Pendulums and Processes

You may recall that I’ve had some difficulty in the past finding the right balance between being a “seat-of-pants” writer and an “outliner.” At first I tried to outline the daylights out of my novel, and then went the other direction. And that was just on one novel.

Since then I’ve started (and nearly completed–sorry, just had to exult just a little) a new novel in which I hoped I had finally hit on the right balance (for me) of improv and planning. I did a fair amount of pre-writing on characters and their arcs, setting, etc., but had only a general idea of where the plot needed to go. I’d let the story drive itself a bit.

Nope, that’s not it, either. Balance (not yet) restored! This book has felt almost aimless at times. And in spite of supposedly knowing the characters’ arcs, I’m not sure I really achieved what I had been aiming for. Some good things have happened with this novel (and let’s face it, for most of us still, a novel finished is a victory in itself), but it was not the realization of the Goldilocks Principle I had been hoping for.The_Story_of_the_Three_Bears_pg_25

I still haven’t found what my process is.  (Cue the U-2 music!)

So now I’m left looking back the other way again. My previous novel, even though I ended up starting over and rewriting the vast majority of it, still seems more solid to me than my current, nearly-finished tome. Yes, I technically wrote that one without an outline, but I still had the old outline in my mind, even though I wasn’t necessarily following it. As a result, I never really lost track of where I was headed, even though I ended up getting there by an entirely different route.

I’m thinking for my next project I will try toning down the outlining a little bit from my first over-the-top attempt, but not leave so much undefined as I did this time.  I still don’t know if my pendulum is finally going to stop closer to the Planner side or the Improv side, or if will find myself in the middle.  Ultimately I suppose it doesn’t matter, so long as I discover what works for me.

Why do I show you all of this? To convince you I’m a major flake, of course. No, seriously, the point of this ongoing “series” is this:

You have to find what works for you, even if it takes a while.

Hearing that this successful writer is a “Pantser” or that one is a “Outliner” is good only for one thing: Giving you ideas of what is possible. There’s no guarantee it will work for you, and there’s nothing wrong with you if it doesn’t. Indeed, if anyone tries to tell you there’s only one way to write a good story you have my permission to ignore them.

We’re all growing as writers, even the successful ones. Every project we complete brings us that much closer to our goal. We should be constantly learning how to write better, whether that’s discovering a process that works for us, developing our “voice”, learning how to write better dialog, create better characters, or whatever.

Sometimes we will improve subconsciously, but conscious thought and effort to experiment and see what works and what doesn’t for us can yield results. It’s easier to get where we’re going if we’re paying attention to the trip.

Thom Stratton

About Thom Stratton

Thom is a Utah transplant, works for a regional bank, and spends his lunch hours working on his latest novel. His wife, three kids, and four pets find him amusing and somewhat useful, so they keep him around.