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.

The importance of rereadability

I feel frustrated with the writing advice I’ve been consuming on WordPress.com. It’s not that the advice is bad. The writers I’ve met have mostly been experienced and genuinely interested in the craft.

But it’s all too practical. By that, I mean that most of it is centred around the real world. Build an online platform to let people know you exist; invest in a good-looking cover to entice shoppers; write a gripping first chapter so that they’ll buy it.

Too many articles I’ve read want to rush writers from platform to publisher, then from publisher to bestseller list, as if writing fiction was an obstacle course. But I don’t want to appease the world. It’s actually quite the opposite: I read and write stories because I like turning my back on reality.

I know that WordPress.com writers mean well. Many authors here have achieved more than I ever have, and they want to help others to do the same. Despite this, I feel stifled. Even worse, I feel as though I’m losing sight of the passion which made me decide to write a novel in the first place.

My discontent made me think about rereadability. Rereadability is not a quality which is immediately useful to a writer attempting to boost book sales, since readers don’t buy the same book twice to reread it.

However, it is highly sought after by readers. Every bookworm longs to discover a book he’ll read again and again—a book to make a lifelong companion out of. Very few readers are looking for books they’ll finish and shelve forever.

I don’t mind reading a book which I won’t return to, in the same way that I find it acceptable to eat food that I’ll only digest once. But by nature, I am a reader who wants to reread books, and that means I’m a writer who wants to write rereadable books. In fact, it is the rereadable novels in my life which inspired me to start creating my own. Single-read books don’t bring out the urge to write in me.

So what have I learnt from this episode of introspection?

What I don’t want:

  • I don’t want to become a bestselling author. Caring about numbers and social influence was never what made me take up writing.
  • I don’t want to reach number one on any list. I don’t want to reach the top five, or ten, of any list.
  • Strangely enough, I don’t want to win any literary prizes, although I probably wouldn’t mind stumbling into one.

What I want:

  • I want to listen to my readers telling each other why they love my characters.
  • I’m in my mid-twenties, and I want a readership that will still remember the books I write now when I’m an old woman.
  • I want to enjoy reading my books over and over again.
  • I want to write novels that I like so much that I’d be glad that someone had written them even if it hadn’t been me.

I don’t think about my native language often, but there is a word in it that I believe is important for any artist. The word ‘chosim’ in Korean means ‘original intention’ or ‘initial resolution’. It is to that first creative impulse that I will have to return to for guidance whenever I stray from my passion for writing.