On the weekend, I had an email from a writing buddy. One of a number of people I met on another website under another name, she is part of a small group who have decided to hold their own writing contest. The idea is to write as many chapters as possible, in the month from 7 May to 7 June. No new projects, just WIPs, are eligible, as the idea is to get a move on with things we have already started. Each participant would offer some kind of prize to the winner, and encouragement of fellow competitors is mandatory. Would I, she asked, be interested?
Would I what! With the school holidays recently I’ve dropped back my writing output of late, though that was remedied a little by the rush of inspiration (and frantic scribbling) I had last week. The only trouble was, I wasn’t sure I would be able to meet their criteria. The thing is, you see, that I don’t write in chapters.
Actually, I don’t write in order at all. Well, sure, for short stories (up to 7000 or so words) I do, but anything longer than that I’m all over the shop. I write scenes as they occur to me, then put them in order for the story I have vaguely in the back of my mind, and then fill in the blanks. Sure, this means that a lot of what I write eventually gets scrapped, as many scenes either turn out differently than I originally envisioned them, or end up not being included at all, but it’s the way my mind words. Key events first, filler later.
The result of this is that I usually have to write the whole novel, and then split it into chapters. There are some natural chapter breaks, of course, but if I want any consistency of chapter length then I occasionally have to move scenes around in order to get them at the end of the chapter. (And I like consistent chapter lengths. One of my foibles, I think.)
I know that I’m not alone in this – I’m told that Stephen King, no less, writes in much the same way – but I also know that there are a lot of writers who start at the beginning and go right through to the end. To me, this is a completely alien way of writing, but I can’t help but admire it. I know that some of these people are “pantsers”, who don’t know where their story will end up until they get there, but others have planned so meticulously that they can tell you exactly what will happen in any given chapter, and could even write it if you asked them to, even if they’re nowhere near that in the story as yet. The sheer weight of planning involved in that makes my head spin.
I’ve told myself that one day, I’ll try to write a story that way. I’ll fill notebooks not with actual scenes, but notes about scenes, what they’ll involve, with meticulous details about story order. I’m not sure that I’ll do a very good job at it, but I want to see what it’s like.
In the meantime, though, I’ll keep doing what I’m doing. It’s worked for me so far, and it’s the way I feel most comfortable as a writer. And the writing competition my friend suggested? Well, I’ve come up with a compromise. I’ll nominate a set number of words per chapter – say 2500 – and I’ll write as many blocks of 2500 words as I can. It’s better than nothing, right?
- Finding Yourself as a Writer: Plotter or Pantser? (writingsnippets.wordpress.com)
- How to Take Charge of Your Novel: Write it Now 4 Review and Scrivener Shout Out (pamelahegarty.com)
- How to Get Started as a Writer (ladyjatbay.wordpress.com)