Writing Problems: Not Writing What I Expected

For a few months, much of my writing time has been spent on researching and plotting a story that had been sitting in my head for quite some time. I read books, looked up myths, took notes, and thought out the characters and plot as deeply as I could.

Finally I thought I’d figured out enough of what was going on to sit down and write the story. So I opened the notebook, put pen to paper…and I was bored. No matter how long I kept at it, I couldn’t get excited about the story I’d been preparing to put to paper for so many weeks. It simply wasn’t sparking for me.

Then, I got comments back on a story I had sent to one of my writing friends, a short piece that I had written months ago. I’d been unsure if this was a stand-along piece or a chapter one of something bigger. I had been unable to think of where to go with it next, so I shelved it until sending it along to this person. The comments I received were so enthusiastic, and he even asked the question I’d shortly puzzled over myself: was there more?

Tony Angell
Maybe I’ll get back to the crows someday…

Bolstered, I tackled this slightly older story again, this time only brainstorming for a couple of days before rushing into the real writing. I’ve written dozens and dozens of pages now, a great majority of them to be definitely thrown out, scenes that I re-imagined different ways one right after another. I know I’m generating a hot mess as I go, but I feel the story in my fingers, and I feel right and accomplished when I finish the pages. I haven’t gone back to my plotted story since.

I’ve uncovered something about myself as a writer through this. If I plot and outline too much, I lose excitement, the need, to bust the story out. But if I jot down ideas as I go, and let the story take me wherever it pleases, I feel excited, invested, and as if the story is taking up more of my brain even when I’m not writing. Probably at least 90% of what I’m doing now will be reordered, rewritten, or thrown out by the time I reach the very end; my method is not the most efficient, and considering I like to know what the plan is so much in life it’s strange that I operate this way in writing. But I’m better, more productive, as a writer if I don’t lay out much of the track.

Writers, do you plot out your stories first? Or do you scribble out a hot mess and carve the plot out after?

4 thoughts on “Writing Problems: Not Writing What I Expected

  1. I pretty much don’t plot at all. I get a general idea and then let my characters run wild. Sometimes it means there’s massive edits, but usually things seem to unfold in ways I couldn’t have imagined ahead of time. Keeps it exciting for me :)

    • I know, doesn’t it? I do “plot” as I go, but it’s really me getting an idea of what to do way down the line, and jotting it down so I don’t forget it later. My notebook alternates chronological story and bulletted story notes.

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