Writing is an adventure. This is especially true for me because I write fiction. So, why doesn’t it feel that way all the time?
I have been writing stories for almost 24 years, but anyone who knows me well has seen that I tend to have bursts of short-lived inspiration. A couple of times a year, I’ll make a Facebook post along these lines: “I’m getting back into writing, and I’m so excited!” And of course, when it’s time for Nanowrimo, I’ll make posts about that, including a flurry of wordcount posts during the month of November.
However, for the most part, I just haven’t been writing recently.
I can’t blame my work, because no matter how many things I have going on, I still have plenty of time to write at least a little bit every day. (I recently discovered that I can easily knock out 500 words in 15 minutes.) I’ve made excuses like, “It’s just not a habit,” and “I just don’t have any motivation.” While those things may be true, they shouldn’t be able to stop me if I really want to write. So, what is the real problem? Why do I keep letting day after day pass without writing a single thing for my story, aside from noting the occasional idea in Evernote?
I recently thought of an answer: writing has ceased to feel like an adventure.
I have known this for some time, though I didn’t know how to put it into words. The question is, what changed? Why does writing seem like a tedious task now instead of an adventure? I struggled with this for a long time, but I have finally come to a conclusion.
I’ve been reading Stephen King’s On Writing. I read it once for a class in college, but I either didn’t own a copy or I list it. I’ve been wanting to read it again, so I finally snagged a copy from my local used bookstore. I really like King’s perspective of writing, and one thing in particular stands out to me. King talks about how much he hates plotting, and he prefers to write as if he is discovering something that is already there. He describes it as excavating a fossil, and that makes me think.
I’ve been trying to pin down my method of writing for a long time. Am I a plotter or a pantser? (A plotter will outline their book and plan out a lot of things before writing, whereas a pantser will simply write “by the seat of their pants.”) I have typically said that I am a pantser, though there are cases when I’ve planned and outlined things in advance. Most notably, I did a lot of planning when I was taking a novel writing workshop in college, and it actually worked out very well. However, for the most part, I have resorted to the pantsing method…or so I thought.
I’ve come to realize that this isn’t entirely true. When I stop and honestly look at what I’ve been doing (or not doing, as the case has been), I see that I have been trying to fit my writing into a convenient little box. I’ve been trying to make new story ideas fit in with previous plot ideas, and a lot of times it simply doesn’t work. Over time, I’ve had new ideas that make some things work, but those new ideas also tend to produce new problems. I know that I have to stop doing this.
It all boils down to a desire to be in control.
The more I think about my past writing, the more I see that I write best when I let the story go where it wants to go. I have also come to learn that it’s best to just get the story down on paper and then sort out the details in the revision and editing process. It’s usually difficult for me to do that, unless I’m in the middle of Nanowrimo. When I’m writing for Nano, I am in a race against time to meet the final wordcount goal. I usually find it difficult to just write and wait to fix things later, especially when I’m busy trying to reconcile new story ideas with established (read: old) plot ideas.
So, King’s discussion of discovering a story as opposed to plotting it got me thinking. In the past, good things have come of me just discovering the story as I go along, so what if I went back to this method of writing? What if I let the story reveal itself to me instead of trying to control every little aspect of it? When I had this thought, something rang true inside me.
Many times when I have a breakthrough, or a huge brainstorm, I will often find confirmation in random things throughout the day. The same thing has happened this time. One thing in particular stood out to me: an ad on Hulu. I don’t remember what the ad was for, but it was about adventure. It talked about how adventure is better when it is discovered, not planned.
This reminded me of what King had said, and it made perfect sense to me. At some points in my life, I have treated writing as an adventure. During these times, I have discovered the story as I wrote, as opposed to planning things out. I have usually experienced good results when I approach writing in this manner.
I have now made a decision: from now on, I will treat writing as an adventure. I will discover the story that is in me instead of trying to contrive a plot. … I just realized something as I was writing that last sentence. When I wrote, “I will discover the story that is in me,” it triggered a memory.
As many of you may know, I am a Christian. I surrendered my life to God on April 6, 2009, although to be honest, I’ve still been trying to control my life. But anyway, among the many things that changed when I got saved, my writing was one of the big things. I had always written what I wanted to read, and for the most part, it was junk.
My stories had long since entered into R-rated territory, but after getting saved, I wanted to write differently. It took me a little while to even get back into writing because I honestly didn’t want to read any of the stories I had been working on. Then one night I decided that I wanted to dedicate my writing to God. I said that I would only write what He wanted me to write.
That sounded really good in theory, but in practice, my desire for control quickly took over again.
But now things are going to change. I honestly believe that God has put stories in me, and I believe that what I am working on now is one of them. (My current “story” may actually end up as six or so books in a series, but I’m just using stories as a blanket term.) As I write this story, I want to be led by the Spirit of God. For me, being Spirit-led is synonymous with discovery because it means that I am not going to consciously control the process.
So, now that I have made up my mind to change my writing method, what happens next? For starters, I will get back into a daily writing habit. I also am thinking about Nanowrimo because I participate in it every year. For the past couple of months, I’ve been wondering what exactly I will write. Most people that know me well are going to groan when I say I’m going to work on the same story again. (For those of you who don’t know, I’ve been doing Nano every year since 2006, and I’ve pretty much done the same story every time, except for 2009. I tried writing a prequel that time.)
However, though I am still writing the same story, this year’s Nano will be different in several ways. I really am going to treat the story as an adventure waiting to be discovered, and I am going to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. Also, I will not lock myself into the plot of a specific book. I give myself permission to write scenes out of order, even if the scenes will end up in other books. (I use Scrivener, which easily facilitates writing out of order.)
This change in perspective is already giving me a hopeful outlook on writing instead of the pervasive dread I have felt lately. I am looking forward to being productive in writing once again, and having fun while doing so. I also am looking forward to seeing what God has in store for my books!
For my readers who are also writers, do you have any obstacles that are holding you back from writing? Are you going to participate in Nanowrimo this year? Do you have any questions for me? Feel free to comment below, or send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org.