~ By Win Day
I love to watch people work.
No, it’s not that I’m lazy, or that I just want to sit on the sidelines of life. But I really enjoy watching someone do something they do well. Especially when it’s something I don’t know how to do myself.
It doesn’t matter what that something is. On a recent 5+ hour flight the teenaged girl next to me braided and rebraided her long straight hair maybe a dozen times, each time a little differently. Since my hair is frizzy curly and doesn’t lend itself well to that sort of styling, I was fascinated by both the sheer number of different things she could get her hair to do and the apparent ease with which she made them happen.
Cooking shows intrigue me. I can’t figure out how they can cut and chop so quickly without leaving little bits of themselves mixed in with the minced onion.
Construction sites are an endless source of interest: so many people doing so many different things!
Music is another treat. Watching a performance, listening to a recording: I get caught up sometimes in the HOW of the piece as much as in the simple pleasure of experiencing it. I’ve got some recordings ABOUT recordings produced by a couple of my favourite artists. Live recording sessions, complete with interruptions to make changes on the fly; annotated recordings, where the singer/songwriter explains the production choices she made in compiling the final version: I take great delight in these glimpses into someone else’s creative process.
When I started to write my novel I immersed myself in craft books and workshops. I’m all about process. In my business life my projects live and die by the processes I’ve developed over the years. I figured I could apply the same sort of systematic approach to writing the novel. Hah.
It didn’t take me long to get frustrated. No one process, no one system, called to me and said “look, look, this is how you do it!”. I found myself skimming and looking for highlights, those little gems of wisdom that I could incorporate into my own slowly developing process.
I had forgotten that it took me years of building websites and coaching web strategy to figure out my processes and systematize them. I wanted that same sort of ease, that same sense of certainty in my path, in my writing — and I wanted it RIGHT NOW!
Dream on. Wasn’t going to happen. It took me the first few months to come to grips with being a pantser rather than a plotter. When I write for business I create an outline first, then deepen and annotate the outline, and THEN start writing. I expected that writing fiction would work the same way as writing non-fiction. And it might for some, but it sure doesn’t for me.
For the novel I had just started writing. I knew the overall story I wanted to tell, I knew a bit about my heroine and hero (although I’ve learned a heck of a lot more along the way), I had some of the story arc highlights in mind, like stepping stones in a stream. But I didn’t have an outline, that bridge across the stream.
At one point I needed to create a synopsis to enter a contest, but that was before I had reached the halfway point in the story I knew I wanted to tell. So I outlined, and then annotated that outline, to create a synopsis.
And damned if the thing didn’t end up being more of a stumbling block than an aid. I found myself writing into plot dead ends because I was trying to force the story to follow the roadmap rather than letting it unwind as the characters told me what they wanted me to hear. Or I’d get stuck and simply could NOT figure out what was supposed to happen next. Because that wasn’t what was supposed to have happened at all.
I scrapped the synopsis. And the writing started to flow again.
But I still bought and read craft books, and attended craft workshops, even though they weren’t really “helping” me much. Or not as much as I expected them to. Or not in the way I expected them to.
I finally figured out that what I value in those craft books and craft workshops isn’t so much what they are trying to teach me about a process or a method. It’s the glimpse into someone else’s creative process, more than the potential influence on mine, that’s important to me.
There’s a whole lot of craft stuff I have yet to explore. It’s early on in this journey yet for me. But I’m less concerned about making sure that my work in progress conforms to the three act play, or whether I have the hero’s full external and internal goal/motivation/conflict all worked out in advance, than I used to be. I’ll just tell my stories and write the best books I can.
And enjoy hearing about how other authors write theirs.