I tend to write the way I live (or maybe I live the way I write), a sometimes-awkward hybrid between planning and winging it.
Writers often define themselves as either plotter (planner) or pantser (that sometimes flaky person who considers herself spontaneous). While I’m no longer a die-hard pantser, I’m also not entirely a plotter. I’m somewhere between. A plantser, if you will.
Sometimes I plan well but I rarely plan thoroughly and even the best laid plans…well, you know how that one goes. In life, this not-infrequently leads to sitcom worthy snafus and a flurry of apologies on my end. In writing, it often leads to that monumentally unpleasant stuck place (what some might call “writers block”).
Of course, if you’ve got a plan, you can usually find your way out of that stuck place with all your limbs intact (more or less).
And some of the most beautiful places can only be found if you stray far from the path.
My current work-in-progress is the first novel I thoroughly plotted and I expected to breeze through it as I hadn’t my previous pantsed novels (now sitting in a drawer, hoping against hope to be revived someday). I knew I’d want to throw out the outline from time to time and explore the possibilities but I thought I’d simply come back, rework the outline and get on with my
You know you’re in trouble when you expect to “breeze” through anything.
In reality, the story plan kept me grounded. I was free to explore but I had all the landmarks in sight. But, the closer I pushed to “The End,” the more lost I felt. I felt like the path I had planned would take me home but it also felt shrouded in fog. The further I went, the heavier the fog got until…
I got stuck.
The ending felt right. The events leading up to the end felt mostly right. But still I needed something more. So I wrestled with that something more until I started to think my plantsing had gotten me in more trouble than my pantsing. And I asked myself why, why, why?
Turns out the why was what I needed. The events leading up to the end of my novel needed a better why. Actually, they needed a why, period.
Once I started asking why those penultimate events had to be, I discovered my story lacked just one more character (contrary to the usual writing advice to pare down characters when possible). I needed someone who could provide the why for those final events and give the main characters a chance to (inadvertently) help set those events in motion.
Plus, said additional character stands a good chance of being a nasty thorn in the side in the next book(s).
In the end, getting stuck saved my story. If I hadn’t gotten stuck, I wouldn’t have asked why and I wouldn’t have a story that feels like a whole.
Could it be that getting stuck is a blessing in disguise, an opportunity to ask questions you never would have asked and go places you never could have imagined? Not just in writing, but in life? Maybe getting stuck is how we recognize the opportunity to change ourselves and our world.
What do you think? Has getting stuck ever turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to you?