I’m laughing at myself today, because after forty-two damn years on this planet, I still regularly go to war with The Way I Am.
Here’s what happened this week and how I ultimately made peace with my own nerdy truth.
It happens that I’m in the early stages of writing a new novel. This involves adding to a game of Life Tetris that already includes a family, a day job, a podcast, a Substack newsletter, and 50% more spouses than the national average.
Yes, I’m busy. But I’m also a storymaker by vocation, and I’ve been aware for a while that I have to figure this puzzle out.
So what did I do, to set up this bold new system where I write my book? Well, I did what any smart, experienced, grown-ass writer does: I tried to copy what my friends do.
I’m lucky enough to know some shit-hot writer folk, and so instead of going back to my own tried and tested methods, I decided to SIMPLY WRITE! Oh, the freedom! The creative rush of the words flowing forth effortlessly. I’m not the writer, I’m just the channel, darlings! The story will just unravel under my happy little typey fingers. Clickaclickaclickaclick, ding!
It turns out, however, that deciding to do something is not in fact an ironclad guarantee that I will do it. Instead, I procrastinated and prevaricated and went to stupid lengths to avoid writing my book. AND I DIDN’T KNOW WHY!
On my way to pick up my daughter yesterday, I had a blinding flash of the obvious.
As much as I want to sit down at the keyboard and just channel the story straight to the page, that is not how I work. And I know how I work, for Chrissake. I’ve developed ways of getting writing done over decades of doing it for a living.
Here’s the thing. How I get writing done… well, it’s embarrassing. It’s not sexy. I’ve taught myself over time to chunk out the work and fill it with all sorts of different parameters that add up to a fairly detailed “brief”—a guide for the chapter or scene or essay I’m working on. It’s a system that lets me confront the scary scary cursor.
But building myself a little guide is exactly what I didn’t want to do. I just wanted to magically be different and to write in a way that I consider more cinematically creative. (Plus, in fairness, I was desperate to just start writing the damn book and not faff around!)
I struggled against reality this way for a couple of weeks.
Then yesterday, I remembered who I am and what I do. I put away the romantic image of writing like an inspired ingenue in a garret and I went to work. Which, for me, looks like:
- I pulled out my books about story structure and made notes about what the early chapters need to contain.
- I organized ALL my notes by theme, character, plot and setting.
- I mapped out a way to achieve everything within the plan that I had for those early chapters.
Then, God help me, I entered everything into my nerdy writing program, Scrivener. I created a gloriously complex web of interlinked research, notes, plans and early draft attempts. I labeled, I tagged. God help me, I calculated percentages. I sketched out the structure of the whole novel and made the folders and documents where my story’s elements will find their home.
It’s so nerdy, my friends. It’s so uncool. And it is EXACTLY what I needed.
So, far from the beautiful image I had created in my mind, yesterday I did what I had to do to get back to my story. Here’s the advice I gave myself to help me make peace with myself and How I Am. I hope that it can also help some of you.
Oy, writer! Don’t live in your movie montage version of creativity, with the rolled up pieces of paper scattered around you and the light coming through the window just so. Writing is an INventure, so go in. Live inside the story. Make this world accommodate the one you’re building in your imagination—your job here is to construct the doorway to that world, in whatever form works.
So make the doorway. Then go through.
This article originally appeared on Rowan’s Wild Inventures substack newsletter. To subscribe and get all Rowan’s posts in your inbox, head over to Wild Inventures on substack now.
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