Don’t Stuff Your Creativity in a Bag

Roary in a Bag

When the craft of writing is discussed, one of the points most likely to start an argument full of snooty opinions  and hot tempers is whether or not an author outlines a work in advance.

I’ve talked about this in in the past and, because I did a pretty thorough job defining terms then, I’m not going to repeat myself.  You can read it here. (Just skip the garden report.)  This Wandering is going to revisit the issue!

As I have said before, I definitely come in way over on the “intuitive” side of the sliding scale.  Honestly, I get bored if I know precisely how a story is going to work out.  Exploration along with my characters is what keeps me fresh.

But sometimes that exploration happens really, really fast.  When it does, well, I guess I could say I become one of those who outlines.

My recent slide over to the outlining side of the scale happened starting on August 21st.  I’d been offered a chance to write a story for a forthcoming “space western” anthology.  I’d tossed a few ideas into my subconscious, then pretty much left them alone while I worked on finishing the manuscript of SK4 (the fourth volume in the Star Kingdom series I’m writing with David Weber).  I handed the manuscript over to Weber on the afternoon of August 19th and was looking forward to a bit of a break before facing the next deadline.

However, Thursday night, the story started bubbling forth with so much energy I had trouble sleeping.  Friday morning, I started writing.  By Friday afternoon, I had 3,500 words.  That’s something over fourteen pages.

But here’s the interesting point, at least for me.  Usually I write complete scenes in the order they happen.  The one exception to this is when I’m writing more than one point of view.  Then I may write portions separately and intercut, although I rarely do that too far in advance in the plot.   This, however, was a short story with one point of view character.

As I was writing the opening, I suddenly “saw” the next scene. So, after I’d written as much on the opening as I needed to make sure I wouldn’t lose my sense of what was happening, I jumped ahead to scene two.  As I was writing scene two, the same thing happened.  So—after writing the establishing elements—once again, I jumped ahead.  This went on for hours.  By the time I finished, those 3,500 words were more or less an extremely annotated outline.

I don’t usually write on weekends but, apprehensive about losing this amazing inspiration, I wrote on both Saturday and  Sunday, fleshing out various scenes.  Far from getting bored, my creativity was fully engaged, I suspect because the pace kept me from thinking and re-thinking story elements.

I finished the story on Tuesday, bringing it in at something over 8,000 words.  Wednesday, I proofed, tightening up and polishing my hurried prose.  Wednesday afternoon, Jim started his read-through.  I went through and corrected the typos he found.  Then, on Thursday, I sent a copy of the story to my good pal, Paul, who loves both Westerns and SF.

Paul sent the story back to me by Friday morning with some good comments.  Once again, I polished, then sent the 8,000 word story, now titled “Claim Jumped,” off to the editor.

So, what’s the takeaway from this experience?

As I see it, it’s “Don’t get so invested in your image of yourself as a writer that it gets in the way of your writing.”  As I noted in the WW referenced above, there are a lot of people who get very superior about being “intuitive” or equally superior about “planning,” and sneer at those who write differently.

What’s important isn’t how you write, it’s that you write, as well as that, as I did in this instance, you feel invigorated and invested while you’re doing it.

Now, off for that break which—if I’m completely honest—seems to involve writing as well.

6 Responses to “Don’t Stuff Your Creativity in a Bag”

  1. King Ben's Grandma Says:

    Excellent advice for life in general! Rigid things break easily. It’s good to have some flexibility.

  2. anevergreen Says:

    *distracted by adorable Roary* uh, yes, well, … I don’t think I have enough confidence in myself yet to believe I’ve found “the way,” let alone be stuck in it 😉 … (unless my way is to procrastinate novel revisions by writing more short stories, *cough*, there is that…)

  3. Harried Harry Says:

    I understand “procrastination”. I’m working on it so it will be an art form. I suspect all of us tend to use a style which is comfortable, but at times we need to jump out of our comfort zone and do things differently. Jane, this may be what you needed to restart certain elements of your creativity. Consider it a “vacation of the mind” from a very heavy time constrained work (?) effort.

    As my sons would say, the more rigid a person/thing/idea is the greater the possibility of damage if things change too fast. Military leaders have known this for centuries. In peacetime, a “very logical, methodical” way of soldiering is fine, but in wartime flexibility is really needed since the enemy has a role to play which may rule out the Book way of doing things.

    People who are not flexible can end up very dead since they can’t see their way out of a problem if it doesn’t comply with the “rules” they’ve established to operate in their universe.

    Enjoy your week, all of you. And enjoy the cooling weather –whenever it arrives.

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