Very Superstitious

So I got to thinking about my writing process the other day. You know, the whole pantser vs. plotter thing.

With my last two books I started writing as soon as I had two things: a general idea of where I was heading and a strong opening image. That's it. Well, I'm just now starting my 3rd book and for various reasons that wasn't going to fly this time around. This time I needed to do a good bit of planning on the story, including writing a full synopsis, before I wrote the first actual word of the manuscript. Needless to say this caused me a bit of anxiety. It doesn't take too much to get those writerly hobgoblins going. You know the ones, the conniving voices in the back of your head that are always trying to convince you you can't really write.

"This isn't the way you do things," they say. "You need the process of discovery. If you abandon the process that got you here you're screwed."

But the more I thought about it the more it seemed like sometimes the things we tell ourselves about what we need to do in order to write a book--I must write 1st drafts longhand while drinking this brand of coffee out of this mug. I can only write in the mornings. I need to plan every detail. If I plan anything I'm sunk!--aren't all that different from going out of your way to avoid walking under ladders and staying out of the black cat's path. Common superstitions. 

Now, I'll cop to being a pretty superstitious guy so I know that the thing about superstitions is that they can be incredibly comforting. They help us convince ourselves that there's order to the universe, that we maybe even have some kind of control over uncontrollable things. If I do this, the universe reacts this way.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with being comforted and maybe in some way believing in the reality of these things can be helpful. If you really believe you need that coffee mug then maybe having it calms something in you that helps you write. That's all well and good, but the thing is one day the cat is going to knock that mug off the table and it's going to break and you're still going to need to get up and write the next day. Just like one day an avowed pantser is going to be in a situation when they just have to plan it out first. The show must go on!

I guess I'm trying to remind myself that my habits and rituals and usual ways of working can be good and helpful but I have to beware of becoming dependent on them, of defining my process into a corner I can't get out of

How about you all? Any good writing superstitions to share?


Anonymous said...

I myself am a pantser, usually starting again with an opening scene, characters, and a vague idea of where I'm going. Twice I tried to outline the whole book before starting. I made some progress but it was frustrating as I spent as long bashing my head over the outline as it would have taken to write a first draft -- and in the end those outlines really only sketched perhaps a third of the book. I find it a careful balance, as it is much easier to change big things in outlines without the emotional attachment of good scenes (which might not actually be good for the book), but the actual fleshing out of elements also reveals which ones work, and where the emphasis should be. Characters take on a life of their own, which is fun and good for the story.

So I have mostly settled on different levels of outlining at different stages. I do need to outline scenes before I write them so that I know more or less what elements are going to go in them, but I like to do that a day or so before I do write them. I've also found that I can now easily spot manuscripts/books that are plotted versus those that are pantsed. But neither inherently results in a successful story, both having their merits.

Tere Kirkland said...

I don't really have any rituals that I try to follow when I sit down to write, even though I am normally a pretty superstitious, knock-on-wood, cross my fingers kind of person.

It's funny, since I'm so superstitious in other parts of life, but when I'm writing I like to try new techniques, plotting or pantsing when the muse strikes me.

Sure, I wish on eyelashes and shooting stars that my book sells, but I approach my writing with a much more practical attitude:

It needs to be done, I need to do it.

Unknown said...

I hear you on the superstitions.

Im trying to change the way I write (to a more structured approach) after having spent waaayyy too much time trying to fix the structure of my last novel (a byproduct of getting lost in my story somewhere around the middle.)

My approach is to tell myself that just because I did something one way before, doesn't mean there isn't a better way. Followed up by the hat doesn't really make me lucky.

Then I repeat.

A lot.

I'll let you know how it works.


L. Diane Wolfe said...

Wouldn't call them superstitions, but I do need an outline before I can begin. I also write everything longhand first, because my creativity feels stifled typing at my computer. (I feel like it should be perfect if it's typed, and that's just not going to happen on a first draft.)