Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Miss Chunky Pants

And darn proud of it!

Now, before horrible images start playing through your minds, let me explain myself. Claire touched on a very important subject in her post this week, and I thought I would venture into another that sometimes plagues new writers. I'm definitely no exception here. I let "the rules" of how things are supposed to be done bog me down for far too long. But man, when enlightenment fell on this thick skull, that's all she wrote!

So, just what do I mean by my post title? I mean this…

I'm a chunk writer who flies by the seat of her pants, y'all.

I don't outline.

I don't do character study sheets.

I don't even write in a linear line from beginning to end.

And you know what? That is OKAY. Say it with me… that is OKAY.

I feel the need to bring up this subject because honestly, I think the idea of chunk writing really scares a lot of people. I know the idea sounded quite alien to me for most of my life. And of course, I've always been a chunk writer trying to force herself into the mold of what I thought "writing" was supposed to entail. To explain, let's do a quick flash through Jen's life:

--Jen age 12 – Ohhh….I have this great idea for a story! I see this scene that is SO cool. I should write it…write it NOW. *screech of brakes* But wait a minute! That isn't the way it's done! I must start from the beginning and work up to that scene. Otherwise, how they heck will I know if it's "right" – if it "works." How can I start a story in the middle?? It must begin at the beginning! I must do a detailed outline with at least three bullet points for each scene! *Jen age 12 thinks really hard* She doesn't know how to begin this book. *idea falters and fades* Must not have been the right story if I couldn't think of a spectacular way to begin it. Better luck next time.

--Jen age 24 -- Why oh why can't I write a story?! *sobs* Why?!?! For the love of God, why?!?! Hmmm. Why not just write this scene I've had floating around in my head the past few weeks? Just to see. Jen age 24 says what the heck. Can't hurt me any. She writes it. It is so super-fantastic. So shiny and sparkly and practically perfect in every way. (go with me, here) I must show this to my sister so she can see how super-fantastic, shiny and sparkly and practically perfect it is. Then we can both be stunned with amazement. *Jen age 24 shows it to big sister and waits with barely concealed glee for the stunned reaction to appear. For Big Sis to realize she is in the presence of a literary genius!* *Jen age 24's big sister finishes reading and gives Jen age 24 a blank look* Jen age 24—clearly shocked to see such a mild expression on Big Sis's face, exclaims, "Well?" Big Sis: I don't know what to say. I don't know what comes before it. Jen age 24: But is it GOOD? Just that scene. Big Sis: I don't know! I can't say if I don't know what comes before it! *Many rounds of this ensue, ending with Jen age 24 slumping back to the drawing board. Foiled again.*

Okay…you see my point? I got so caught up in the idea of how things are SUPPOSED to be done that I wouldn't let my own techniques bubble to the surface. As a result, I spent many frustrated years starting and stopping stories that fizzled out when I couldn't pull together an outline, start from the beginning, plot, etc. Take your pick. My life is littered with literary road kill.

I realize that this is all my doing. I should've had the confidence in myself to say to heck with the rules, I'm going to write a book MY way. But I didn't. It took many years, many failed attempts, and one very smart lady to point out the fact that it doesn't matter how you write a book.

What I realized is that it doesn't matter if you start in the middle, jump around like a chili pepper on crack, or write your book backwards. The ONLY thing that matters is that you write it. And…

Psst!! Lean in so I can whisper this…

No one will ever know when they read the final book.

Cross my heart and all that.

Don't be afraid to do things outside the box. That's what one fabulous writer named Diana Gabaldon taught me, and I hope I have passed on that knowledge to anyone floundering around believing he/she is doing things the wrong way.

There is no wrong way. Remember that.


  1. Sing it, sista!

    Same thing happened to me. I thought, writing is SO boring! I had all these scenes floating around, but COULD NOT start at point A to get to them. So, what the heck? Why not start with the scene that was screaming to get out? Never looked back. :)

    And writing a character study? Detailed outline? Nooooo!!! Torture! Too much like homework to me!(g)

  2. AMEN! Just thought of an outline makes me break out in hives. A list of loose bullet points? Now THAT I can handle. (g)

  3. I've never written a character study. A cheat sheet of physical characteristics so that I can keep track of which secondary character has green eyes and which blue, yes, but never a character study.

