Toss It, I Say

Many years ago while driving down the freeway, my son pulled his sock off, opened the window, and held it out. In his mind, the wind would fill the sock like a balloon (which he’d lost out the window earlier) and slow the car. Instead, there’s a little white sock out there on the shoulder of a road, slowly decomposing.

I remembered that today, thinking about my writing process. So picture me speeding down the highway, ripping the following pages out of a rule book and sending them flying.

Writers must outline. Rip, gone.
Characters must be developed before you start the story (or writers must use character dossiers). Rip, really gone.
Keep your theme/premise in mind as you write. Also gone.
Know the motivations of your characters. That one went very fast.
Write every day. Rip, with laughter.
Write a thousand words a day. Rip, with hysterical laughter.

Why am I destroying this rule book? For years I’ve felt guilty that I don’t follow what I perceive to be the laws of writing. On one hand, I know that no writer conforms to all of these. And yet if you read books on writing, or attend conferences, you come away with guilt if you don’t.

I’d like to conform to at least one of the rules. Well, I probably do. Beginning, middle end. Show don’t tell. Eliminate the passives. Okay, quit laughing, those of you who have edited my stuff. I said I conform; I didn’t say I was successful.

Yet somehow I manage to finish a novel length story, and hey, that’s something to be proud of. Well, okay, that story might need some editing, or lots of editing, but at least it’s done.

When I write, I do so as the first reader. I have no idea where the story is going to take me when I sit down and pen the opening line. I have no idea who this character is that I just met. She’ll show me as we go along. I have a vision of the ending, but no idea how to get there when I start.

A good friend of mine calls this organic writing. I think it’s more like jumping off the granite Index Town Wall with no parachute or climbing ropes.

Whatever the process is called, I’m not the only writer out there who creates this way. And I do believe I’m done apologizing to my inner critic. So I’m going to admit it publicly and see if any other writers in the back of the room sheepishly raise their hands and admit the same thing.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying following the rules is a bad thing. A friend who outlines gets her books done much sooner, with a lot less editing, and she’s an incredible writer. But for those like me, let’s quit feeling like rules equal competency, and roll that window down.

Morning Star climbing route

Morning Star climbing route