Part 2: Know thyself
So you’ve covered your bases. You’ve written out a good chunk of the ‘need to know’ for your story. And I can hear some of you whining now. “Do I have to?” No, you don’t. I’m not forcing you. What I am telling you is that the majority of writers I’ve talked to who have failed to finish a specific novel have done so due to a sense of loss. Not as in a character dying but as in the novel itself goes walking away from them and they themselves get lost. This happens. But it happens less frequently when you at least have a destination to get to and know who you are taking with you. This knowledge certainly feels more freeing when you have an outline that helps you find your way along. The idea that you can wing it is fine for some writers, and if you are successful ‘winging it’ then by all means. Have at it. But I am not successful just winging it and therefore this post is meant for people who struggle and need some structure.
There is a term for writers like me. I’m a gardener by nature. I build the structure of where I want my garden, I have the plants I want to use, and I settle down to write based around that structure and plants. Sometimes things grow a little wild but they are still there within the confines of my structure (even if the ivy has grown up the walls a little). I am not, by any means, an architect who knows everything. Sometimes I wish I did because it would certainly feel so much easier that way. Forcing myself to sit down and write such an outline would be an exercise in futility. So I don’t write that way. I also can’t just pants it anymore. I used to be good at that (mostly when my bipolar was set knee deep in mania it seems), but these days I am not so good at it so I don’t even try it.
If you are a plotser/pantser hybrid, you can have yourself writing an outline that consists of the beginning and the ending, and just pantsing the hell out of the outline to get to the ending you already know is going to happen.
But let’s say you are a gardener, like me. How do you work your way into a full fledged garden?
What kind of gardener are you then? Do you like wild gardens? Prim rows of tulips? Or do you like the wilds of a forest where you have the trees and bushes but you also sprinkle in different kinds of flowers?
Me…I’m a wild gardener by nature. I plant and hope to God that it all turns out the way that I want it to. I still have my structure to guide me and I still have my seedlings that help me. But I don’t sweat the small stuff like I used to when I struggled in vain to be an architect of the ninth degree.
So let’s give you some structure, shall we?
- Know your plants…aka…know your characters. Compile your histories together and write a short story featuring each character if you like. Maybe just a day in the life of them where things are ‘normal’, whatever that may be.
- Know where you are gardening….aka…know your setting. Create a little slice of back story for it. Say, a war that happened or the laws or even just the commerce. Know SOMETHING about your setting. For Heaven’s sake, don’t write about Dublin if you have never been or studied Dublin at all, speaking from personal experience here. Study up on real world settings and if you are writing fantasy, then focus on getting some of your details down that you need. Don’t go into it blind.
- Know what can become fertilizer…aka…sometimes dead plants and torn down walls make incredibly juicy backgrounds. I did this once with the Unseen. I didn’t realize that the foundation of that world was set in the same one I had built (and subsequently destroyed) in A Twisted Faire. I cannabilized my world to suit my needs, striping it bare and using what I wanted.
- Begin to hoe and seed. The fun part. The beginning. Or the middle. Or wherever you are choosing to start your story. You don’t have to start at chapter 1 and then 2, 3, 4….you don’t have to be linear. Some teachers DEMAND you work in such a way. I don’t always. I try, for the sake of the Unseen. But I often write scenes and stitch them in. It gives me a sense of direction that I hadn’t thought to find before.
If you are an architect, you might need to find someone else to advise you. Same with a pantser. My fanfiction years were spent pantsing and I got very good at it, but rarely was the work something I would show now as being my ‘best work’. My original fiction has been solely based on gardening and keeping myself moving forward using a gardening set up.
If you are pantsing, my best advice is for you to sit your ass in a chair and just have at it. Get as far as you can on your bouts of inspirational steam and pray to the Muses (or whatever deity you wish) that you don’t lose that steam into the Ether itself. Try not to cave beneath a sense of pressure. Write the damn story.
If you are being an architect, my best advice is that you do not become so entangled with the nuances of your own worlds and development that you never actually write the story itself. That happen a lot. I call it a form of analysis paralysis. You become so entangled in getting things up and running that you never actually run with it. Big mistake. Write the damn book.
Whatever you see yourself as being, know that you are not alone. We all struggle with books. Some writers struggle with the beginnings, others struggle with the middles, and some people never form an ending that lives up to the rest of the book (this is my most common struggle as I never want to stop writing in my own worlds). I don’t often participate in writers groups anymore but I do find it immensely helpful to have artistic friends of any kind. Just hang out in a few groups, ignore the B.S. that happens, and realize that you aren’t alone. This can be incredibly powerful in keeping you going.
So go plant a few seeds and watch your garden grow. Let me know if you have at least started. I’m always fascinated to watch other people grow as authors. Drop me a line or a comment and tell me what you’re working on if you like or if there is something you’re struggling with. Too many authors do the tortured artist bit where we never discuss our problems. There’s room for all of us, of course, and we need to help each other. I’d be happy to help you.