Do You Write Organically? Story Trumps Structure – Giveaway!
Do you write organically or do you plot out your novels? I don’t think there is only one way to write. Different writers choose different paths, and the main question to ask is, what works best for you?
We must each find our own path.
I really wanted to be a plotter. I mean, really. I bought books and their accompanying workbooks. Downloaded seminars, audio books, and software for my computer. Then tried to get my ideas to behave themselves and allow me to organize them into the nice tidy outline I had planned for them.
Did it work?
In one word … No!
Not for me, which, to be honest was a bit surprising, I can be a scatterbrain, but I also like to follow rules a lot. Especially formulaic rules. I like a nice tidy path to follow, with step-by-step instructions, to make sure I’m getting it right.
A side note on rule breaking – I’m also a bit of a rebel. I like to break the rules too, especially if they’re authoritative, and I love to follow my own path. But the security of a rule book is a nice addition, so I don’t get lost.
Breaking The Rules
I’m also a bit OCD: I like to line up my pens, coordinate my sticky notes, and color code everything. So imagine my surprise when I discovered that outlining was not the vehicle for me–at all!
No matter how hard I tried to force my wild and crazy ideas into the box of outlining, the more they refused to communicate. In fact, my imaginative ideas dried up completely, and sat in the corner like a glowered faced five-year-old with arms folded refusing to communicate.
Reading Books on Writing
Reading books on writing is a very important aspect of improving our craft. We should be like sponges, and devourers of information to become masters of our trade. But, book after book I read kept talking about outlining and all its merits, and referred to pantsing as if it were some dirty little secret. Pantsing, if you don’t know, is the idea of writing without an outline, also known as flying by the seat of your pants.
Set Your Imagination Free
As much as I didn’t want to be a pantser, I thought I would give it a whirl–never say never, right? And I was surprised by the results! I was truly astonished as my imagination was set alight. My little storytelling five-year-old loved it, she wouldn’t shut up. It was all I could do to keep up with her, as story after story poured out of me and onto the paper.
I believe it’s worth giving your imagination the freedom to fly. You jump off the cliff and see what happens.
No matter what kind of writer you are, you should fill yourself up to the brim with great resources. Have a thirst for knowledge. Even if you’re a pantser you should still know how to outline–at least in theory. You gotta know the rules so that you can break them, well. Read books on how to write, listen to audio books, go to seminars, drink it all in.
Fire Up Your Imagination
If you are a storyteller, then read great stories that inspire you. Read what you love. Watch copious amounts of movies. If you watch movies, then you already know how story works, it’s innate–it’s in you!
I read a great book at the beginning of last year called Story Trumps Structure by Steven James. In his book he talks about a style of writing he calls organic writing. Here are some of his ideas:
I would rather …
- Write a story than plot one.
- Tell a story than outline one.
- Follow the narrative than follow a formula.
- Pursue a process that allows for surprises.
- Save time.
- Live in the joy of discovery rather than fill in the blanks.
I also listened to one of his seminars online, through Writer’s Digest, and I picked out this idea of his:
“Art requires trust – Fear will always drive you back to an outline.” – Steven James
There are lots of arguments for and against writing organically. But, I did enjoy his book immensely, so I thought I would give away a copy to one lucky reader in this week’s post. Please feel free to fill out the rafflecopter below.
Use the Rafflecopter widget below!
- You get an entry for every item you complete in the Rafflecopter widget (up to eight entries!)
- You can also come back once a day and ‘tweet about the giveaway’ (for extra entries!).
- You also get two entries, if you leave a comment!
- If you already follow or friend any of the items listed, please help yourself to free entries in the Rafflecopter! Just click the appropriate checkbox in the widget.
- You must have a US postal address to enter.
- The winner will be announced here March 22nd, the winner will also be contacted by email. Good luck!
The giveaway will run till March 21st at midnight (EST).
What are your thoughts?
I would love to know what you think! What have you found to be your best methods for getting a story down on paper? Are you are plotter or a pantser? Or are you still trying to figure out what works for you? Do you believe we are innate storytellers? Or do we need someone to show us what story looks like?
Please share your comments in the comment box below, along with any other ideas you would like to share, I’d love to hear from you!
What kind of writer are you?
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I’m a pantser, all the way. Trying to tame my ideas into a set outline doesn’t work. I had to do the outlining in high school English but since I have found it inhibits my creativity. Great post!!!
