Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A dangerous yearning

In the last few posts on writing tools, I've talked not about the tools themselves but about the kinds of writers who may - or may not - embrace them.

First, I preached to the converted - you inveterate planners, who avidly lap up any new way of organising thoughts. My mission there wasn't to enthuse about the endless variety of tools available, but to caution against gorging yourselves to the detriment of your writing.

Then I threw myself on the mercy of the pantsers, risking your ridicule as I offer the tools as valuable lifelines in times of adversity while you sail the trackless seas of unstructured creativity.

Now I address a different audience: those who yearn to be more structured, more disciplined in your writing.

In a sense, this whole series of posts was inspired by you.

Over the last year or so, I've seen numerous blog posts describing one tool or another. In amongst comments on how great an idea this was, I invariably saw a few plaintive cries of "if only I was that organised."

And I felt some resonance with those cries, because (believe me here!) my own writing process is not all that organised. More ominously, I found myself sinking into despairing feelings of inadequacy. "If So-And-So-Big-Name-Writer is using this method and I'm not," the thinking went, "then maybe I'm not a real writer."


It was then that I decided to rebel against those feelings. At the same time, I wondered if others out there, you of the "if only I was that organised" variety, might suffer the same pangs whenever you see someone espousing some nifty tool to ferret out structural plot weaknesses or lack of character growth.

Sure, it's good to be curious. Try out new ideas. You never know, they might be helpful. But if they don't work for you, then don't stress about it. This is back to my core theme: know the outcome you seek, and pick a tool that works for you to achieve it.

Just because you don't use Snowflake Pro, or religiously outline each chapter on colour-coded index cards, doesn't make you a bad writer. There are all sorts of reasons why you may not be good writer, but failure to use any given tool or technique does not number among them.

No more so than the conspicuous absence of a Le Creuset $1,500 copper cookware set in your kitchen cupboard makes you a bad cook.

So, my message to the yearners out there is: 
yearn away, but nix the angst!


  1. It would be great if everyone who had doubts, also had an innate understanding of how to overcome it, but I think it's all part of a process. You have try various things and see what works, and knowing what kind of tools are available to you is an important step on the way. That's why I think this series has been so useful.


  2. Botanist, I yearn to be more organized, but I just can't do it. It snuffs out my creativity. :) Seriously, whenever I hear of another writing using a nifty program to write, it doesn't make me question my abilities, but it does make me wonder if they know something I don't that might just lead me to succeed a little faster.

  3. I would trade half my organization for an equal dose of creativity. Seriously.

    And at the same time you ruined my excuse for not cooking!


  4. Thanks, Mood, for all the help and advice out there, we all have to find our own way in the end.

    Laila, all you can do is stop wondering and give it a try. It might help, but if it doesn't then it just wasn't right for you.

    LOL Andrew. We'll just let that be our secret then, shall we?

  5. Just stopping by via Mooderino's last post. I agree with your comments about not having to explain everything in our writing. We don't need to explain anything in sci-fi, just make it part of the world the characters inhabit. Anything more is what I call info-dumping, and will bore the reader!

    Ellie Garratt

  6. Hey Ellie! Thanks for dropping by. Glad to see some other folks share the same views.

    Seems to me that sci-fi has this geeky reputation, amongst those who don't read it, of being an endless techno-fest. I like to sprinkle in bits of cool tech that people just use without a second thought. And not all "engineering" tech, either. I like to give more opening to things like bio or advanced materials science.

  7. I'm not organized, either, and it's why my first drafts (and second drafts too, truth be told) are such nightmares. I'm an organic writer, and not everything I put down on paper works. A lot of it doesn't, but I've finally learned to stop worrying about it and just accept that this is part of my process. I'm messy. But it gets done, one way or another. :)

  8. Heh! That's the spirit, Jennifer. It's your process, and it gets done. That's all that counts in the end.

  9. I envy plotters, I really do! I'm trying to become more of one, not because I think it's the "right" approach, but because I've recognised that my current approach -- I always imagine a trolley car full of screaming people careening down a hill with no brakes -- while exciting, usually ends in tears. So while I won't be writing up index cards for some character who is only in the thing for half a paragraph, I've decided to take the plunge and actually do up some chapter plans. It's a brave new world for me!

  10. Welcome Jen, and it's important to remember that there is no single "right" approach. But if things usually end in tears then that's a good sign that you need to do something different. It's good to try things out, and keep any little nuggets that you find work for you. Good luck!


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