Friday, January 29, 2010

Only you know what works for you

I’m Lydia, the Duchess of Debretts. You may call me “Duchess” or “Her Grace of Debretts” but never “Lady Debretts” - because that would just be wrong. As far as the English Peerage is concerned, there are hard and fast rules which should always be followed. However, not every aspect of writing is so inflexible – at least not in my opinion.

A few years ago I had writer’s block. A tragedy had befallen my family and I had a difficult time getting back into the swing of things. I headed off to the RWA Conference that summer, excited about a workshop on brainstorming. I figured that might get me back on the right track. Spark my creativity. Get me writing again.

Boy was I wrong.

Instead of getting something positive from the experience, I got a lesson in hubris, not mine. The presenter asked the audience by a show of hands how many of us were “pantsers”, and about half the audience raised their hands, as you’d expect in any group of writers. The presenter then went on to tell us that being a “pantser” was the worst possible thing you could do as a writer.


I’m a “pantser”, but I didn’t take offense on my behalf. You see, it’s hard to tell me anything. I make up my own mind and don’t oscillate with direction of the wind. So, it wasn’t so much that I had been insulted, but I worried about how many other “pantsers” in the audience thought they were doing something wrong. How many of them went home and tried to change their process because a multi-published author told them to? That, in my mind, is unconscionable.

Every writer has their own process. Some plot. Some don’t. Some have to write with peace and quiet. Some need music. Some need to write X number of pages a day. Some just need to write one sentence. Some write when creativity strikes. Some type away on their computers for hours upon hours until they’re exhausted. Some are character driven. Some are plot driven. Some have index cards lined across their bedroom floor, the story all mapped out. Some use collages to inspire them. And others use absolutely nothing at all.

And every form is valid.

It drives me crazy to hear people say with all certainty that they have “the” way to do something. There’s not just one way. There’s a million. And my process might not work for you and yours might not work for me. I would never dream of telling someone they needed to write “my” way, and I’m not about to have someone tell me I have to write “their” way. We’re creative animals and we don’t fit into cookie-cutter molds.

To me, the most important thing in being a writer is to find what works for you and embrace it. You might take a class on plotting and realize, “Hey, that’s great. This is perfect for me. I never would have thought of it.” Then again, you might not. My suggestion to anyone starting out in this business is to keep an open mind, figure out what you need in order to write and then do it.

In the end, my writer’s block faded away and I was able to create again once my grieving process was over. I’m still a “pantser” and a rather successful one at that. I know who I am as an author. I’ve embraced my writing process and my style, and I wish the same for every other budding author out there.