re doing. I thought you were getting some kind of gobbledygook or an error message.

            I should have mentioned that it does take a while if you do the whole file at once. Glad you figured it out!

          • Reply

            When I was younger I was promised, with age comes wisdom and patience.
            In my case, I guess not. Thank you for your help.

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