Here’s a scenario that I often see in Boosts: A client–let’s call her Claire–has been writing her novel for a long time. She’s a powerful, talented writer with a wonderful voice, but she isn’t writing her novel in a linear way. Whenever she thinks of a scene, she writes it. The result? Many scenes in many different documents, and no overarching plot, as yet. And of course, she gets to the point where she doesn’t feel she’s progressing towards a cohesive narrative.
Claire often says, “I shouldn’t be working this way.” She calls herself “disorganized,” yet she’s tried a more linear approach and it drains her ideas. She tells me she isn’t planning–has never been planning–and that’s why her novel will “never succeed.” She has read that she should have a solid outline, and should be sticking to it. ”Am I crazy?” Claire asks me. ”Am I failing as a writer?”
Of course she isn’t! Claire’s scenes are rich, her characters are unique, her storyline is powerful. Claire is simply working on her beautiful manuscript in a non-linear way.
See, I believe it is important for us to understand how we each work. Claire is what I would call a “spider’s web thinker.” Rather than starting with an outline, she creates one as she goes, or she waits until after her first draft before formulating the outline, and then does lots of rewriting. Or perhaps Claire writes scene after scene in order to find her story, and then chooses which scenes are actually relevant, and which are not. She lets the story spread out and jump around, because this creates the magic that inspires her amazing ideas.
Well, I told you that to tell you this:
Every writer operates differently because every mind is unique. If you’ve ever done a personality assessment like Myers-Briggs, you’ll know what I’m saying. If you’re primarily “intuitive,” that might mean that you benefit from rising above the details, rather than focusing in on them. If you’re primarily “sensing,” you might find that the details are your nourishment. Truth is, what matters isn’t “linear” or “spider’s web” or a mix or something entirely different.
What matters is that you commit to your process, your work.
Committing might mean talking things through, or getting expert advice, or sitting in “the beautiful mess” that will yield answers if you stay there for long enough. It might mean being painstakingly linear, using post-it notes and index cards and a nice orderly system. It might also mean getting up and acting a scene, or drawing cartoon scripts, or leaving the manuscript for a month or so. It might mean cutting seventy pages and writing eighty more.
It might also mean daydreams. It might also mean singing in the shower.
But what you really need to know is that if you commit, as yourself, you will find a way. Know that. Because if you do, you’re carrying precious gems.
Sue Williams is Grub Street’s resident Confidence Coach for Writers. To book a session with her, email her at boosts (at) suewilliams.co.uk, or work with her at her coming Grub Street course, Love Your Work.