Redefining Writing

James Gartner

        I had finished two drafts of novels before I took my first creative writing class.  People still argue about teaching writing, and some believe that writing is something that can’t be taught.  They should try and read those ancient drafts and see what they think then.  Of course, I’m sure that more things than merely education have contributed to my writing.  I did write far more regularly back in those days, but then, everything was more regular then.

This book is very helpful whether you’re
a pantser or a plotter.

     Needless to say, I had never heard of “pantsers” and “plotters” when first I started writing.  I just did what I felt like doing, usually starting off just writing and making stuff up as I went, and maybe outlining a few things later on.  I used to picture my story as a kind of movie then, and I still do sometimes.  I’m a very visual person and I’m studying film as well as writing.  As I write more, I tend to see things a little differently.  Pantsing seemed to work out all right, but then I’d go back and look at my work and find all kinds of problems.  But what trouble is that?  It was just a draft, after all.  Yet every time I plugged one hole, something else opened up.
       So, ninety pages into a new draft of a new novel, one I’m considering working on for this class, I decided to start fresh and try and build a solid foundation before I begin to write.  I’m trying to be more organized.  But I’m young, and I’ve always found trial and error to be effective if time consuming, so I’m trying something and seeing how it goes.
       I think that’s also some of where I get blocked up when I’m trying to write.  As I’m looking ahead, I’m thinking I’ll probably do lots of different outlines.  Just let things go and see where they end up, then shuffle some things around and start again.  Eventually my outlines will look like one of those choose your own story books probably, but it’s an experiment.
       In my last blog post I talked about being a binge writer.  That typically goes with being a pantser.  And honestly even if I have outlined something, the details of the scenes come as I write, at least so far.  Sometimes that takes me in different directions from where I had plotted, but I’m pretty flexible.  The problem with writing a novel is that sometimes it takes a long time to figure out that you’re wrong.

Redefined implies that there is nothing more to do.
Perhaps a better slogan would be “Redefining Education,”
but maybe that was already taken.

       So I’m still searching to improve the way I go about writing long projects.  Who knows if I’ll ever be satisfied.  I don’t always stick to a certain path, even if it works.  Most of the excitement is in the experiment, in the search.  There always might be something better (which, by the way, is particularly frustrating when writing because I’m never really satisfied).  I don’t think anyone is too old to keep learning.  Then again, I’m young, so that’s easy for me to say.
       Perhaps I should have put this disclaimer toward the top, but if you came here looking for advice, you’ll find that I’m still figuring things out myself.  Check out the other posts on #amnoveling and you may find what you’re looking for.  In addition to Plot & Structure, James Scott Bell also has a blog.

Does It Really Matter?: Plotters, Pantsers, Outlines, or No Outlines

Brent Smith
Outline person or no outline person? Plotter or a pantser? These are pretty important questions in all walks of writing, as it determines literally everything about style, structure, and how long one spends actually constructing their story.  I’d posit that the terms themselves don’t even matter. As writers, we all crave the best and most efficient way to tell our stories. No two people work the same however. This is the great thing about working in a classroom with fourteen other writers. I’ve been able to see first hand, and talk to others in a small, controlled environment about process and it’s pretty easy to determine that writing process might as well be as deeply infused and unique as the very DNA they possess.
The Pantser’s bookcase/computer chair
            “Well, where do you sit on this line?” you may be asking (I hope, because I’m telling you anyway!). I personally believe I have a pretty unique approach to the process as I do a unique mix of plotting, pantsing, outlining, and not. It’s easy to begin with how well I organize my own life. Let’s just say that my method of organizing is…unique to say the least. This isn’t to say I don’t know where anything is. My delicate filing system usually just begins at my floor and ends on my coffee table. This behavior used to concern me as burgeoning writer, because I assume all writers were hyper-organized people who had their stuff together. Then I met a few of them. While a lot of them are those hyper-organized types, there are plenty of us who aren’t and produce equally tangible work. I like to begin any large piece a free write, exercising my characters, their wants, and needs. I like my characters to meet at the bar, like actors before a big movie. They grow familiar with each other, and understand what makes each other tick. I then save those free writes to a very dark place at the bottom of my Dropbox folder hidden within ten other Dropbox folders, and the show begins.
Okay, so I’m not totally chaotic. I still plan a little.
            I’m not completely lawless though, when undergoing large projects I will sketch very rough outlines but these usually consist of one or two sentences. My notes on my iPhone are about as packed as can be with one or two word descriptions of things I’ve observed. I do this so when I read these things later, I have an excuse to break away and reinterpret my own thoughts. I can break this back down to process being different for everyone. Due to growing up in a family that deeply infused micromanaging smaller situations for the better of the bigger picture, I’ve developed a sense for how the smallest ripples can foretell a tsunami. I think in these terms on the fly, and it’s very easy for me to establish elements in my work.
            One of the most prolific poets of recent memory, Charles Bukowksi, was also questionably organized. According to his almost four hours of interview footage in The Bukowski Tapes he did not identify as a worker because he didn’t want people to assume he was doing another 9-5 to job. He considered the process much more chaotic than that, and many people called him a bum. He also famously said during the tapes that he wrote as the words came because he wanted to “write down the words the way they were supposed to be”. This is a pretty important lesson. This isn’t to say that organization is by any means the devil, but  in my, and Bukowski’s experience, it can ultimately stifle the initial message.
            What all of this really goes to show you is that if you feel like you can’t be a writer because you don’t hyper-organize your life, or you feel like your process is just too unkempt comparable to others, I’d suggest you just shut up and write. Plot it, pants it, outline it, or don’t. While it’s good to analyze and accept what kind of writer you are, these terms don’t really matter. It’s just as good as anyone else, because there is no wrong way to plan. To try and subvert that is stifling your voice. Embrace the chaos, let it come out in your work, and keep writing.

