Sunday, March 3, 2013

Fly by the seat...

By: Joelle Charbonneau

I have no idea what I’m doing every time I sit down to write.  Okay, technically that statement isn’t completely factual.  I know how to turn on my computer, open my word document and format the manuscript so that my editor, agent and anyone else reading it won’t loose their eyesight from tiny fonts or really wonky margins.  I also had to take a class in high school on how to type—so I’m pretty quick at getting words down on the page.  The problem is, I rarely have a flippin’ clue what those words should be.

Some people outline.  Outlining sounds divine.  I mean, how awesome would it be to sit down, write step by step everything that is going to happen in the novel and then sit down at the keyboard and follow the map you’ve created.  I would love to be able to outline.  So much so that I’ve tried it.  Not just once, but multiple times.  I love the whole process until I hit somewhere between page 50 and page 70 and I realize that nothing that I’m writing really works.  Oh – the first chapter does, but beyond that everything feels forced.  As if I’m herding the story along the path as opposed to it flowing where it is supposed to go. 

Sigh…when that realization hits, I have no choice to go back to where the story stopped feeling fresh and fun and started feeling like a group of ten-year-olds behind forced into a cafeteria line filled with Tofu-Brussels sprout surprise. 

Since I have learned that only chapter one benefits from the wisdom of my planning, I have stopped outlining.  All I know when I start the book is where chapter 1 starts and where it ends.  The rest…well, you got me.  This makes starting a new book feel a lot like walking a tightrope without a net.  You hope you don’t place your foot wrong and go plummeting twenty feet to the ground.  If you do, you cross your fingers that something will catch you at the bottom.

Fun, right?  Actually, yes.  Because while I am terrified with each new book that this will be the story that falls off the tightrope – it never does.  I always get to The End.  Why?  Because long ago, no matter the fear I felt walking that high wire, I refused to look down and forced my feet to take each small step across until I reached the other side.  I got to The End of the book and taught myself that no matter how scary the journey, I will succeed in finding the finish line.  I have written fourteen manuscripts and the most important lesson I learned was that I CAN finish.  That I WILL finish if I keep putting one foot in front of the other.  No matter how confused I am or how certain the story sucks. 

This week, I finished GRADUATION DAY – book 3 of The Testing Trilogy that will debut with THE TESTING from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on June 4th.  This entire series is a departure for me.  Not only is it Young Adult, these are the darkest books I’ve ever written.  I was scared I wasn’t doing the stories justice and that I would never make it to THE END.  But I did.  Tomorrow I will open a new document.  A new book.  I will be excited to begin and terrified that I will never get to the final pages.  But I will because I have taught myself that I can finish what I start.

Whether you outline or you fly by the seat of your proverbial pants…finding out that you can finish a book is the most important lesson an author can learn.  No matter how many books I write, when the story feel sluggish or stilted or I think it just plain sucks, I know that the storm will pass and I will find my way. 

Tomorrow is a new day.  A new book.  A new adventure.  And if I falter on that high wire, know that I can get across no matter how many times I fall.


Steven J. Wangsness said...

There's no feeling quite like finishing a book! Good luck with the new one.

Jay Stringer said...

I can't outline either.

I've tried. I had a book I felt ready to write in January. Wrote a couple of chapters then said, no, I'm going to be a pro on this one and outline. Started mapping out the story and characters. And two weeks went by without me getting any actual writing done, and then I'd lost the passion for the story.

I'm a thinker. I let ideas bubble around the back of my brain, collecting together with other ideas and then a few themes, and then something comes to the front of my brain and I have a story.

I think If i was a full-time writer, or if I had a section of my week that was set aside just for writing, I could probably move to a more structured method involving outlines and daily word-targets. But while I'm working full time at a day job aswell I think it's best if I let my "night job" follow it's own methods and stay fun.

Blythe Gifford said...

Oh, amen, sister. I have come to believe that a "professional" writer is one who has faith that the Muse will appear if only the writer keeps putting words down in the meantime. In my experience, the Muse is a devious bitch. She only reveals herself after you've written a bunch of...words.
Glad to hear I'm not the only one!

Al Tucher said...

Another seat of the pantser here. It's scary and inefficient, and I usually have eight to ten false starts before the book works, but there ain't no other way for me.

Unknown said...

I'm still not sure which category I fall into, but after wasting what felt like eons on the last ms, I'm trying the 'outline' method on my new WIP.

I will say that knowing what I PLAN to write has sucked some of the fun out. We'll see what happens as the draft develops.

One promise I've made: If the story takes an unexpected turn, I'll happily follow the new trail to see where it leads.

Cheers...and Happy Writing.

T.D. Hart