    I can - and have - written in order or in chunks, with or without an outline, started writing in order then switched to chunks and vice versa. I don't have one single method of writing, I just have to be flexible and adapt to whatever keeps the writing going *s*

  4. Helen,

    I've never done a cheat sheet either, tho I probably should from time to time. I actually thought one of my characters had auburn eyes for a while. *smacks forehead* Kept writing it that way at any rate. (g)

    I've written linearly in bits. Actually wrote the first 20-25K (If I remember correctly) of BTPM that way. It was WEIRD because I normally don't work that way...but I LOVED it. I can certainly see why people think that's a great way to write. LOL. It's just that normally my mind doesn't work that way. Hasn't happened since, iow. :)

    But yeah, you make a valid point. Sometimes things happen differently with different books/scenes/etc. You've got to go with the flow and take whatever you can get. :)

  5. Chunk writing is definitely - well, I was going to say it's the way to go, but who am I to tell others what to do? That's what linear writers/teachers have been doing to us chunksters for years! Outlining, blech! :-)

    Though once the whole thing is written, creating a synopsis does have its upside, since that's the point where you have to check whether everything works and if all the scenes, now that they're linked together, have a flow to them. It's funny sometimes to see how far off the mark the earliest-written scenes are!

    But o! the sense of discovery in being a chunkster! I'd get so bored if I had to follow an outline! Certain scenes you can see, once you've written one scene - but even if the images start crowding in my head, I try not to let them come too far in advance of the actual act of writing them down; if I see too many at once then it starts feeling like I'm following a blasted outline again! :-)

  6. Deniz,

    I've found the same problem. When I know too much, I lose a little bit of my writing energy. Weird the way that works. Hate to make excuses, cuz that's what it sounds like (g) but there it is. That said, the one time I had to do an outline...yanno how that went...was HELL. Seriously, forcing the creative process into such a short period was so mentally exhausting, I'm not sure I've ever fully recovered. NO THANK YOU. I'll try things my way from now on. :) Kernels...kernels are where it's at. If I have that jumping off point, I can usually write full blast and get much more done than "knowing" what a scene should be. Go figure.


  7. Jen, I'm so glad you found the way of the chunk, and were set free to go forth and write. It's obviously what you're meant to do. :-)

    And though I am of the linear, outlining ilk, I've still had to work on a few of my own demons; namely, breaking out of the dry, report-writing mode of writing I'd used for so many years with my job, and switching my creativity back on. Took a while, but I think I've got there!

  8. No doubt. I can do bullet points. Mainly toward the end to see if I've got all my ducks in a row. Now as for a synopsis...I break out in hives at the thought. :-D

  9. Well I think your method would put ME in the nuthouse, but having read your work, it definitely works for you! More power to you babe!

  10. Rachel,

    Ahhh...that lawyer thing is very keen on squelching creativity. I experienced the same thing during law school. Can't say I ever wrote in a "report like manner" cuz I wasn't a very GOOD law student (g), but it definitely drained my energy and made me want to hurl my computer out the window lest I spend one more minute in front of it--even if I was writing.

    And The Way of the Chunk! LMAO. Like that. I can see a future blog post titled that...hmm. :)

    Well, keep on using your outlines and such. Whatever works for you. I want to READ that first draft! (g)


  11. Kristen,

    I see we suffer from the same ailments. (g)

  12. Kait,

    Thanks! LOL...yes, we have very different styles and WOULD probably be sent to the nuthouse if we had to live in each other's writing shoes--even for a day. Thank gawd we don't, eh? (g) But whatever you're doing, it's working. Congrats again on finishing HiS.

  13. Brilliant advice, Miss Chunky Pants (g). As ever I'm fascinated to see how something like an outline can be so limiting and draining to one writer, and so freeing and important to another!

  14. Claire--

    Weird how that works. But yeah, to each his own. :) I remember you telling me you had micro-outlined down to the paragraph once and I think I broke out in hives at the thought. YIKES. LOL. But hey, whatever our methods, they seem to be working. (g)