The Guilty Author

I’m one of those people, you know, the kind who will run herself ragged doing stuff that ‘needs’ to be done or feel guilty for it. I’m a rule follower. I’m a sign obeyer. I do not litter, I wait for the walk signal, I won’t sit on the seats on the bus reserved for senior citizens.

I’ve learned, in my life, that the very minute I play fast and loose with the rules (you know, like taking 9 items into the 8 items or less cashier line?) I end up in trouble.

How does that translate to my writing life?

Well… ‘everyone knows’ that an author should scrupulously outline her books, conducting ‘character interviews’ to learn more about characters to keep them consistent. She should plan ahead. She should…

Should, should, should!

Dammit, but I’m tired of being a good little rule follower. And the thing is, I don’t even know if it makes my books any better in the long run. See, I’m not such a good planner. I get muddled, and have too many threads going, and end up spending a lot of time on ‘the plan’.

I wonder, should I just throw out the rule book?

What inspired this chain of thought was a bit on Carolyn Hart’s website, her page ‘On Writing’. she says,

I do not outline. This isn’t to say that I start off on the first page with nothing in mind. I know these particulars:

  • The protagonist. The personality and attitudes of the sleuth determine the background, style and possibilities of the book.
  • The victim. The personality and identity of the victim determine the cast of characters. Those who surrounded the victim in life will be suspects after the death.
  • The murderer. I know who committed the crime and why.
  • I have a working title. I can’t write a book unless I have a title. It may not be the title of the published book but the working title gives me a sense of the book.

That’s all I know. When I start Page 1, I have no idea how I will get to Page 300. This is where the importance of character comes in. The story will unfold because of the dictates of character.

The drawback to this openended fashion of writing is the panicked feeling that there is no way to get there (the conclusion) from here (the beginning). I wish I were smart enough to plot in advance. My mind doesn’t work that way (or doesn’t work well enough to do it that way!). But one of the great joys of writing is coming up against a blank wall and then little squiggles of thought begin and suddenly something happens, a character appears, a door opens, a message is left and hey, we’re off and running again.”

When I read that it was as if the window opened and bluebirds tweeted. You mean… you mean someone else feels that way????? She has described so exactly my deepest process, the “panicked feeling that there is no way to get there (the conclusion) from here (the beginning)”, then “little squiggles of thought begin and suddenly something happens, a character appears, a door opens, a message is left and hey, we’re off and running again”. That is all so familiar to me, and for the first time I felt the ‘sisterhood’ feeling, that sense that someone else out there felt as I do.

It was a relief, frankly. I’ve heard so many writers detail their writing process, the detailed notes, the copious notebooks, the planning, and I feel inadequate.

But I’m a good writer. I’m a natural writer. I don’t know how to shape my day if I don’t write. When I’m not writing, I’m thinking about writing. There is no vacation from this, because it happens whether I want it to or not. Words flows from my fingers to the keyboard, and when I get stuck, if I go away and keep my mind ‘open’ (can’t explain the process any better than that; I keep my mind ‘open’ and little bits of idea will cling to the problem, solving it, if I just pay attention) it all begins to resolve like one of those pixilated pictures that they gradually resolve into an image.

I need to trust myself more. I think that all the time. I need to trust myself and make my own rules. There are no rules. I will write how I write, and not beat myself up for not following Writing 101;Thou Shalt Follow The Rules.

I need to make that my mantra; writer, trust yourself!

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