Black or White? Um… Grey?

by Gaoly Thao

No Outline People or Outline People? If I had to choose which one I was, I would have to say I’m in between the two, but my radar is probably leaning towards the “No Outline People” more than the “Outline People” If I think about it really hard and look back at my writing style, I would be more of a NOP than an OP. It’s surprising because I like to be organized and write down my schedule or what I need to do for the day. However, when I am writing, I don’t really plan out my story or plot and just write whatever that comes to mind. I may have a few notes as to what I want to happen or something, but I just wing it. Is that bad? 

Well, James Scott Bell mentions in Plot and Structure, “Some fresh writing, yes. but where is the cohesion? Some brilliant word gems flash, but they may be scattered over a plotless desert”(153). I felt like a bat hit me. I tumbled over, slamming my hand on the ground and started laughing after I read that sentence. He hit it right on the mark. It is true that I don’t plot or outline my story and just write it out, but some of those scenes become useless, or I don’t even know why I wrote them. In the first place Also, I sometimes write scenes that are very similar to existing ones, which frustrates me.  It makes me think, well, what was I thinking? So I was shocked to see that it is true and I should do something to fix it, which Bell does mention in that chapter of how to improve or change your ways of writing your story. I find his points really useful and I think it will help improve my writing, which I am really looking forward to.
Some of the points that Bell mentions, that I think that are useful, are “Set yourself a writing quota,” “One day per week, record your plot journey,” “The David Morrell Method,” and “The Borg Outline.”
“Set yourself a writing quota” (156)
            When I began writing, I never had a set quota for my stories. Whenever I felt like writing, I just began to write, or when ideas came to mind, I quickly grabbed a piece of paper/ notebook and jot down those ideas. When my professors told me I should set a quota for writing or write everyday, I thought, “Huh? What a great idea. I’ll do that.” …Obviously I didn’t and I’m still stuck with not writing everyday. So I stuck up on my cork board a piece of paper that would inspire me to write… that didn’t work as well. (shakes head) I guess I need something to push me until I get this idea wrapped around my head and do it. The idea about not leaving your desk until you finish your quota got me. Also, the idea of writing right after you just woke up struck me. I think I will try it out and see how it will result as. I’ll start slowly and work my way up. Hopefully I’ll be able to write about 1,000 words a day, but I’ll start with 500 words or so…
“One day per week, record your plot journey” (157)
            This idea never occurred to me. I thought about plotting out what will happen in my story, but this idea of writing out what I wrote for the past week, was like a light bulb going off. I think it is a fantastic idea and I think it will really help me plot out my story. Plus it let’s me keep on writing and it’ll help me summarize what I wrote. It will be notes I can refer to later if needed.
“The David Morrell Method” (165)
            I have no idea who this David Morrell guy is, until Bell mentioned him. Bell said he liked Morrell’s Lessons From a Lifetime of Writing. When Bell described how Morrell you dive into your story and understand it fully by asking yourself questions. It intrigues me and I think I will try this method as well. I think by asking myself questions about why I’m writing this story will give me a whole new insight of my story.
“The Borg Outline” (166)
            I have to say, this method/outline is really long. It seems like it is time consuming and will need to be worked on for hours and hours or days and days. Most of the points Bell made, were very helpful, but I think that if I wasn’t so busy with school, and I just had to focus on writing my story, I would be able to do The Borg Outline. Plus, I’m not entirely or a pure OP, so this idea will be floating for a while until I get everything settled.
As a writer, I still need to work and develop my writing skills. I love writing and hope I can do it for the rest of my life. I think being in between a NOP and an OP provides great possibilities if I keep on working on my writing. Being GREY might not be such a bad idea.