Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Right Way To Write, Part One

I think this concept bothers writers a lot. More than most would be willing to admit. I've seen many suggestions on discussion boards: writers telling other writers how they should be writing their stories. Does that mean there's only one tried and true method of writing? I don't think so.

Then what is the best way to write? Is it just sitting down and writing what comes? Is it planning out the characters first? Creating an outline? Writing various scenes and dialog?

The answer is: none of the above. The best way to write is the way that works best for you.

If you're a seasoned writer, you probably know exactly what works and what doesn't. But if you're relatively new to writing, you may not.

So how do you figure out what works? Well, that depends on you. When you sit down to write, what's the first thing that pops into your head? Is it a scene or line of dialog? Is it backstory, character development, or plotline? If it's the former, then you're probably a free-writer. If the latter, you're probably a planner.

Next: which is less complicated?
Answer: neither.

My personal opinion on an individual's writing process: none of them are complicated, especially if it works. They just seem complicated to other people.

A non-planner might find a planner's process complicated since she probably finds outlines and backstory tedious, and limiting to her creative process. She just sits down to write and sees what happens.

A planner might find a non-planner's process complicated because, after the first draft is finished, she might find that she needs to take the story in a completely different direction. Or a character develops in unforseen ways. Or something else happens that requires chucking a good portion of the story, perhaps even starting over. That's inefficient, messy, and complicated to planners.

So, what do we do when we sit down to write? We write what pops into our heads.
I'm a planner by nature. I can't function if I don't have at least a general plan in front of me. And I get really annoyed when non-planners try to tell me I'm doing it all wrong, that I'm limiting muse. *sigh* My muse doesn't know what to do without a plan. :)

I try hard not to push people into writing the way I write - just because it works for me doesn't mean it'll work for everyone. There is no one way to write. The best way to write is the way that works for you. And the only way to find that is to try lots of things until you figure it out. It's a sad truth, but no one ever said this writing thing was easy.

When you sit down to write, pay attention to what pops into your head. Is it scenes and dialog? Or is it outlines and big picture stuff?

Or is it a mix of both - that gray area that isn't all planning and isn't all free-writing? I think this is where most writers land. But it's far too complicated to get into right now, so I'll talk about that in my next post.


PJ Hoover said...

I'm so a planner, but I do leave room for and allow for deviation from the plan. In fact, deviation is a good thing, so if it hits, I follow it full force.

Tabitha said...

I'm with ya. And it always seems that my characters are the ones who change everything! It's like they don't like the story I planned, and want to change it to their own. Pah! The nerve of some people! :) :)

Gosh, I do love talking about writing. :D

Mary Witzl said...

I'm both a planner and one of those by-the-seat-of-my-trousers people. I like to have an idea in mind -- a sort of outline in my head, as it were -- but once I write the outline down, I feel terribly hedged in.

Writing teachers used to insist that one had to start out with an outline. Oddly enough, many good writers have chosen not to use outlines, though, and this only came to light when writing teachers actually researched how people wrote. They were amazed to find that many people did not use outlines at all, but merely pretended to.

Like you, I'm a great believer in writing the way that feels natural -- provided that it works. I think it's important to try a variety of ways until we hit on the one that feels comfortable and produces good results. Forcing yourself to do it someone else's way is a sure-fire method for failure.

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

Mm, yes. One of my mottoes is, "Whatever works." What works isn't the same for everyone.

Tabitha said...

It's refreshing to hear writers advocating the "what works for you" rather than "do it my way." :) Guess it's a pet peeve I developed along the way. :)

Jacqui said...

I am decidedly a seat-of-the-pants writer. When my critique group says, "We can't wait to see what happens next," half of the time, I think, "Me too." Often I know how the final scene goes, but the journey there is a mystery. That's what makes writing fun for me, in part.

The down side is that my revision process is often, um, dreadful.

Tabitha said...

Yes, I can definitely see that...and it makes me cry out in pain just thinking about revising something that came out of me off-the-cuff. Ow! :)

All this is great fodder for my next post, btw. Thanks all!