I came across this blog while reading tweets attached to the hashtag ‘#MondayBlogs’. After reading it I thought, here’s a writer just like me! When she sits to write she has a vague idea of where the story will go, but she lets the story, and characters, take it where they may. I hope You like the blog as much as I did …
Writing my first book came as a surprise. I didn’t sit down with the intention of writing a novel. I’m not sure what my intention was, if in fact I even had a conscious purpose in giving voice to the noise in my head. Once the paragraphs turned into pages, and the story kept unfolding, I realized what was happening. At that point, though, I was already immersed in the characters, and I didn’t stop to consider the process until I was done.
I had a novel. After I whooped and danced and celebrated my “finished” novel, the cold, hard truth slapped me in the face. What I had was a first draft that needed a lot of work. My process of learning and rewriting is irrelevant to today’s discussion. The pertinent issue is that I did not have a creative writing educational background. Consequently, I didn’t know that I was breaking the rules.
Now, many years and eleven books later, I know that I consistently break one of the basics taught to most students of creative writing. I do not outline. Feels like I’m breaking a commandment. Thou Shall Outline. Oops.
I am a clueless writer. I have only the vaguest sense of plot when I start a novel. The best way I can explain my process is to say that the story is not mine to manipulate. The story belongs to the characters, and so I follow them and write down what I see, hear, and feel. Often I’m as surprised as readers by the things that happen along the way.
Over the years, in my writerly manner of introspection, I’ve realized that breaking this rule wasn’t merely a matter of ignorance. I’m simply not a planner. I did what came naturally to me. A clear example of this comes from my long ago college English Composition class. I was never good about homework. (Another story altogether.) So I arrived in class to find that I’d totally forgotten our first assignment was due that day. I was supposed to have written a two-page short story. We’d been given a prompt, which I’ve long since forgotten, and a full week to write the story. And there I was, without a single word. Fortunately, I arrived to class twenty minutes early. I opened my notebook (the olden days, when we used pens and paper) and I started writing. I remember the few classmates who’d also arrived early were laughing and teasing me. No way was I going to complete the story before class began. Fortunately, another one of my idiosyncrasies is that I can shut out the world and get lost inside my own head. Whatever that prompt was, I found a voice, listened, and followed. I wrote. When the professor walked in, I was writing the last sentence.
I received an A+ on that paper. No, I’m not saying that to brag about my writing skills. And I don’t recommend putting off assignments until twenty minutes before class begins. My point is that I cannot plan. I’m not meant to plan. If that assignment had been to outline a story, rather than to write one, I would most definitely have earned a flaming F as a grade. That first college writing assignment taught me something about myself, though I didn’t realize it until much later. Creativity is a personal thing. What matters is where you end up, not how you get there.
Outlining, to me, is tedious. Forced. My mind doesn’t work that way. I can’t hear the voices. I can’t feel what the characters are feeling. It’s like trying to swim while wearing a straightjacket. The constraints take away what I need to chase after my muse.
Those who want to learn the writing craft, or any other artistic endeavor, will come across lots of rules and advice all over the internet, in books, and from mentors and teachers. Clearly there are rules that should not be broken, ever, such as proper grammar. Right? Well, sort of. Most people don’t speak in proper grammar all the time, and using it consistently in dialogue can make a character seem stuffy at best, and at worst can make the writing feel dull and forced. So even the rules that seem obvious aren’t really that clear after all.
I’m not suggesting that it’s pointless to learn any of the rules. What I am saying is that within all this advice, we need space to find our own voice.
My advice: If you want to be a writer, break the rules. Or don’t. Either way, do what feels right.
Thanks for reading.
I write mostly within the suspense genre. I’m fascinated by the dark side of human nature, and that shows in my writing. But I’m not always examining the psychopathic mind. Occasionally my characters take me on a humorous journey, they fall in love, and maybe even talk to ghosts.
If you have questions about my writing or something on my blog, you can contact me directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org
You can learn more about me and my writing on my website: www.QuietFuryBooks.com