I am a discovery writer.
What does that mean? Well, to put it bluntly, it means I’m making shit up as I go along. Yup, I’m a fly by the seat of my pants, pull a plot twist out of my ass, outline-less kind of girl.
I don’t know which process is better, but there are famous writers who use both methods. Jim Butcher told a podcast interviewer that for years he refused to write outlines and so kept writing crappy books. Once, to prove to his writing teacher that an outline wouldn’t help, he made one and subsequently wrote the first book of the Dresden Files. Eleven books later, he still seems to think that’s the right way to go. On the other hand, we have Diana Gabaldon, another wildly successful novelist, who has famously said that she skips back and forth over a scene, writing scenes in any order, and doesn’t put them together into a narrative until she reaches the end of the book.
I follow something more akin to the second process, though at this stage I’m writing vaguely in chronological order. I hate outlines. I do have a timeline, however, which provides milestone scenes for me to aim toward.
So, how do I write? Usually when I start writing a scene, I know what I’m trying to accomplish with it, but I don’t know exactly what will happen, line by line, unless I’ve been obsessing about it for awhile. I had a very rewarding experience this week in which I started writing a scene, thought it was crap, dragged another character into it, and voila! It magically had an interesting lead-up to what I knew needed to happen.
Benefits of this process? It lets the characters lead the way. I never have to muscle them into doing something that doesn’t fit their personality or plot arc.
Downsides? I meander. The book is probably 25,000 words overweight at this stage. Sometimes I sit and stare at a blank screen for a long time before I get started, just because I’m not sure where I’m going.
But I also get to maintain my Scarlett O’Hara, “I won’t think about that today; I’ll think about that tomorrow” mindset. A lot of writers quit writing early because they start editing and get bogged down, but because I don’t worry about everything being perfect the first time around, I get a lot done. I’ll revise when the complete rough draft is finished. “Think of your first discovery written draft as a really extensive outline,” Dan Wells said on Writing Excuses. And I am.
Still, would it save me a lot of time and effort down the road if I outlined? How do you write? Persuade me that I should change my unstructured ways.