I know that I’ve been rather quiet lately, as happens sometimes. The world has been in turmoil of course, with the pandemic and everything else going on. But I’m not going to discuss that today, as many people, some of the much more qualified than me are already talking about it. But I haven’t been quiet because of that, writing has actually been a great solace to me during these uncertain times. No, I have been quiet because I was deeply unhappy with myself and my writing.
Now, according to my Clifton strengths assessment, I am a person who needs to think things over deeply and process them before I can move forward and share them with other people. And everyone, I highly recommend doing your strengths assessment. I can’t even begin to describe the freedom that knowing my strengths gave me. It let me be free to be who I really am, that I am a uniquely beautiful, strong person, not just some weirdo (although I’m still odd and a nerd, lol. But I’m ok with that 🙂 ). So over the past month, I’ve been digging into why I’m so unhappy with my writing, why there is just no ‘spark’, no joy when I wrote, it was just a slog.
After some discussion with my mom (who is an amazing, incredible woman), she asked me a question that really got me to thinking. I write both fanfiction and original fiction. So why was my fanfiction doing so well while I was struggling so badly with my original fiction? I’ve received good feedback on both, I don’t really spend more time on one versus the other, nor do I make money on either of them (I really need to learn to market myself better so that I can give up my day job, lol). This made me really think, delve deep into all the little subconscious things that we all do on a daily basis
I’ve written all my life, it’s part of my very identity. So why had it become such a joyless slog for me? I had been working really hard to up my game, working on figuring out where my writing and characters were going, creating a road map, if you will. I’d been listening to other writers and joining groups so that I could glean wisdom from those who have gone ahead of me. So why was it getting increasingly hard to put words on paper, to tell the stories that I had started with such joy? Why was I so unhappy with my writing?
I do a lot of my writing on a site called 4thewords. It’s a site that allows me to gamify my writing by battling monsters while I write and encourages me to write at least 444 words daily to keep my streak. Having that streak motivates me to write daily (I can be a very competitive person, lol), which is definitely a good thing. It also helps me connect with a wonderful community of writers worldwide. So two days ago, while I was still mentally grappling with all of this and struggling to write, I went to browse through forums to see what topics people were discussing (Avoiding writing? I would never! I was doing, um, research. Yeah, that’s it, research), and I am so glad that I did.
One of the threads there said “Stop the pantser bashing”. Now, since I identify as a pantser (and since I’m as nosy as a cat some days), I decided to go ahead and click on it. That turned out to be one of the best decisions in my life. It discussed about Architects and Gardeners (think plotters and pantsers, but I like the terms architects and gardeners much better) and their different styles of writing. Now, I had never heard of these terms, but I immediately fell in love with them, as opposed to the much more Americanized plotters and pantsers. To me, architect and gardener implies creation, of things being built and grown, of beauty becoming visible to the rest of the world.
And as I read this thread, something shifted fundamentally in me. There is nothing wrong with being an architect, of having plans and blueprints all laid out and to know how everything goes together. Many writers thrive on this. Some people are even hybrids of the architect and gardener, a simple outline or something that they then allow the story to grow naturally from, a landscape architect, if you will. But in this thread, I learned about gardeners, and more specifically, something that I dubbed Discovery Gardeners. Some writers need to discover the story alongside their characters. They don’t necessarily know what’s going to happen next with the story or characters because their characters ‘Haven’t told them yet!’
Let me tell you, when I read this, I nearly wept. This was me, this nailed the sense of deep unease and dissatisfaction that I had been feeling, why I was not happy. I am a gardener, not an architect. As I sat there, kinda reeling honestly, I realized something. I was the source of my unhappiness. By trying to outline and plan and anticipate my story so I could be more productive, I was killing my productivity entirely. This is especially true with my original fiction. With my fanfiction, I was a lot more easygoing, I would simply sit down and write, see where the story took me. That is, until the past month when I started trying to figure out my story lines more. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that plotting and outlining are bad, they are very useful to many, many writers out there. But for me, that is the worst possible method out there. I need to discover the story alongside my characters, otherwise, my story is dead before it even begins.
I don’t know how deep into my hole of unhappiness that I would have dug myself if I hadn’t seen that thread. Probably quite deep as I searched and tried increasingly more structured writing methods to fix what was ‘broken’. But I thank God that I saw that post, because it gave me the permission that I needed to be me. Actually, it’s rather funny. I spent most of my teen years telling my mother that I am not and will never be like her. Since then, I have had to take back most of my words, because I am very like my mother, something that I’ve come to be very proud of. But one thing that I always disputed was that I am not a gardener. I do not like gardening, it’s a lot of weeding and planning and dirt from head to toe some days. Once I got over my revelation and sense of rightness, I had to laugh, because I AM a gardener. Well played, mom, well played. It just turns out that I’m a gardener of words rather than plants (I do not have a green thumb, lol).
So, when you write, be yourself. If you are an architect, plot and plan and build your beautiful story according to the structure that you have laid out. If you are a gardener, enjoy the journey alongside your characters as you live your stories. Even if you are somewhere in between and are a landscape architect, as I’m sure that many are, enjoy the process. You are unique and the stories that you tell can never be told by someone else. They are your stories and no one else’s.
So, I’m off to chase butterflies and pick wildflowers and see where my stories take me, because I’m a Discovery Gardener 🙂 I wish you all happiness with your writing and pray that you find your own writing style. We all have a story inside, tell yours in a way that makes you happy, no matter what others think, no matter if they tell you that it’s the wrong way of writing. You are infinitely unique, so your writing is going to be infinitely unique as well.
(P.S. If you are curious about 4thewords and want to try it out for yourself, you can get a free month using my code VXKKX33097. There’s a great community there and lots of events and challenges to keep you writing, no matter if you write 5 words a day or 5,000.)