Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Trying a Story on For Size

I've been tinkering with my writing process, hoping to learn what works for me as a writer and what doesn't as I (hopefully) grow in my writing skills and process. I'm halfway into a new novel, but when I reached that midpoint I hit a bit of a standstill. I wondered if my seat-of-my-pants approach might be doing me a disservice and I should try a different method. I thought it might be time to *gasp* plan.

But when I tried to think out the rest of my novel, it just didn't take. I had ideas in my head of a few ways the story could end, a handful of obstacles I could throw at my characters. But that was about as far as I could take it. When I sat down with the intention to plan major plot points, or draft deeper character sketches, I came up with nothing. So much nothing I stopped writing anything at all.

And then one day, while reading, an idea popped into my head. I wrote a scene, short but sweet. A couple days later I wrote another one. And it all started to gather momentum, and I've gotten back on the writing horse. I'm quite relieved, and really glad to confirm that those thoughts of "I should just give up writing" were temporary moments of insanity.

So I realized yesterday that I have a certain writing style, and that style keeps me writing, and writing makes me happy, so maybe I should just stick with what works instead of trying to invent something new.

The best way I can describe my writing process -- just sitting down and typing and seeing what comes out -- is that it's like shopping. When I go shopping, I often have an idea in mind of what I'm looking for. A dress for a special occasion, new shorts for the summer, cute weekend tops. That's all I know, and that's enough. Then when I get into a store, I grab anything and everything that I might even consider draping on my body.

I go into the fitting room with clothes spilling over my arms. And I try it all on for size. Some clothes that look adorable on the hanger look terrible on me. Too boxy, color washes me out, pants are too long. And then some clothes are okay, take a few turns in the mirror to consider, and get temporarily assigned to the "maybe" pile. And then there are those gems that are a perfect fit. You know with that first glance in the mirror that the dress is to die for.

And that's what my writing style is like -- I just can't tell what will happen next until I sit down and type it out. I need to constantly try my story on for size. Some scenes are awful and need to be deleted. Some scenes have potential, but you know they need more work. And then there are those scenes that push the plot forward, reveal deeper layers of your character, and burst with beautiful language.

I'm not a plotter. I can't order clothing from a catalog either. These are things that I know and accept about myself, so there's no sense in fighting them. As long as I keep writing, I have to believe that some great story somewhere is bound to evolve. I'll discover the story that's a perfect fit.


  1. I love this analogy, Lisa. Our writing styles sound very similar. I've tried planning, but most of what I planned got discarded as I wrote. Also, too much planning tends to kill my motivation to write the story because I prefer the excitement of letting the story unfold before me.

  2. Thanks Linda, it helps to hear that I'm not the only one this process works for. I'm glad to say that I've tried plotting/planning in advance, so I know that I've at least given it the ole college try. But I agree with you that you just can't beat the excitement of building a story out of nowhere!

  3. I usually end up doing a mixture of the two. When I begin a story, I begin it because I have a general, hopefully interesting base idea. Then I'll write until I know where it is going. THEN I have to plot out the rest of it; it helps me to know where the story is going, because then I can tailor each scene to the plot progression.

    Right now, on my current story, I am just kind of winging it. Ha.

  4. I'm with you to a great degree. Loved your clothes-fitting scenario (that's totally me, with armfuls going into the dressing room, BTW!).

    Not sure if you saw this, but I posted some tips by historical fiction author David L. Robbins on the subject of plotting, and he suggests a process similar to yours: (although, he calls his "baseball writing"). Guys. ;)

    Thanks for the post!

  5. Interesting blog, Lisa! I'm always trying to develop and grow with my writing process too. I think a lot of what you learn is about what works for you, and part of that is accepting your own process and style.

  6. I am so like you... I try to outline... I just have to let the words flow with some particular points in mind along the way.

    PS - I bestowed a most special honor on you...

  7. Interesting. The process is that there IS no hard-and-fast process, or at least that it's different for everyone. Thanks for sharing, Lisa.