An about-turn over plotting

I’m giddy with ecstasy. How could I have ever thought that I hated plotting? I adore plotting; I plot with ease; I might even be good at plotting.

I made a resolution some months ago to open myself up to the dangers of imperfection and write without a plan. That worked decently for a while, albeit with a few stutters here and there because, of course, I could never truly stop organising. Today, though, my forced carelessness gave me the first sweet taste of genuine success. I can now plot.

I thought I hated plotting—plotting, I thought, was more akin to working with numbers or lines than emotion and was a job for some careful cartographer drawing a map, not a fun-loving, book-reading woman. I was wrong. Plotting is no more than thinking about the things I want to think about—flawed characters, addictive emotions, and conclusions that don’t entirely conclude—and then waiting for one of my literary toys to nudge me into jotting down a plot point. I swear, by the gods of literature, that’s all it is.

I feel invincible! I was so silly and wrong to try to plot without thinking about things which make me happy. Previously, I tried to ask myself logical questions (who, where, when, and why) and devise rational answers; I justified this method by telling myself that a plot is a timeline of events, and events are always triggered by questions. What a bizarre, pseudo-scientific, non-literary idea. Plots are fiction, and fiction runs on human passion and whimsy.

I haven’t felt so invigorated all year. I am not only writing but am close to knowing what I am writing. Excellent work. Carry on.

PS I can’t believe it took me nearly a year to get here. Better late than never, I suppose.

Not all that is read will be written

I’m beginning to suspect something that I didn’t really want to know: just because I enjoy reading a certain kind of book it doesn’t mean that I’ll enjoy writing it.

I thought my writer’s task was simple: write what I’ll love reading. My favourite genres are historical and fantasy, with lots of drama and plot. I like elegant prose but dislike density; there’s no way to feel excited about reading a story which forces you to crawl through it. I think good writing is tucked into the nooks and crannies of the story rather than placed in the middle of a book.

I had all of these ideas about what I like to read, and my ideas were mostly true. I thought it’d be easy to write what I like to read—all I’d have to do was to put pen to paper and the words would come. But when I try to write, my mind wanders away towards, of all genres, humour.

Why? I haven’t been attracted to humour as a genre since my childhood. It’s a rare day when I’m in the mood for a book that makes me laugh. But it seems to be what I find easiest and most pleasurable to write; I can while away hours trying to be funny on paper. Plotting, by contrast, is draining, despite the fact that it’s the page-turners that I adore the most.

I don’t know how to deal with this problem—it’s a strange day when what always made you happy doesn’t seem to fit anymore. I think writing, and by extension, creating, might be that way—paradoxical. As per my former resolution, I’ve decided to acknowledge and embrace the oddities of writing rather than to let them upset me. I’m already in love with reading, but it appears that the love of writing is something I’ll have to discover separately. I admit, I never thought I’d have to work to enjoy this; I thought fondness for all things fiction would come to me naturally.

I haven’t allowed my puzzling lack of enthusiasm for plotting stop me from sketching in some more rough lines in my draft, though. Progress is painstakingly slow, but after every writing session, I can honestly say that I’m closer to my first novel than I was before. The most important thing is to make a habit out of writing; I’ll never become better at this, or better at liking this, unless I stick to it.

What composing has taught me about writing

From the way I’ve behaved in the past few months, nobody would guess that I cared about writing fiction at all. I’ve written little and instead dedicated nearly all my spare time to composing music. After three months of silence, I’m writing in this journal again because I feel that the time is right.

As strange as it may seem, avoiding writing was exactly what I needed. My problem with writing has always been that I care too much about it; nobody needs to criticise me when I write because I do plenty of that to myself.

Composing is a more frivolous pastime. My main goal in music is to have fun making things I like. I have no formal education in music and don’t plan on getting one, so I feel free to disregard all the rules. When I compose, I’m a child in a sandpit.

Once I’d been composing for a few months, I realised that the time I’d thought I’d spent writing had actually been spent on thinking and organising—but not to any practical end. I’d been trying to follow a writing procedure which I thought I already knew from having read hundreds of well-written books, when in fact, I’d never written a novel before. My unwillingness to admit to my ignorance coupled with my desire to make my first novel excellent had killed any hopes of my enjoying writing.

Now, I’ve stopped thinking that I know what to do—or that I should know what to do. I don’t know how to write. I only know how to read stories, not write them. If I want to learn how to write fiction, I’d better start at the beginning and stay started so that I can make progress as a writer.

Because creativity isn’t a procedure; it’s first and foremost a lifestyle. It’s something that needs to be grown into. And the longer I stick to creating, the sooner I’ll get comfortable with the idea of making things, and the better I’ll become at it.

