Mixing Metaphors and Other Bad Things (or other reasons my novel is a mess)

Some writers use notecards and plan their stories. Others use outlines. Someone once asked me if I used storyboards. Probably some writers out there use them. And some writers have the ending and write towards that. Then there are those writers who write with no map whatsoever, starting with an image or a character and nothing else. Sure it takes longer to get where they’re going, but they get there all the same. That’s just it–if you’ve got it in you to finish, it hardly matters the method of travel.

I’m the fly blind sort of writer. My first novel started with an image from a writing exercise. Write about marbles the scrap of paper said. Well, writing about a game of marbles seemed predictable and, since I know nothing about the game, difficult. But as I thought about marbles, I thought about how they sound when they hit wooden stairs. Then I wondered why someone would dump marbles down a staircase. And so came a story–for better or for worse.

I read on a blog somewhere (and forgive me blogging gods for not remembering where–too much surfing addles the brain) someone suggesting that this unplanned way of getting the words down wasted a lot of time. Maybe. If it doesn’t work for you, it certainly does. But the only way I know to get to the end is to wander aimlessly around around something in the distance catches my eye–so, that’s where I’m going! And I get to see so much along the way.

Maybe these writing styles can be predicted by learning styles. I’ve tried notecards and outlines, feeling that I’m being efficient and productive and sensible. Professional. Soon though, I’m in a muddle, annoyed, lost, and frustrated, index cards missing or scattered on the floor or outline a mess with doodles crowding in from the margins. It reminds me of school. A while back I heard a mathematician talk in wonder about people who use these confusing and complicated methods of figuring out a math problem. She was baffled by these people. I had to laugh as she described one of these weird methods. How do I figure out 35% of anything? Well, let’s see. I know what 10% is. I multiply that by 3. Then I divide the 10% in half to get the 5% and I add it to the other total. Ta-da! 35%. Math teachers did not appreciate this. And if something was 33%? This is trickier. I compare 35 and 30 and figure it is somewhere in between. Close enough.

Now, math is not the way to write a novel, but I can no more manage an outline than I can follow a formula. I can feel the gears in my brain stopping spinning. I can sense this gap in my brain–question on one side. Answer on the other. The practical bridge between them–washed out.

As a teacher I can’t follow a lesson plan either. I walk into class with one, and before the first hour is done, I’ve forgotten all about it. But my students learn, so we do get to where we’re going.

To change metaphors again because my brain is hoping around wildly tonight–I can see, once I step back, that my novels are very strange houses. The foundation is there and the frame, but rooms are askew and walls tilting and perhaps beams are held together with strings of lights, the wiring being finicky and the plumbing loud. Perhaps there are holes in the roof where the sun shines through over here and the rain leaves puddles over there. Some of the windows close and some do not. The many staircases creak and don’t always go where you’d think. Sometimes it’s enchanting and sometimes you just think–they really ought to get someone who knows what they’re doing in here.

But I can’t read the instructions if they don’t come with pictures. Can you?

3 thoughts on “Mixing Metaphors and Other Bad Things (or other reasons my novel is a mess)

  1. You just gotta write the way you write. I had a very brief outline for THE RIVER CHARMER, and I still feel like the beams are falling in on that house, but now I have a better idea of what I need to do with it, though maybe not perfect.

    For my current novel, a skeleton of an idea came to me, so I kind of know the ending, and I’m working toward the ending, but honestly, I’m going out on many limbs in that story. I’m not sure where it’ll end up.

    I have heard writers at conferences speak, and some very good writers write without any blueprint or forethought, so whoever said it was a waste of time is wrong. I always think it’s so silly that student writers always ask in an interview of an established writer, “how do you write?” As if copying the WAY they do it will help. What it comes down to is just WRITE. Find the way you can do it, and then do it.

    Don’t worry about your novel. Everyone has the revision blues. Get it out there, get feedback, and then keep working on it. Yeah, it’s frustrating! But that’s how it goes.

  2. I have tried the index cards and outlines too. Didn’t do a thing for me. Outlining was torture, and I don’t mean that in a good way.

    The best way for me to figure out a story is to write it. I meander and mull my way through it. Then I cut, cut, cut. I like the cutting part, actually ,and find it easier than the meandering. But I do need to meander to figure out what I am going to say. Kinda like I am doing now.

    I meander better in my mind and on paper and then switch to the computer once I have a good idea of what is happening with the story. It’s like the thinking process and pencil process is the preliminary pile of clay, and then the computer is like a sharp tool to define and sculpt. And that’s my simile for the day.

    I do love to hear about how writers write, though, even if the methods don’t work for me. I like to know how they write, where they write, when they write, what they eat, drink, wear, listen to…everything. When I see someone writing, I like to watch (but not for long, it gets a bit dull rather quickly).

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