I didn’t do much outlining in school. I was too busy looking out the window daydreaming and getting in trouble. But, I agree, outlining definitely inhibits my creativity too!
Thanks so much for sharing, Kim!
Haha! I got in trouble in all classes but Art, music and literature.
I didn’t get in trouble in art, but that was the only class that I didn’t! In English my teachers were too stiff and boring. And, in music I was forced into learning the oboe on Friday nights when all my friends were at the school disco. So I think that killed off playing an instrument for me too!
I always begin with an outline, yet while I’m initiating the first draft (and while editing) the pantser in me raises his creative head and drives me along into wonderful, unplanned twists and turns which, I think, make for a better story. As such, I’m bi-polar in a good way.
I tried to pantser my NaNoWriMo novel this past Nov, and it didn’t work. I had to resort to an outline. However, I did find myself pantsering while writing, as I needed more texture than the outline was providing. I like using both methods.
Thanks for posting this – and I’ve entered your giveaway.
Good for you, James! Sounds like you have an excellent hybrid system in place for sticking to a plan and for juicing things up!
Thanks so much for sharing your process and for entering the giveaway! Good Luck!
I am such a pantser. With all my writing. I do a lot of “outlining” in my head, noodling an idea around for awhile, sometimes days, and then I sit down and, as my engineer husband claims, “barf all over the page.” I’ll rework some stuff, add tidbits and rearrange, but mostly it just flows. I have considered outlining, but every time I think I might try it I fall into a big pile of procrastination and never get around to it. I don’t think it’s for me. My structure evolves organically, definitely, and I do think that I’d lose a lot of the joy of writing if I tried to outline. Conversely, like you, I like to be organized in just about every other aspect of my life. My desk has to be cleaned off for me to write, absolutely. Everything else has to be in order (or at least decently in order) for my brain to be free to create.
Amy, it sounds like you and I work in a similar method. It pretty much flows out of me too, but, my writing area has to be neat and tidy or else I can’t think straight. So, I know that I always have to straighten up before I sit down to write. It only takes five minutes, and it doesn’t have to be perfect, just ordered!
Thank you so much for sharing!
I have tried both ways and in the end settle for somewhere in between. I think having a general outline helps with endings. Ending are my biggest Achilles heel. Knowing where I want to finish and how I want my characters to grow keeps my goal orientated. My latest novel was based on a true story of which, to begin with, I only had a bare outline of the facts anyway. So outlining came naturally with it, but I still spent time thinking about POV and timelines and blending different plot lines into a complete story. At the same time, many of the secondary characters were inspired creations that came to me as my story grew. Some of them are very strong. On the whole, I have to say an outline does help, but shouldn’t be adhered to too strictly.
I can definitely see when working on a novel based on a true story how an outline would be indispensable. Though I love the way that you stay flexible so that new characters can walk onto the pages.
Thank you so much for sharing, Ally!
I think I’m still trying to figure it out; but from my two experiences with NaNoWriMo, it seems like I might be a little of both. I have an outline for the book, but I ignored parts of it somewhere along the way. With short stories, I’m more of a pantser. I have the idea in my head, where I want to start, and where I want it to go (usually). Then the rest of it is just creative output.
I think it’s the same for all writers. As we write, we figure out our process and discover what works best for us.
Thank you so much for sharing, Pam!
Oddly, I was a pantser and didn’t know it. 🙂 After taking the James Patterson MasterClass I have become a soapbox outliner! It has opened my writing up remarkably. I no longer write myself into corners and I have so much more creativity than I used to when I just wrote. I love it!
That’s interesting to hear, Darla. I was thinking of taking James’ class at some point. And, even though I am a diehard pantser I’m very open to trying out different methods. Now, I’m even more intrigued to see if his methods would rub off on me!
Thank you so much for sharing!
It’s a great class and well worth the price of admission SK. And I’m with Darla, Patterson’s way of outlining is great. Totally works for me. Now, to be fair, the man does crank out 12 books a year which is impossible to do without outlines.
Thanks for the input, SC, on James’ class. I have some free time coming up soon I may have a whack at it!
As they say, it’s best to know the rules so that you can break them. It never ceases to amaze me how many similarities, differences, and overlaps there from writer to writer when it comes to what works for them. This sounds like a great source. Thanks so much for this, SK!
It’s pretty astonishing how much diversity there is among writers. I think it’s awesome. After all we don’t all learn in the same way and we interact with the world in different ways–so it makes sense that there is more than one path to our common outcome!
