I quit smoking several years ago, which freed up a lot of time. I had no idea how much time smoking took, and how much the free time would serve to remind me a cigarette was an old time killing friend. But, we were though, cigarettes and I. It had been fun but enough was enough. To fill the time I started a blog. Just for something to do. It grew and changed, and I learned a lot about writing.
Years later I decided to start sending off some stories to different sites accepting submissions. A few of them were published. I was thrilled.
Then, I decided to write a book. Having no formal training beyond a few essay classes as a freshman in college, a couple of classes at the Thurber House and the gentle guidance of an editor at the Wild Word who agreed to help me, I quickly found myself in a quagmire.
Writing a blog post or a short story is a small adventure taking twists and turns, moving against the current occasionally. Sometimes doubling back but always limited enough to write my way out any trouble I found myself in.
A book, though, with an elaborate cast of characters, scenes from different cities, states, buildings is another story altogether. Soon, I was adding things I knew made sense, but didn’t. A revealing peek into the way my protagonist evolved, but without knowing what I knew it just didn’t make sense.
The story was plotted, the scenes were fixed, and the characters defined, but they ran without control. They went unplanned places. Small towns took on ominous undercurrents, troubling rhythms rising, falling, begging to be explored. I was lost, I couldn’t rein it in.
It kept growing, characters unplanned, scenes, places exploded. It was Godzilla, the Tarantula, a monster born and fed from foolish human hubris threatening to destroy my little manufactured world.
Not knowing what to do I turned to the editor who agreed to help me. “Help! I have spun out of control. My backstory is threatening to become my whole story. My protagonist is lost in a forest of humanity, oil spots, random flowers and a coughing Rambler convertible are taking over.”
She agreed, she always does, asking me to send an outline with the renegade chapter.
Outline? Hey, that’s a good idea. Since I am not a novelist, not even really a writer, I had to search the internet for how to write one.
It was an epiphany. I read the post from start to finish, and started at step one. Soon I had wrestled the whole enterprise into a slightly less out of control mess. And, I am only halfway through the process.
I am a spontaneous writer who goes with the flow. My characters are allowed to roam, explore, and make mistakes, I welcome it. In my blog, and short stories I encourage it, enjoy it, but as a sub-novice novelist I am not equipped to control so many twists and turns. So, I have taken the step of plotting the novel, a little late to the party, since I am on my first re-write, but, it has made me a better writer.
Don’t be afraid to use all the tools available. Never be afraid to change the way you think. There are so many options and opportunities to improve. It is an exciting time to write, there are more places to be published, more eyes to read what you are willing to write. It is a new era in publishing. It is our responsibility to use the help available and become the best writer we can be.