Sunday, March 22, 2009

No right and wrong answers...only variety

A fellow artist recently mentioned that he likes complete silence when he's writing. I'm one who needs music. I've tried the total-silence approach, but it makes my ears feel like they're stuffed with cotton.

But my using music to write isn't the right answer, or the best answer, or anything except my preference. I've read his work; it's incredible. The write-in-silence process works for him.

The key secret that nobody tells you: There are NO right and wrong answers. There's only what works for you, enabling you to get the job done.

This is why I'm wary of writing classes. They can be valuable tools, but remember that the instructor is not the ultimate authority on what works and what doesn't. Years ago, I took a short story online class from a place which I won't mention. The instructor used one approach. I used another. She told me I was wrong. Not good.

In the fiction world, there are plotters and there are pantsers, and some folks who are a bit of both.

You know the plotters when you see them. They're the ones with color-coded post-it notes threaded throughout their synopsis and manuscript. They know what has to happen when, they have timelines, graphs, charts, colored dots for when each event occurs, etc. They're efficient, organized and often produce many pages because they've already laid out where they want to go. They're hard to miss.

By the same token, you know the pantsers. They scatter like mice when anyone mentions a "synopsis" or asks for plot detail on a manuscript in progress. They write a book so they can figure out how it ends. Where's the fun in writing if you already know how it ends? They shun graphs and charts, and instead write by the seat of their pants--oftentimes surprising themselves with glee in the process.

I am a reformed pantser, still leaning toward the pantsing side but with enough plotter thrown in so I don't write myself into a big circle. My writing instructor was a strict plotter. "Why are you letting your character do this?" she would ask. "You write to have something happen, and you create characters to do what you want so the action takes place."

Huh? To my pantser mind, this made no sense. Don't characters drive the story? Oh sure, I had a general idea about what I wanted to focus on, plot points to move the story forward, etc. But not let my character drive the story? Why would I write otherwise?

Don't ever let anyone do this. Different approaches work for different people. I find that I'm a combination of plotter/pantser now, and it works well. As long as you know your characters (including their goals/motivations/conflicts) then use what approach works for you. You're the one having to crank out pages, splash that paint on the canvas, or sketch that landscape.

Some people wear funky outfits while creating. Some prefer hard rock music, some prefer classical. Others prefer silence. It's a matter of what creates the best environment for you to create, to call the muse.

Do what works for you--because getting that art created and into the world is all that counts.



Nicki Salcedo said...

I could not agree with you more. I don't like when someone says there is only one way to write. Makes me want to do the opposite!

I like silence. No music is played in my car ever. I plot while I drive. I turn on music (grudgingly) when I have passengers. I'm mostly a panster, but I have plotting tendencies. I think that is okay. Depending on the story makes different things work.

Where have you been hiding? We've got to shine a light on you.

kathy said...

I have a starting point and a general ending point when I write, but all the best stuff happens because my characters take me there. Not knowing exactly where the road will lead is sometimes frightening, but I view it as an adventure. My day job is so structured that I would lose my mind if I had to write that way. Kudos to those that do.

Good post.

The Writers Canvas said...

Thanks Nicki! I appreciate the comment. Wow, no music even in the car? I typically play it low and have a digital recorder placed on the front passenger seat that can pick up my random sentences that I might write while driving. Kudos to you, girl!

We'll have to do a promo on each other's blogs...I've been here awhile!!


The Writers Canvas said...

Thanks for your comment, Kathy. I agree--my day job has such set routines that I'd go nuts if I had to do that in fiction writing!

Usually, I'll make a goal/motivation/conflict (internal and external conflict) spreadsheet of my characters, along with knowing how I kind of want the story to progress. That's the extent of my 'plotting' - the rest is plugging away, finding out where each character leads.

Thanks for commenting!

The Writers Canvas said...

Nicki -

Meant to add one more thing which you might appreciate since you plot in the car. CafePress has a bumper sticker (I bought one, it's on my car) which says, "Writers drive and plot. And you thought cell phones were dangerous!"

Thought you'd appreciate! Thanks again for stopping by!

Willena said...

"Writers drive and plot. And you thought cell phones were dangerous!"

May I add my two cents here?

DO NOT DRIVE AND PLOT! Twice since January...yes, twice in two months, essentially, I have been stopped for speeding in school zones because I was writing in my head while driving.

I'm just saying...plotting while driving might have adverse consequences.

The Writers Canvas said...

Thanks Willena :) Yes, my disclaimer: if you plot while you drive, be careful on the road and avoid getting tickets.

Glad you were okay, and glad to hear the plotting is going well, despite the aforementioned stops...