I Am Apparently the World’s Least Organized Writer Ever

One of the many cool side effects of coming into contact with a whole slew of authors, indie and otherwise, is being able to hear about the writing process from other perspectives. It’s fascinating (to me) to hear about how people go through the creative process and what they do to keep on track and plot and plan and gather information and organize themselves and all the work that goes into the long painful birthing process. I’ve read about the outlines people put together. I’ve seen in-depth analysis (with pictures!) about the creation of character cards that detail each person’s description, personality, traits, and their connection to the other major and minor figures in the novel all charted on a huge whiteboard. Notebooks, scribblings, collages, all part of an organized approach to writing a novel.

I see this stuff, and all I can think of is: Holy shit, I am the least organized writer of all time.

I’ve written one novel and am about 70k words into its sequel. So in roughly 150,000 words I have created the following extensive archives of notes to help me along (CAUTION: SPOILERS!):

I am one organized mo-fo.

That’s it. It’s the “outline” of the last three chapters of Storm (the sequel). I did have another 3 sticky notes of jottings from Curse which are now gone, and were mostly illegible and made no sense when I did have them. That is the sum total of my prep-work for writing. I’ve always been this way, from birth as far as I can tell. Every paper I turned in for school was the first draft, written the night before, from grade school to college. I’d lose points for not turning in outlines and whatever, but I didn’t care. I had one paper in me, and that’s what my teachers got. A unique academic snowflake.

I am sure there are a lot of people who don’t come close to the level of organization I talked about at first, but I have never seen anyone do as little organizational work as I have. My guess is they are out there, but get too intimidated by the sheer load of stuff other people do to ever mention it publicly.

So how do I write?

I do my writing in the shower. Also, in the car on my way to and from work. Sometimes when it’s morning and I’m slowly chewing my cereal looking vaguely more alive than the zombies I write about. Anytime I’m staring off into space not doing anything, or when I’m reading something only to realize I’ve been reading the same three paragraphs over and over again without acknowledging a single word, I’m probably writing.

The way I do it is I picture the scene I want to describe, or a scene I want to get to, or the penultimate scene, or whatever my brain happens to want to work at. I see the characters, their clothing, their mannerisms. When I want this character to say this line, I watch him saying it to figure out how he’d fold his arms or roll his eyes or whatever. I watch my book as a movie first, then I describe as best I can what I saw. It can be frustrating sometimes when I discover that I don’t have the words to convey the scene like I see it, and that can bog me down. Other times, I’ve daydreamed a scene, the couldn’t remember exactly what happened or why, and to me that’s a sign that the scene didn’t resonate enough with me. I know that there are Pantsters (writing by the seat of, in other words), but I don’t know of anyone that takes it to that level. The only reason why I “outlined” the last three chapters were to make sure I hit all the points I wanted to. There are probably 20 scenes that will be in it that I didn’t write down, the bridge scenes and color and whatnot. They’ll just happen. For the rest, I can jot “zombie stuff” on the top flap of a Fruit Loops box and I know what I mean without ever saving the box for reference.

I envy the Plotters. I can’t imagine having all that shit at my fingertips. I just don’t think I’d ever be able to do anything with it. I’d have it all, neatly there, and then write a completely different book anyway. More likely, though, I’d get halfway through plotting and outlining, then say Fuck it, I’m gonna watch this Mythbusters rerun instead. The mechanical tedium would murder me. I want the good stuff, the writing itself, the unfolding of story, the development of the characters as they come and introduce themselves fully to me and say Howdy. I don’t necessarily know who they are until I write them.

Perfect example: I had a bunch of scenes in mind when I wrote Curse, the Have to Happens to move the plot along. One character was going to do something that was necessary (from a plot perspective) to spread the zombie plague further and faster than it might have otherwise. I knew what he was going to do and how he would do it. When I got to that point, something funny happened.

He wouldn’t do it.

I realized that character couldn’t do it. There’s just no way he would have. Not like he was a great guy about to do something out of character, but the way things developed around him, he grew as a person until I couldn’t make it happen. The scene ended up happening, but for entirely different reasons that made for a much better story. I think, anyway. I know it worked 1,000 times better for me, anyway.

So for all you Plotters, hats off. I couldn’t do what you do. And for other Pantsters like me, you aren’t alone. Sometimes the only way something can get written is to sit down and write the goddamn thing, because in the end, you still have to do that anyway.

About Alan Edwards

Former cancer caregiver. Husband of the most magical and amazing person who ever lived.

Posted on May 16, 2011, in Kerfluffle and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Our systems aren’t all that dissimilar. I make up most of my writing by the seat of my pants, though I will type out some outline notes if I really get cooking. I don’t like structured outlines, however. Most of the joy of writing for me comes from the discovery of not knowing what the heck is going to happen (though, as the writer, I guess you have to have *something* of a clue every once in a while…)

    Great article!

    • Thanks! Heh. Like you said, I’ll have an occasional clue about where I’m going with all the shit I’m throwing at the wall, but the meandering between here and there is where a lot of the fun happens for me as well. The “eureka!” moment of a sudden, unlooked-for scene that just shows up and kicks ass is a great, irreplaceable feeling.

  2. Yep, I’m a pantser. I tried to outline a bit earlier on in working on my book, but I felt like “What’s the point of writing down what I WANT to write – I just need to write it!” So that was that. Pantser for Life!

  3. West siiiiiiide! Hehe. Um, I live in the woods in CT, I don’t really know much about gangs or their signs, so that’s all on you!

    • I did grow up on the mean streets of suburban MD, then took my teenage act on the road to the thug life in southwest Florida, retirement capital of the USA. So I really don’t know anything about them either.

  4. too funny. Had to share this on FB. I’m fairly close to that kind of disorganized. I keep a ton of slips of paper stuffed here and there, about the futuristic thriller I’m writing, which I manage to find every now and then. Thanks Alan!

    • Haha it’s always good to know that others can be just as willy-nilly about the whole process as I am. I was starting to really get the feeling that I was doing it all wrong. Thank you for commenting!

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