Thank you so much for commenting and sharing DMG!
Wow, I would love to learn this is really me! I saw a lot of myself in your post, S.K., and Steven James’s quote will be ringing in my ears while I reevaluate what drives my own writing balance. Hmm!! At a recent workshop, several breakout groups returned time and again to discussing the importance of story over excessive structure; and, several of the well-regarded, published authors spoke of the necessary balance and interplay between plotting and pantsing in all storytelling. This book looks like a good one, and I’ve heard good things about it already, so I thank you for offering it up as a giveaway.
Sounds like you are on the right track Traci in your quest for balance. That quote really hit home for me too, as it is a subject near and dear to my heart–helping myself and others live the life we were meant to without allowing fear to shackle us to the spot. Thank you so much for commenting and good luck in the giveaway!
I was taught in my business classes to brainstorm for innovation and I use the same principle in writing. To my chagrin this can be time consuming. Like many other fellow writers I don’t think of structure first, unfortunately – accept when I have to write one-page business summary. After all it’s what creativity is. Breaking the boundaries. Thank you for bringing this to attention.
I love these points Majida. Brainstorming for innovation, and that creativity is a breaking of boundaries. Fantastic thoughts! Thanks for commenting and for sharing your ideas!
I’m OCD as you well know. So plotting is my game, But, doing NaNo the first time opened up my eyes (ok, maybe with toothpicks) to a free-flowing creativity. It was painful for me, but I learned a very valuable lesson: I can stuff the editor in a box. That’s huge.
I do some pantsing when I’m baking up an idea, adding ingredients (which is pantsing by default) then I outline a nice doughy base, some pants to taste, outline, and a final pants. Then I dump a couple layers of editing on top of that, throw it in the oven and let it slow roast for a couple months, then a half dozen more layers of editing garnishes and serve hot.
I think it’s wonderful that you stepped out of your comfort zone and tried out pantsing. I love that free-flowing creativity and have my eyes wide open and my hair blowing in the wind–feels like so much freedom to me. I wonder if the method that suits us best depends on the way our brains are wired? It’s so interesting to see all the different paths for arriving at the same outcome!
Thank you so much for commenting and sharing!
Chiming in late – it’s been crazy!
I *want* to be a plotter, but I can’t do it. I writer very character-driven fiction (and poetry, truth be told) and I seem to need to get into their lives before I know the story. A few times I have recognized where the story is going before I really get started, and that’s when I jot down bullet point notes for myself. I’ve given outlining a try, and I’m hoping to find a good balance going forward because I think I will get more done if I can focus better on the result.
Thanks for offering this giveaway!
Kat, it’s so interesting that you said you need to get into your character’s lives before you know the story. For me, most of the time, I dive in as soon as I get an idea. I don’t want my story to develop off page, and I don’t want my characters to solidify in my head and start running around having adventures in there. So I get to the nearest method of capturing my inspiration and start writing immediately so that I can discover my characters and story on the journey. I love hearing how everyone creates, it’s fascinating, thank you so much for sharing your process!
(SK, This is in response to your reply, but the site won’t let me post — it’s probably not the site but my computer, actually. Nonetheless, this is my reply to your reply. =O)
I probably should have been clearer – I meant, I need to start writing and let the characters’ lives develop organically on the page. I know what you mean about them “having adventures” in the head! If that happens, I sit and start writing!
I like hearing about other writing processes as well – it is fascinating!
Kat, sounds like your process is very similar to mine; get our butts in the chair and just write!
To plot or not. It’s a constant battle for me. I’m somewhere in the middle.
It seems that this is the case with a lot of writers! And, I have also heard quite a few say that they are hybrids! Thanks so much for sharing!
I thought for sh#t and giggles I would enter… see if I win anything… 😛
But when it comes to plotting versus not plotting and I am ALWAYS in the middle. I can plot out the badassness plot outline that you ever did see and then once I start writing it goes out the window…. So I am somewhere in the middle…
It sounds like you and Allison above are in the same boat, as are a lot of writers. Thanks so much for sharing and entering, good luck!
Pantser all the way!
Nice Margaret, I love that you know who you are! Thank you for sharing!
Glad to see the interaction. Keep on listening to the story, following where it will go. Always remember, don’t ask, “What should this character do?” But “What would this character do if I got out of the way?”
Wow, Steven, thank you for chiming in! Wise words indeed; for us as writers to step out of the way and let the story and characters lead us, fantastic! Thank you so much for contributing to the conversation!