I can’t remember if I told you all here, but I’ve been struggling for several months to make any progress at all on Book 4: In Search of Pack. It’s been a total slog, painful to get more than a sentence or two on the page before I abandon it again to try again the next day.
However, since I’ve discovered my true writing style (Discovery Gardener, woot woot!), I’ve been making forward progress again. It’s been a little bit slow, as I’m having to deal with the slow/stilted parts, but I’m finally moving forward with the story and I’m truly curious to discover what Aletta and Lirim have gotten themselves into this time.
If things continue going this well, there might very well be a summertime release in my future. Fingers crossed!
Earlier this week, I shared about how I had found out that I was a discovery writer, about how freeing that was for me. So I thought that I would share a little about how the process looks like and works for me, especially now that I know what my strengths are.
So, before I found out what my writing style, this is what it would look like, especially the past month.
I would sit down, turn on my computer, and pull up my main novel and the fanfiction story that I was working on. I would then also pull up the outline that I had created for both. I’d skim over my outline, maybe changing a couple of words here and there, add a sentence to flesh out something that I’d thought of as I thought over while thinking of the story. And then I’d skim the last, oh, thousand words or so in order to spark the memory of where I’d left the scene. Once I was satisfied that I knew where I was and where I was going, I’d start a new paragraph. But this was a struggle. I’d write a sentence, maybe half a sentence, before going over and fiddling with my music, or checking my email, or facebook. Basically, anything to ignore the flashing cursor that appeared to be mocking me.
Meanwhile, I was inwardly very frustrated, even as I sought to distract myself. I knew where the story was going, what the characters were supposed to be doing, so why weren’t the words coming. I would return to the page and just stare at it, begging for my brain to produce something, anything. But the words simply wouldn’t come. So I would go and journal a little bit or work on a story that was ‘just for me’ and thus I didn’t care about it being perfect or well thought out. I would write anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand words on it and then move on for the day. I’d return to my novel, and still, absolutely nothing. Promising myself that I would get my goal finished tomorrow and make up for today as well. Then I would go and do my daily chores, wishing that I could’ve gotten more done. My frustration and self loathing grew. I am a writer, I have been writing all my life, people enjoy my writing, so why was storytelling so hard and unrewarding for me of late?
Then I learned my writing style. I’m a Discovery Gardener. This means that I have to discover the story alongside my characters. My world and self image of myself as a writer tipped on their side, but I was so tired of being frustrated that I was willing to give it a try. And to be honest, it just felt right.
So here’s how my writing looks like now.
First, I threw away all of my outlines. Every single one. I might’ve heard my characters cheering, but that might’ve just been me, lol. I gave myself 24 hours without writing to allow my brain to clear out and remove all the expectations and must haves. I didn’t HAVE to do anything but go along for the ride.
The next morning, I sat down nervously at the computer. Would this work? Or would it not? Still, I wouldn’t be any worse off than I was before and I would just need to keep looking to find what works for me. I pulled up my novel, the one that I’ve been stonewalled on for the past several months, that would be the best test after all. Having thrown all plans out of the window, I had no idea where it was going. So, taking a depth breath, I quickly skimmed the last paragraph (It wouldn’t do any good to start in a completely random place, lol). And then, I put my hands on the keyboard and started to write. And the words came! It wasn’t the painful task of trying to pull a story from someone. Instead, it was like sitting down for a cup of coffee with a friend and listening to what was going on with their life. It was almost like my character was relieved, like she was saying, ‘Finally! Now that you’re actually listening to me, here’s what happened.’
But not only was I writing again, I was happy. There was no stress, no hiding and avoiding, there were simply words telling the story. Finally, the story reached a natural pause, so I called it good for the day. I was satisfied with the progress that I had made. There were no grand revelations, no great progress, but my characters got to eat a very nice omelet and have an overdue discussion. Not what I expected, but it did move the story forward and gave me a bit more depth of my characters to work with. And it fit, it didn’t have to be forced into the story, it was just naturally part of it. And that’s when I knew, I had found my style and it worked for me.
So here’s what my writing routine looks like now. I sit down eager at my computer and pull up my writing site. I might have a story in mind for the day or I might be following wherever the wind takes me. Then I pull up my top 3-4 stories (Oh, who am I kidding, it’s more like 10-12, those plot bunnies can be vicious) and I skim through them until I find one that sparks my imagination. Then I write on that until I either hit the end of the chapter or reach the point where the story runs out for the moment. Then I’ll repeat the process, until I’ve easily written between 3-5k words on average. Are they all good words? No. Will they all be kept? Again, no. But they are there on the page and I always get to find out something new about my stories and characters.
There’s still a hint of frustration here and there, sometimes I really want to work on one story but another will hijack my attention entirely. And I’m sure that I will run into more roadblocks and obstacles that I currently have no idea exist. But I am happy once again and my stories are moving forward.
So find out what works for you and don’t let anyone tell you that there is a “right” or “wrong” way of doing things. Just do it “YOUR” way.
I would love to hear about your writing styles and routines, what frustrates you or brings you joy.
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.)