What's your Modus Operandi? Trusting Your Instincts.

I mean, how do you go about nursing the germ of an idea into a full-blown short story/novella/novel? Are you an outliner, a panzter or something in between?

Me, I’m a panzter. Totally, completely. Not only that, but I’m a loop-de-loop pantzer. many years ago, before I learned to trust my own instincts, I was convinced that you had to write in a linear fashion. As in, you started writing at the beginning of the story and you kept writing in a straight line until the end. Which usually finished with me getting stuck about 12,000 words in and eventually trunking the manuscript. And giving up writing for an extended period of time, only to come back to it and repeat the cycle.

I was convinced that I couldn’t write.

What changed my mind was having some time this summer and, to be brutally honest, not giving a shit anymore. I decided I wanted to see these stories on paper, even if I never did manage to connect all the different parts. And, you know what happened?

I finished something.

It wasn’t a nice, linear, clean process like I had been convinced was how stories were done. Nope, it was messy and wild and piles of fun.

Kind of like good sex. And I loved it.

I learned to trust my instincts. (Hearing them before they get out the bullhorn and the cattle prod is another story entirely.)

So, for those who are struggling with their own process, or those who are just curious, here’s what happens with me.

I usually start with a scene, somewhere near the end of the story, that stays in my head. It’s my “goal” scene. The next piece that comes is often the very beginning, though not always the first chapter, or the entire first chapter. Quite often I get 3 or 4 chapters in, then need to write a chapter much further along in the piece in order to know what needs to come in the chapters in between. Shortly after this, I’ll actually write the “goal” scene, which will have fleshed itself out and may even have changed as I explore the characters, the plot and the setting. Then other pieces start slotting their way in. And as I work my way through later bits, I have to go back and put stuff in earlier–thus, the loop-de-loop. Eventually, all the logic and cause/effect loops have been checked and I can go back and edit for clarity, consistency and efficiency.

I’ve been stumped, really stumped, on the first night Ben and Ross spend together. Not that I didn’t know what was going to happen, but because I would sit down at the computer and–nothing. I knew exactly what should be on the page, but I was frozen. I’m gradually growing to understand that, when that happens, there’s something earlier in the manscript that I need to add in, or change, or adapt, to satisfy my subconscious. In this case, it was the fact that Ross jumped right into this relationship, despite good reason not to, without asking around to see if Ben was a nutbar or an okay dude. Once I went back to an earlier chapter and let Ross check out Ben’s reputation, things started rolling again.

But this makes me curious. I’m generally a fairly logical person. I check everything out, I do my research, I read what people have to say on the topic–consequence of a science background, I guess. But I never heard of anyone who works this way. The assumption always seems to be–and perhaps it’s just in my own head–that both outliners and pantzers work in a front-to-back fashion, then fix things in drafts. I know a lot of people who work like that.

So, my question is–how do you work? Am I the only one out there like this?

And does that make me weird(er)?

Check in on Sunday, when I’ll be posting my Loosey-Goosey Review of Stray, by Erin Lark. And tomorrow, when you get to laugh at my abysmal word counts for January.

Have a marvelous Friday night!

About the author: Kate Lowell

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