Creativity As Play

How I Don’t Plot

Creativity Isn’t A Bunch of Shoulds

More than once I’ve had people ask me how I write a novel. Most of the time I sit there with a dumbfounded expression. Eventually I murmur that I don’t have a clue. I understand why I can’t explain. I’m not a logically structured person when it comes to creativity. Minute details, structure, A into slot B, where to place XY and absolutely Z…these aren’t things I spend too much time thinking about before I start writing a novel. It represents forcing things to fit and that’s where my creativity rebels and begins shouting at the top of its lungs, “Oh, hell no! This is play. Play is the only way my creativity works.”

Been there. Done that. Tried to force feed myself the story. Failed miserably. For a while I had myself convinced that if I truly knew what I was doing, I would learn how to plot. I’d certainly taken craft courses and workshops until I was blue in the face. I’d tried writing synopsis before I wrote a novel and it was the most excruciating process ever. If I write a synopsis before I write a book, the book will never happen. Almost every time I tried methods designed to structure a novel into being, I hated writing. It wasn’t fun. It wasn’t play. I wasn’t creative. At that point I could’ve convinced myself that I didn’t have what it takes. After all, if I was a real writer, a talented writer, I could learn these plotting things and would do them, right? However, when I threw up my hands and wrote by the seat of my pants, with very little planning and only a burning inspiration of an idea…wow. Wow did I enjoy writing that story. When I was vastly inspired by an idea that was open ended rather than structured, I was in a flow and I knew I was working from a genuine place inside me. It was always a book of my heart and I received the most happiness and satisfaction writing those stories.

Over the years I’ve heard (much to my chagrin) some writers say, “If you would only do this and that you’d write faster. If you would only do this and that your novels would be better.” They may not have been talking to me personally, but they were talking to writers in general. When a new writer hears something like this (usually from very well meaning plotters/editors/agents) they often automatically assume the well-meaning plotter/editor/agent is right. Here’s the thing. They may be right. They also might be wrong.

Wait. How is that possible? Well, if you are a genuine, deep in the gut plotter, you need to plot. It’s the way your brain works and the way your brand of creativity operates. Because if you don’t, you’ll have trouble starting a book or perhaps even finishing it. You’ll need structure to feel comfortable and creative. But if you’re a genuine pantser and you go against your gut and start listening to shoulds that completely shut down your creativity…well, chances are the creative juices you need to design that next novel may not show up. You’ll stare at an outline or synopsis you wrote and the creativity will disappear. You’ll realize that trying to fit that square peg into that round hole doesn’t work for you. Example. When the heroine has a first kiss with the hero…that to me should happen when the characters dictate. I won’t know when the characters are going to kiss until they show me on the page as I’m writing it.

I’ve heard pantsers talk themselves out of being pantsers. They’ll say, “But if I don’t plot then the story goes all over the place and it takes me twice as long to revise when I finish the book.” Is that a bad thing? Maybe not. The point is if you are truly inspired and loving the story as you’re writing it, than the way you’re writing it (plotter or pantser) is the right way for you. Revising more at the end of the book isn’t necessarily a problem unless you’ve allowed someone or something else to convince you it is. Creativity is play. If your mind is convinced that writing is “work” than it will feel like work. Problems with inspiration begin when you talk yourself out of being who you are as a creator and you don’t allow yourself the play required for imagination to flow. Whether you are a plotter or a pantser, there will be times when sitting rear in chair and forcing yourself to write is the only way you’ll get it done. You may hit that wall somewhere in the manuscript. But the idea is to make sure that you know what type of writer you are. Plotter or pantser?

Titles like How To Write Your Novel In Thirty Days always amuse me. Do you know how many clients I’ve encountered (in my creativity coaching business) who now believe there is something wrong with them if they don’t write an entire novel in thirty days? If they don’t write twelve books in a year because XYZ best selling author writes that many? When they realize there isn’t something wrong if they write a book a year and not ten a year, the relief they experience is enormous.

As a creativity coach I’ve broached the idea that thinking of a story as play time can be an amazingly inspiring and freeing concept even for people who are true plotters. With clients who have writer’s block I’ve sometimes suggested they try this method: take thirty minutes a day or an hour and just write with the idea of fun and play. This is your time to be a child and just enjoy the hell out of it. It’s incredible how many clients have discovered a breakthrough in their creativity by taking the attitude that writing their book is play.

How I Don’t Plot

Recently while taking a creativity coaching class, I was prompted by a series of clever questions to realize that I can articulate how I write a book. It doesn’t mean that my method is one anyone else would choose to use to create a story. It means the way I create fiction is entirely organic to the way my brain works. It’s been pointed out to me that as someone who likes to be on time and tends to plan trips, it’s pretty funny that in my writing I can’t stand to preload and structure my novels up front. I don’t pretend to have a “way” for pantsers to create because pantsers are just that…people who write books swinging from the trees, hair on fire and ready to take on the tightrope without a net. Most pantsers I know are also hybrid creators where they plot some things here and there.

Articulating how I do things in any part of my life has always been an adventure. Here are some of the things that happen to me when I’m writing a novel:

It took me a while to figure this out, but I learn more from what I hear and feel than anything else. Therefore, I make a music soundtrack for the story I’m ready to create. These songs sound like the story I’m designing. I rarely use songs that have lyrics, especially for historical-based novels. I put that soundtrack on my iPod/iPhone so I can listen to it any time I want, including times I’m not writing the book. This sort of “soaks my head” in the essence of that story. It’s a movie in my head and it is a feeling. Because I write romance, I have mood music that I label with the first names of the heroine/hero to use during their love/romantic scenes.

If I’m writing a historical, I gather historical research from the Internet and books. I read somewhere between five to ten research books on average. As I’m reading them I highlight things that I feel I want to remember or that might inspire an idea for the content of the book. I also write down ideas for things I think might happen at sometime in the book. Where these things might go in the book I don’t know. Some might call this plotting, but for me it is ideas and inspiration. I may or may not use all of the ideas…a lot of the time I don’t use the ideas I come up with while reading the books. I might also watch documentaries about the events/time period of the book and will take notes while watching these programs. Before I get ready to write the book I’ll reread my accumulation of notes from all my research. After that I’m ready to rock.

With contemporary characters I may still need to do research, and it may or may not require as much work.

I might write up some character charts but rarely do I interview my characters. I tried interviews but it never enhanced what I knew about the character and meant I had to think too much about them beforehand.

While I have written stories from a prompt, most of the time I’m working only from a single idea that jumped into my mind. A place. A time. An event in history. I might have no idea at all, when I write those first paragraphs, why this character is even doing what he/she is doing. They just are.

I see my stories in my mind’s eye. They’re a movie I’m watching for the first time. What happens is a mystery to me until it happens. While I’m in a character’s POV I’m experiencing that adventure with them, not forcing them to react. I have to look at them as organic, living/breathing people.

As I’m writing the story, listening to the soundtrack, I may find that I’m over thinking and “forcing” things to happen. The less time I spend “rigging” the story, the less trouble I have with inspiration.

So The Point Is…

So the point I want to make to all writers is that there truly is no one right way to create a book. Find the way that honestly keeps you creative most of the time, and I truly believe your creativity will last a lifetime. If you find bumps in the road and your creativity just isn’t flowing, it could be time to talk with a creativity coach.

Copyright Denise A. Agnew

Creative Pen Coaching