Structured Writing Sucks (for me)

 

pantser

 

 

In recent months, I’ve been doing a lot of work on myself. I’ve been stuck in a terrible procrastination loop for too many months, and I’ve been crushed with anxiety, depression and fear. I just couldn’t finish the editing of my latest novel and I hated myself. I was so close but so far away. What was wrong with me?

By lucky chance or a wonderful blessing, I came across an online summit and discovered dozens of inspiring and talented writers, artists and coaches. I couldn’t get enough. I pushed everything aside until I filled my mind and soul with all the new knowledge and inspiration I was receiving.

Through Twitter, I had already discovered Lauren Sapala (a writer and writing coach), who opened my eyes to the Myers Briggs personality types. A job coach had given me this test back in the late nineties and I remember her telling me I was an INFJ and everything that entailed, including the kinds of jobs and careers I should research. I was fascinated. This was definitely me. But it wasn’t well known back then and I forgot about it.

Lauren’s writing blog and her books (find them here at http://www.laurensapala.com) helped me remember that long-ago test and results. I looked for the information but those papers must have met a dumpster a long time ago. I took another test online and I was psyched to discover again what it all meant for me.

I’ve reached out to many of these amazing people I’ve discovered–people like me who have always thought they were different or strange, but have so much to offer the world if we can learn to accept ourselves and share who we are. We are introverts. We are intuitive. We are sensitive. And we are awesome.

But awesome doesn’t mean you don’t struggle.

I’ve always been a writer. I always called myself a creative writer. I hated writing school papers and essays because that type of writing is so structured and formal. In school, there is no allowance for individuality or creativity. Teachers make you do things their way. Not until I joined creative writing workshops in my third and fourth year of college did I enjoy writing in school.

In my experience, teachers thought they knew the best way every student should write, even for so-called creative papers and stories. First come up with a topic. You need a clear beginning, middle and end. Sometimes you need examples and a conclusion. All of that happens in the dreaded outline, even for a story!

I hate that outline.

I had one teacher make a specific outline a part of the grade for the paper. What a nightmare! There was no way I could write that outline. I had no trouble writing the paper but that outline was the devil to me. So I decided to write the outline after I wrote the paper. It was still a pain in the ass, but much more doable then. The teacher was happy and never knew he wasn’t doing me any good as a writer by forcing me to structure my thoughts and writing a certain way.

I’ve always been like that. No outlines. No structure. Sometimes I make notes. Otherwise, I brainstorm while taking a walk. I listen to people’s stories and I draw from my own life experiences. The novel I’m struggling to finish right now was inspired by my husband’s eerie childhood story about his friend hallucinating that a pack of dogs were coming after him. That memory is the first scene in my story.

I began participating in NaNoWriMo in 2012. I was super-nervous about it, but I was also energized and ready for the challenge. Could I actually write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days? As a procrastinator, I need deadlines and this was a great one. It was obvious to me by then that there were two types of writers–planners and pantsers–as the NaNoWriMo community calls them.

I am definitely a pantser.

But I tried doing the planning thing with the idea that maybe some structure could help me finish the novel in time. No outlines, of course, but I wrote some notes and tried to write character sketches like I read about in a writing book. I struggled with it and gave up. Characters have to come to me in my mind, my imagination. I can’t make them up on paper. I see faces, hair color, and I see them walking down a street or into an antique store. I see couples meeting for the first time, laughing, kissing, fighting.

Music is a strong inspiration. My one published novel, Bring Me to Life, was inspired by my painful experiences after one of my best friends committed suicide. Connie was a beautiful but troubled soul. We went to a bar one night and Evanescence’s song “Bring Me to Life” hooked Connie. I’ll never forget the mesmerized look on her face and recognition in her eyes when she listened to those lyrics for the first time. That soul-haunting song caught her heart and inspired the title for my story.

I also love photographs. Every photographer has a different perspective, and I find I can learn a lot about a person by who and what they photograph. Sometimes I see a picture of a person online and lightning strikes. That’s my character. My heart beats faster and I just know I’ll write a story about them. I become a little obsessed and can’t wait to see where he or she leads me.

For me, I start with a character or a scene, and I have a general idea of where I want to go with the story. But every time–and I mean every time–my characters lead me somewhere else. I never know what’s going to happen next until I start writing. I’m a pantser. I go for it with no outline, some inspiration and let the characters lead me.

That is probably terrifying for a lot of writers, but for me, it’s the only way to do it.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t struggle. Ha! There are a couple of stories I could never finish. The characters were done with me and I guess I was done with them. There’s one story I desperately wanted to finish because I liked this one character. I knew he needed to tell his story but it wasn’t happening. A few years later, in another 30-day novel, this same character popped back into my mind and I decided to try again. This time, I wrote a completely different story, one he directed, and he was very happy to be there. I finished it and can’t wait to work on the second draft.

So I realized that my personality matches the way I write. I am an introverted, intuitive and sensitive creative writer. Will finally understanding this help me overcome my procrastination? Will it help me beat the anxiety, depression and fear?

Stay tuned and maybe you’ll see my long-overdue novel finally come to life.

 

 

 

6 thoughts on “Structured Writing Sucks (for me)

  1. I let the characters lead me as well and was very surprised at coming up with my novel My Dear Ellie. Using the same method, I have enough ideas storming in my head to make it a series. Thanks for being an intuitive, sensitive creative writer. The world needs more of them.

    • Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I’m so happy to know there are other writers who write like me. And I love allowing the characters to lead me. A series is perfect when the characters keep leading us! Is your novel published?

      • Yes, It is My Dear Ellie available in Amazon paperback and kindle Unlimited.

        I will be expanding out of Amazon after the kindle select time has passed. I hope to reach more readers. Writing the novel has been a gift and am excited to see where it leads. Thank you for asking, best wishes for your novel! I hope to read more about it

      • I will definitely check it out. Wishing you all the best with the novel and your writing. My debut novel Bring Me to Life is on Amazon. I also have a poetry collection on there. The links are on my site under My Books. Thanks so much. It’s lovely meeting you. 🙂

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