Monday, October 15, 2012

Pushing Through the Fear (Cheryl Renée Herbsman)

As a pantser, I usually have no idea where a story is going when I begin it. A story begins for me with a character, and my job is just to follow him or her wherever it is he/she goes. I don't know where that will be or if it will be interesting or if it will hold my or anyone else's attention for the course of a whole book. I don't know if the story will work or hang together. I don't know where the random details that come to me will play into the story or if they matter at all. A first draft for me is a complete unknown and is both thrilling and terrifying.

Many, many times I have to take a deep breath and remind myself to trust the process. Many, many times I have to remind myself not to ask others for advice about where the story should go. Many, many times I have to stop and say to myself, "Don't panic!" I have to push through the fear to keep going.

And what I find is that the more I am able to let go and trust the process, the more I am able to truly step out of the way and let the character lead, the more the story comes together, the more the random details play into the plot, the more perfect the story becomes. But without the trust, without the letting go, without the relinquishing of fear, there can be no perfection. So to reach the outcome I desire -- having a story that works -- the more I have to let go of control.

I often think life is like this, too. Except it's more confusing because in life we are the character as well as the writer. Knowing when to guide the story and when to trust the process becomes even more complex. But it's a good reminder for me, when life feels out of control or terrifying, to note that trusting the process works just as well in life as it does in writing a first draft. Scary though it may be, sometimes we have to step back and listen and see where life wants to take us.

Maybe not as scary as ghosts, goblins, and zombies, but panic has a way of sneaking into all the little nooks and crevices, a way of creating fault lines. In writing and in life, it becomes so crucial (if these things freak you out the way they do me) to remind ourselves to slow down and breathe and trust where the character or the road is leading. Onward we tread, like warriors -- at least in our own imaginations -- pushing through the fear to reach the glory that awaits us -- a story that works, whether fictional or not.

8 comments:

  1. I'm a hybrid pantser-plotter who up until recently was a complete pantser. Not knowing where the story is going makes it exciting to write, also terrifying, but I realise it can also be time wasting because I end up needing major rewrites. I think I may be about to defect and turn plotter :/

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  2. Oh no! A defecting pantser :)
    Go with what works, even when that changes! I can totally see why people plot. It makes a lot of sense. It just doesn't work for me. But if it works for you, go for it. Just remember to stay open to the little bursts of magic that want to push their way in ;)

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  3. This first-draft process sounds startlingly familiar ... ;-)

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    1. So I'm not the only crazy person walking around in terror that I won't be able to figure out what happens next?

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  4. Cheryl, I am totally a pantser. For a long time I revised as I went and outlined ahead of time and, for me, it was crippling. Mostly just second guessing everything and expecting perfection first time around. When I let all that go, and just wrote, it freed me up. Yeah, the first drafts are awful, but I know I can revise and it's much better to have something TO revise. I keep thinking of Robert Frost: "the only way out is through" and write the story to figure out what the story is.

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    1. Yep, that's how I am, too. Outlines take away all the fun and magic for me, turn writing into a chore. And this -- "write the story to figure out what the story is" -- is exactly how I work. Glad to know I'm not alone :)

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  5. BEAUTIFUL turn-of-phrase about panic creating fault lines...

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  6. I've tried defecting to the plotter's camp, but the pantser camp keeps calling me back. Great post!

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