Be Wary Of Those Who Tell You How to Create

I read a book about writing in which the author proceeded to detail a methodology to follow from start to finish. The author went on to contend vehemently that the method presented was the best way to create a novel.

A guy on a forum vigorously advocated that you can’t truly become a professional writer unless you learn to write scenes out of sequence.

Another guy contended that, at the very least, outlining the ending to your story is “always” helpful.

I thought it self evident that one’s creative process is a personal thing, that it’s intuitively obvious to everyone that what works best for one person does not necessarily work better for someone else.

Apparently not.

Outlining may well be advantageous to you. Writing scenes out of order might spur your craft to new levels.

It’s never a bad idea to experiment.

It is, however, the height of hubris to think that your understanding of your own process means that you have any comprehension of another’s.

I do a tiny bit of outlining, but, mostly, I’m a discovery writer. Inside me, there exists two people — Engineer Brian who is good at the details and Creative Brian who comes up with the ideas. Engineer Brian runs most of my life, and I think he does a great job. When I’m writing a story, however, and I get to that point where I have no idea what’s going to happen next, he’s worse than useless.

He tends to go into panic mode in that situation. The problem to solve doesn’t break easily into a set of knowns and unknowns. There’s no equation to plug the variables into.

That’s why I leave the first draft to Creative Brian.

Let’s say you told me, “Come up with a story.”

I’d nod my head for a second before placing my hands at the keyboard.

Joe eased off the gas as he felt the car hydroplane. The truck in the lane next to him passed him.

Screw that, he thought. He floored it.

I know nothing about Joe or the story. The first thing that came to my mind is a nameless, faceless guy. I don’t know his hair color, his eye color, or anything about his history. All I know is that he’s driving a car in wet weather. It occurs to me that the car is a 1976 Camaro painted with gray primer and has rust spots showing through. I doubt his name is actually “Joe,” but that’ll work until I get to know him well enough to saddle him with an appropriate moniker.

As a discovery writer, I learn about the character the same way the reader does — through his actions, speech, and thoughts. From what I’ve written, I immediately notice that he’s both competitive and reckless. These qualities will need to play a big role in the story.

So, what happens next?

I’m not sure; I’d have to keep writing to find out. My guess is that he’ll get into a wreck and that circumstance will put him into contact with a love interest. I could be completely wrong, though. It could be he’s running drugs or is a spy or one of a million other things. Whatever happens, though, will be a natural culmination of who he is as a person and of the choices that he makes.

For an outliner to tell me that I have to change my process, that it’s “better” for me to know the outcome before I write any more, is ridiculous. I don’t know who the character is yet. The ending will be a consequence of the character and his actions.

Why is it somehow beneficial for me to choose arbitrarily a plotline and conclusion before I know the character?

The answer is that it’s not. There are inherent advantages and disadvantages for all your creative choices, including your choice of how to create.

Experiment. Figure out what works for you. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you what you “must” do.

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3 thoughts on “Be Wary Of Those Who Tell You How to Create

  1. Completely agree…I always appreciate people’s tips and suggestions (and some even work for me), but each writer is different. What works for one, will not necessarily work for another. As with anything, take what works and leave the rest.

  2. I have found that a combination of all of the above works for me. Parts of my story just wrote themselves with my fingers. Other parts needed to be laid out with detailed plot line and background so I would know what to write elsewhere (because those parts don’t appear in the story at all). I also wrote way more material than belongs in the book, so now I have to cut the excess. That’s part of the process, too.

  3. Thank you for a great explanation of the difference between the machinery of writing and the creative forces that bring writing to life.

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