Another year, another blog post (that’s how often you’re supposed to blog, right? Just once a year? I think that’s how it’s done).
2017 was a very interesting year for me. Although I didn’t make my deadline for the new book, I did have one of the most productive years of my writing career.
“But J, your output makes Axl Rose look prolific!”
This is true. But I’m talking about productivity in terms of the development of my style and technique. In that case, I’ve been quite prolific. In fact, my style and technique have changed more in the last twelve months than it has in the last twenty years. How? I did something quite revolutionary:
I started asking myself for help.
It’s been a strange journey over the last few years. First, I quit pantsing and decided to become a plotter. Then I became disillusioned with plotting after I realized that 99% of how-to writing books are written by people who’ve only written how-to writing books. They’ve never written a successful novel and wouldn’t know how if their lives depended upon it.
So I chucked most of what I’d learned and combined what remained into a strange hybrid called plantsing (a mix of pantsing and plotting).
Plantsing worked for me. And it would continue to work unless I found a new structural problem. If that happened, I’d have a real dilemma. But what were the odds of that happening?
Back in February, I faced a big structural problem. The kind of scenes I wanted to write just didn’t fit with my existing method of structuring. Either I would have to change the content of my scenes and keep the existing structure, or chuck the existing structuring method and create a new one to fit the scenes I wanted to write.
I didn’t want to change the content. Changing the content would tear a big hole in the plot.
So, I had no choice. I’d have to change the pre-existing structure. But how? I couldn’t go back to those writing books; they’d just lead me down a path of self-doubt or, worse, cause me to write a cookie-cutter scene with no life.
After a mild panic attack, I asked myself: “Well … if I could create my own structure … what kind of structure would I create?”
And my brain whirred to a stop.
It actually paused for a moment.
What kind of structure would I create?
No, no, no. That was a preposterous question. I was just some indie writer with one book under his belt. People like me don’t come up with new ways to structure scenes. Professors of literature do that, and qualified people like…
Like all those goobers who wrote all those how-to writing books?
I sat and thought about that. Those goobers weren’t qualified to create new ways of structuring a scene. They weren’t best-selling authors. They were (I’m assuming) mostly educated in marketing. So, if they could come up with a method, why couldn’t I? Something tailored just for me?
I decided to give it a try. I tore apart the structure of a scene. I re-worked it, simplified it…
And it worked.
It was my Neo moment. Remember when he watches Morpheus leap from one building to the next?
After scene structure, I moved on to plot structure. And then style, character development, narrative description, everything! On and on and on, one by one, month after month, I asked myself what could work. And I haven’t stopped. Only last week I started ripping apart my method of writing dialogue.
And it’s still working.
Have I discarded everything from those writing books? Oh, no. Some writing advice is as old as Aristotle, and it’s still used by writers because it works. But I’ve kicked most “recent” advice to the curb.
If you’re struggling with your writing, ask yourself what’s blocking you. Is it you, or are you trying to contort your story so that it adheres to the “36 Laws of Writing Success” or the “5 Secrets of Best-Selling Authors” or some method with a silly name like the “Camel Method” or the “Snowball Method” or the “Power Pyramid of Plotting Potential.”
Get rid of that junk. Create your own structure. Stop giving money to those hacks.
Don’t believe that trusting your own way could yield results? Could Stephen King or Ray Bradbury persuade you?
Scour “On Writing” and “Zen in the Art of Writing,” and you’ll find no mention of the myriad of fiction teachers that have dominated the industry over the past 50 years. It seems that both King and Bradbury, outside of grammar, pretty much adhered to their own method. They relied upon their own intelligence to create a story.
Sure, you say, but that’s freakin’ Stephen King and frackin’ Ray Bradbury.
Yes, but King used to be a 28-year-old janitor living in a trailer park. Bradbury was a 30-year-old short-story writer who had to rent a typewriter (at 10 cents for every half hour) because he couldn’t afford to buy his own.
That janitor followed his own method and wrote “Carrie.”
That short-story writer followed his own method and wrote “Fahrenheit 451” on that rented typewriter.
Not bad for two writers who didn’t follow the “36 Laws of Writing Success.”
If you still don’t believe you can build your own structure, consider this: As a writer, you create worlds out of nothing. Worlds. So, you can do that, but you can’t create a simple method that is reliable, increases productivity, and allows your story to thrive?
Come on. Don’t lie to me.
Don’t lie to yourself.