Wednesday, September 30, 2020

A writer's mind

 I really enjoyed Type M newcomer Douglas's post on Monday. I'm fascinated by the way the creative process works and the way we writers, each in our own silos, mostly self-taught through trial, error, and sheer pig-headedness, discover common ground. Like me, he is a "by the seat of the pants" writer, with all the thrill, anxiety and frustration that entails. 

Three points in particular resonate with me. First is that drafting an outline is a colossal waste of time, because I never follow it. Sometimes by Chapter Two, I get a better idea that lures me off the planned route and into the brambles, and by halfway through the book, my story bears almost no resemblance to the one I had outlined (nor the proposal sitting on the editor's desk). Other times it is a subtler, inconsequential detail that draws me slowly off course, altering the shape and meaning of the story completely by the end. 

For example, in the very first scene of my recent work in progress, THE DEVIL TO PAY, I introduced a dog. It was a whim; my intention was to liven up the scene and shed light on the characters. Those of you who know me and my work, know I love dogs. So before long the dog was popping up in various scenes, and suffice to say, it took on in central role in the mystery. And in the underlying theme.

The second point I identify with in Douglas's post is the curse of the blinking cursor. Writing without an outline means you don't know where you're going and what comes next, and frequently the mind goes blank. Which way to go in the brambles and how to get to the end of the story? Indeed, is there a story at the end at all? In my case, the cursor doesn't blink because I write my first draft long-hand, but you get the idea. The page, not blank but scribbled over with multiple false starts, stares up at me in stubborn, empty silence. Long walks, arguments with the characters, lots of "what ifs?" as I unload the dishwasher, until finally some little idea breaks through the logjam and I see a way forward, at least for a short distance.

I confess I have learned to do some short-term outlining once I find this break-through, because usually a few plot ideas tumble into place, which I have to jot down before I forget them.

But the point I liked most in Douglas's post was the idea what despite all this hair-tearing and self-doubt, there's something thrilling about not knowing where the story is leading me. It's like being on an adventure. I think if I knew where I was going and how it would end, I would be bored. What's the point of writing the story? There would be no sense of exploring the unknown, no tingle of excitement, no ahah! moment when I realize who the killer has to be and how they'll be caught. And at the end of it all, finally, the delight when I realize what the story is about. 


blogcutter said...

I just bought Douglas's book The Dead Don't Boogie and I must say the cover art reminds me a lot of one of your Inspector Green books, Do or Die (the title also reminds me of Mary Jane Maffini's The Dead Don't Get Out Much. Thunder Bay should be arriving shortly. Lots of good pandemic reading ahead!

blogcutter said...

Interestingly enough I see a strong resemblance between the cover of your (first?) Inspector Green book (I've read all of them) Do or Die and Douglas's The Dead Don't Boogie (I haven't read any of his but am looking forward to it!)