Imagination is a uniquely human gift. Every one of us has used this talent at some point, and for a variety of reasons. We’ve all been actors or writers at times. As children we attempt to be more brave, powerful, beautiful, or smarter than we are, sometimes as a game—just for the pure joy of it, but also to escape painful, confusing, or difficult situations. But then somewhere along the line we stop imagining. For many people, our imagination exits with our childhood, we sort of out grow it, I guess. However, writers refuse to let it go, carrying it into adulthood, treasuring it, nurturing it, until it grows strong and we are able to send it out into the world on it’s own. How lucky are we to have a job where we use our imagination full time?
Continuing with my passion for being a panster, I’ve been searching out the pros and cons for this methodology for months now. It’s been bugging me. Honestly, until a few months ago I didn’t even know that term existed. I thought everyone wrote that way. And I guess this argument will probably never be settled. Some “experts” caution against the practice for any number of reasons, others profess that it’s an innate trait, that of being a natural born storyteller and if you don’t have it then you can’t force it, and probably can’t even understand it. I picture myself as an ancient elder sitting around a fire weaving a mesmerizing tale to my tribe, children spellbound, hanging on my every word. And maybe that’s true. I always did have a knack for spinning a tale with the youngin’s as I demonstrated at many a beach sleepover party.
In my recent search I stumbled upon many reasons why writing an entire first draft before editing is the most efficient way to finish a novel. Isn’t that the concept behind NaNoWrMo? I know many writers who have been sitting on a manuscript for years and, like Heather says, often they get immersed in over-editing and lose their way, never making it to a completed manuscript. It seems to me that you can’t perfect your story until you know the climax and the resolution.
And my mantra for any job, and probably life in general, is that if you’re not having fun then you’re not doing it right. For me, writing one complete draft from beginning to end before I start editing makes perfect sense and is pure unadulterated joy. It’s the best part of the writing process, where your imagination flows like a bubbling brook. And I feel that way, all bubbly and fizzy, heady, like I’m falling in love. I know the hard part is coming eventually, when the story is completely written and I have to go back and agonize over every word, consider the character development, check for flaws in the plotting. But it’s a lot more fun writing it first.
Of course, at the onset of each day I do a technical edit of the last thing I wrote before I start anew, just as a general cleanup, which makes it easier to read when I’m done. But how can you seriously edit your story if you don’t know where you are going to end up? You may have it thought out in an outline, but from my experience, where you think you’re going and where you finally end up isn’t always the same place. My characters take over. They say and do things I could have never planned and it’s exciting. I really do wake up thinking: Oh! What are they going to do today to get themselves in trouble? My characters come alive and if I tell them what to do they seem to get mad at me. “I wouldn’t do that! You can’t make me do that!
The naysayers utter things like: You’re lazy. Planning eliminates the fear of the blank page, it helps you write faster and more efficiently, cutting down on the number of drafts. It hones your discipline and will help you finish. But what if you’ve never suffered from these obstacles? What if you have the opposite problem? You can’t step away from the keyboard, you can’t write fast enough. How can anyone consider you lazy or inefficient? Rather than worrying about whether your story is good enough, to me…over analyzing it is the real reason people get stuck. And until you write the ending you can’t be sure that the early part of the story will hold up. Only then can you go back and enhance the characters, plot, and setting, to support the ending.
It’s also a lot easier to revise and throw things out if you haven’t spent an inordinate amount of time working on them. When an editor tells me a scene has to go it’s painful enough, if I’d spent weeks honing it, I’d suffer a writing-stroke! We always cut a ton of stuff out after we’ve finished the draft, it’s just the way it is, the way we explore where our characters are going, how they grow throughout the story. Sort of like my own pathway in life. There have been lots of side trips I took as I honed my values and interests. They were important but not necessarily things I’d cite in a memoir.
So beware of your internal antagonist because she can keep you from ever completing your novel! I’m not convinced that storytelling/writing is an innate trait, and I do think over-planning can ruin the fun of the entire process. Just let your imagination take you on a journey to the unknown, don’t worry so much about writing it perfect from the get-go. Take a leap of faith and make sure you have fun while doing it. Otherwise, what’s the point? If you’re doing it just to make a living, you’ll surely starve.