Today I was giving feedback to students on a creative writing assignment. For the assignment, they had to find a photo depicting human migration in some way. Most chose an image of Syrian refugees, or immigrants at the US/Mexico border. Some chose more historical photos of Japanese mail-order brides, or a family member who was a holocaust survival and immigrant. They could then write in their choice of genre about the photo, story, poem, stream of consciousness, etc.
I asked for a paragraph of reflection at the end of the assignment. One student commented on how hard it was to get started because she got hung up on finding the perfect structure and the perfect idea. Once she started going, though, she discovered some things she hadn’t even realized were there and ultimately she felt great about the final product.
I needed to read that. I’m having some process insecurity of my own.
Let me explain. I wrote my novel Improbable Girl with an idea for an opening scene and that was it. I had no outline, no ideas for the ending. I had some characters in mind, but they weren’t fully developed. I just wrote. And I jumped around in the plot and wrote whatever caught my fancy that day.
When I finished, I started talking to other writers and reading about writing. I read about all kinds of plotters and planners and outliners. And I’ll admit, I started to feel a bit insecure. I’m sure it was imagined, but I got the sense that writers who planned first looked at my seat-of-my-pants process (also called “pantsing”) as the inferior method of writing.
And when I sat down to edit my novel, it was a hot mess plot-wise and character-wise. I had to make some massive changes. I started to think that maybe some time spent outlining before writing might help me to save time on the revisions.
As I approach my next project, I’ve been doing some planning. I’ve been Snowflaking and outlining. The first few steps seem to work for me and then I get this feeling of dread and despair. I can’t figure out how it should end or what the next crisis will be and suddenly I feel hopeless. The whole idea is garbage and it’s not going to lead anywhere.
Today, I’m reminding myself of who I am. I am a leap-and-the-net-will-appear person. I’m a rush-in-and-find-joy-in-problem-solving person. I think my logical brain is not quite as smart as the part of my brain that runs loose when I’m just writing my way out of things. (“I wrote my way out…“)
I will say there is one pre-writing or extra-writing activity I find value in: character interviews. I’ve starting doing more and more Q and A type freewrites. I’m not controlling where it goes, I’m just asking and probing. I did one with Jane and Daniel in the Improbable Girl editing process where I just asked them, “What do you think you’re doing?” What came out of that was really crucial. It helped me clarify what was happening with each of them and where they needed to go as characters through the novel.
So enough planning. For now. Maybe a premise is enough. Maybe a character with a little wounded spot in her heart is enough. And yes, I’m going to have more work on the other end to figure out how to make it work. I’m alright with that. I’ve been there before and I know I can make it through.
Also, I read this article by Chuck Wendig (swearing makes me so happy) and I needed it. I joked on Twitter that I was going to make it a daily meditation. I might not be kidding. I might read it every day. Even though I’ve done this once–finished a book, that is–I’m feeling that same old insecurity in my abilities. Enough. No more.