I still want my first novel to be well-written. I don’t want to write a throwaway book. I suppose that’s a natural and reasonable fear. I’m not going to abandon my goal, but I’m going to approach it differently. Instead of trying to construct something immaculate, one literary brick at a time, I’m going to just try to get in the habit of writing while reminding myself that artists aren’t meant to be thinking too hard when they’re making art.

And there’s no need to put pressure on myself to get things right quickly. Leonardo da Vinci said that ‘Art is never finished, only abandoned.’ I don’t have to abandon my novel until I’m sure that I want to. There’s no rush; I have all the time in the world to write the story I want to write.

The most important thing I’ve learnt from composing is that composing can’t replace writing for me. Writing is simply that important. I have to learn to write without feeling nervous because my passion for writing isn’t going anywhere.

The sorry state of non-writing

The last few weeks of my life have been a testament to the adage that it never rains but it pours. At several points, I contemplated backing up my website and deleting it until I was certain that I had the time and energy to write. Just thinking about my neglected journal made me feel guilty.

Thinking about my novel made me feel even worse. I haven’t worked on it properly for about a month. The ridiculous thing is that I’m not even being prevented from writing by something serious. It’s the tiny things that keep me occupied to no end: minor illnesses, my job, obligations to friends, chores, and studies. They’ve always been there, but recently, they decided to gang up on me and leave me feeling miserable.

In particular, I’ve grown to detest my job. How can something so mundane torture me so much? My job makes me so unhappy that I can’t even think of writing when I come home. After work, all I want to do is to binge-listen to my favourite music and sing along until I feel alive again. I’ve discovered that ignoring accumulated stress doesn’t dissolve it. But singing really helps; a 60-minute session at a noraebang can cure me of almost anything.

The funny thing is that my life’s been hectic before, and I’ve never felt as deprived of happiness as I do now. The only thing that’s changed between back then and now is that now, I know what I want to do. But that makes all the difference. Before I decided that I wanted to write novels and compose music, I might have taken all of my current problems in stride. But now that I know what my passions are, anything else evokes at best boredom, and at worst frustration.

These days, it seems as though all of my time and effort goes into maintaining the state of living, rather than actually living my life. I have terrifying moments when I imagine reflecting on my past as an old woman and thinking that while I didn’t get to do what I really wanted to do, at least I made it to an advanced age.

I still don’t want to write today. All the words I can think of are angry and soulless. I understand now why so many writers want to become full-time writers. It’s the only way to guarantee a life full of writing. Even if you get frustrated, at least it’ll be over something that you chose and enjoy. I’d love to become a full-time writer, but for now, all I want to do is to listen to rock music.

In praise of free writing

Free writing actually works! I can plot again.

Despite having been advised to write freely by nearly every writer and book that I’ve met and read, I still hadn’t believed that it would work. Writing whatever was on your mind non-stop and expecting to come up with something good sounded silly.

But after repeatedly writing half a page of ‘I want to write well’, or something to that effect, my anxiety and frustration were flushed away. I started brainstorming, trying not to break the flow of words I’d built up, and in just half an hour, I came up with a rough plot synopsis for the first third of my novel.

I will never doubt timeless writing advice again. I’m still not sure if free writing can directly produce brilliant ideas, but I think it has a wonderful detoxifying effect on a writer. Now I know that the best way for a writer to find the energy to write is by writing.

I’m grateful to K. S. Villoso for nudging me into free writing. I’d heard of it many times before, but her comment made me take the final leap.

The difficulties of plotting, continued

I think the most difficult part of plotting isn’t coming up with ideas. There are always plenty of things that can happen.

What I’m finding really hard is getting my plot to make sense. That doesn’t just mean avoiding errors in logic, like plot holes. It means aligning my plot with my character arc and the emotional journey of my story. I need to make sure that my plot is making both my characters and readers feel. When my characters reach their emotional climaxes, I want my plot to climax too.

The difficulties of plotting

I’d never known how hard creating a plot was until I started doing it.

My characters are nearly ready. They’re standing on the sidelines of my story, waiting patiently to be given their lines. If only I could tell them what to do!

I’m not even trying to make my plot clever or unpredictable. I just want constant action—a book without any sluggishness. Why is that so hard to achieve?

Creating characters

My protagonist is becoming an unlikeable man; if he was real, I wouldn’t want his company.

His foil, the deuteragonist, is increasingly resembling my old history-teacher—both in what I know of him and how I always imagined he’d act outside of school. It makes me wish that I still remembered his name.