By the book

If you ask me if I’m a rules-following, structure-loving, please-the-teacher goody-two-shoes, I’ll probably say yes.  I like structure, and having an idea of what’s the right way to do something and what’s the wrong way, and knowing what step comes next.

But I’m also an instinctive, stubborn, organic creative person who prefers to learn that yes, that pan is hot by burning my hand, and who loves nothing more than chasing the wild plot bunny recklessly down ill-advised, long-forbidden paths.

As you can imagine, these things clash.  Endlessly.  It seems especially bad when I’m writing more than anything else.  I’m not exactly a structured writer; trying to outline drives me crazy and most of my scenes are written on pure gut reaction to what has come before.  It’s not the best method of writing, and I’d hardly recommend it to anyone else, but the stories that come out when I trust this method are (to me) my best works.  The few times I have forced myself to write to an outline the stories have been stilted, not so fresh.

However, I do wish I could be a more methodical writer when I inevitably begin to lose confidence and start to doubt my instincts.  I question what’s come before, and what the characters want to do next, and I grind to a halt.  If I were a person with a tried-and-true plan of action, I feel like I could get through these moments with  a lot less grief.

As it is, I’ve yet to come up with a good solution.  I’ve tried writing through, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t–depends on the root of my doubt, valid problem or just pure lack of confidence.  I’ve tried stepping away, but then sometimes I never come back at all, or sometimes the effort of re-immersing myself months or even years later just seems not worth it.  I’ve tried writing ahead–which has, almost every time, turned out to be a waste, because when I go back and pick up the threads of the story, I don’t end up in the same place and the future scenes go unused.

I powered through things with The Red Box and a part of me still wonders if I was just marching along because that was what How To books and general wisdom were telling me to do.  (And perhaps pride, and a determination to finish before the new year.) I can’t help but wonder if that’s why the end left me feeling, well, so deflated.  Normally, when I power through because some impulse is compelling me to, even if what I write is full of gaping holes and wrong, I still feel a great sense of accomplishment.  I know I’ve written a good skeleton, something to build on.  So I have to wonder why I didn’t feel that way about what I did with the end of The Red Box.  I have to wonder if I didn’t just waste time and words doing the “wrong” thing.

But chatting with a friend this weekend, she  helped me to remember that sometimes you have to go down the wrong path to learn the right.  Maybe I wrote the wrong ending, for the wrong reasons, but that’s OK.  Sometimes I have to write the scene wrong four, five, six times to find the right one.  Most efficient?  Best practice?  Good writing technique?  Probably not.

Even so, I think sometimes I have to trust myself, do things the wrong way, and be okay with that.  Not kick myself for not following rules, or, in this case, following them even though I didn’t feel it was the right thing to do.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot as I consider what I will do with my manuscript after the current pass.  I asked my friend what the usual approach was–should I finish my first draft and shove it in a drawer? Should I share it immediately?  She had her advice, and it was good advice, and I’ll consider it.  But I’ve decided to trust myself.  When I’m done the draft I’ll know if it’s ready to share, or if it needs more alone time.

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