Saturday, June 20, 2015

Doin' It Your Way

I wrote this elsewhere in response to somebody worrying they were not doing their plotting 'correctly'. I think they were worried about not using an outline maybe.

So this is what I said:

Writing is not like the Olympics where, as I understand it, athletes watch computer images of themselves and train to lift the left elbow a half inch on the turn so they conform to the optimal mathematical conformation. Nor is it necessarily a Tai Chi kata where one finds enlightenment by interpreting centuries-old patterns.

Writing is more like a bar fight -- not that I have been in a bar fight.

You will doubtless have noticed that writers follow many paths to plotdom. These may or may not include cats.

What we all have to do is find what works for us. We have to re-find this with every book, really, since we learn as we go along and we change as people and maybe the baby stops taking naps and some books need to be coaxed out of their cave with soap and railway shares while some need to be struck repeatedly across the head with a 2 X 4.

So take all the 'you have to's and use them to provide better drainage in the gully at the bottom of the hill and do what seems right to you. (This is known as 'The Great Permission' and you have to give it to yourself, though other writers can lend you theirs for the weekend. You will probably find used ones on e-Bay.)

You need not expect the first method to work. It might. It might not. Keep trying.


  1. Nicely said. This is one of those questions that seems to come up at least once a week in writing forums. And some writers will even use different methods for different stories.

  2. The "correct" way is whatever way works.

    I think the worry occurs when the method you're currently using isn't producing the results you want.

    When you're hearing a chorus of angels as page after page of genius pours out of you, the ghost of (insert famous dead author you most admire) could manifest and tell you you're doing it wrong, and you'd give him or her the finger and keep doing your thing.

    (Until Tuesday, when the genius stops pouring because that's how it goes and you bitterly regret your hubris.)

    1. Yep. I am a big fan of the empirical. If it works, you're doing it right. If eating oreo cooking stokes your genius, then buy 'em in carton lots.

  3. Ursula K. Le Guin wrote an essay, Talking About Writing, that talked about this issue:
    Put it this way: if you feel you need rules and want rules, and you find a rule that appeals to you, or that works for you, then follow it. Use it. But if it doesn’t appeal to you or doesn’t work for you, then ignore it; in fact, if you want to and are able to, kick it in the teeth, break it, fold staple mutilate and destroy it.
    See, the thing is, as a writer, you are free. You are about the freest person that ever was. Your freedom is what you have bought with your solitude, your loneliness.

    1. Nice nice quote. I have so much respect for her as a writer and as a writing teacher. One of my writing heroes.

  4. Thanks, Jo! I need to hear this over and over and ...You get the drift. ;-)