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Once upon a time I sat down to write a book. I confess that in that particular mindset I wasn’t thinking about intelligent and logical things like publication and where the book would fit into the market. I hadn’t considered comparable titles and marketing strategies. I had an idea. I was excited about it. Images, words, characters were clamoring to get onto the page and that was all that mattered.

Later, during revisions one, two, three and four, (and five? I’ve lost track) the idea of publication was on my mind, but largely as background static, a vaguely defined fear that this book wasn’t going to fit neatly anywhere in the known universe of publishing, that it wasn’t quite fantasy or magical realism or literary fiction. But it was far too late for such thoughts – the story now had a life of its own and would be what it was determined to be.

Which brings me to the present, to the business of querying and agent feedback and a semi-frenzied perusal of existing books that might be considered comparable titles. There are some – nothing perfect, mind, but things that put Swimming North in the ballpark at least.

An agent question – what would a series look like – set me off on another alarming quest, because I never see to the end of a book before I begin it, let alone a series. When I write I start with characters and a problem, and the characters interact with the problem and with each other, and things begin to happen. Random elements creep in and I allow them, because often my subconscious sees what I do not. While all of this is going on, I try to keep an eye on plot and character arcs and pacing and all of the stuff that makes for a compelling plot, but I never quite know where the story is going until I hit the end.

I am experiencing a moment of envy for those who sit down before they begin to write and plot the whole thing out, from beginning to end. But I blink, and the envy passes. The truth is, I enjoy the surprises and the unexpected detours along the way. And it’s not like I set out on a writing voyage without any landmarks at all. I have a general sense of where we are all headed, I’m just not sure of a) how we’re going to get ‘there’, and b) exactly what ‘there’ will look like when we arrive.

At the moment, the best compromise I can make is to sit down and play with ideas. If the story would go on, how would it look? What would happen with the characters? What would be the unfinished story winding through all three that would allow them to stand alone but still bind them together. I think I see. And that’s all I need to get started.

First things first. I am happy to report that I have finished this draft of Swimming North. Surreal it is, and always will be, but it has a coherent plot line and all of the arcs and character developments and all those other bits and pieces of structure are accounted for and occupying the appropriate positions. I think.

But did I plot it or pants it?

Now there is the million dollar question, to which I just discovered an unexpected answer.

My initial response would have been “No, I just sat down and wrote it.” Now this is true, but only partially. The real truth is, I just sat down and wrote the first draft. And then I looked at that, poked at it with a stick to see if there were signs of life, showed it to a couple of people and made some changes.

This resulted in yet another draft, which went through much the same process. This time I actually wrote an outline. Now to those of you who actually outline, this would not look like an outline at all. More like a brief grocery list of the preferred order of things, jotted down on a sticky note which I promptly lost.  I spent a lot of time mulling various options for tightening the story arc. I cut an entire segment, and even made a thoughtful decision about changing tense during certain scenes for a specific reason. Characters got developed. Every scene had to prove its right to live or face the firing squad.

Far from random, but equally far from some orderly, structured approach.

If I had to join one side or the other of the plotting debate, I’d still have to call myself a pantzer. But the point is this:  I do plot and structure and plan, but I tend to do this the way I navigate my job and my life: by thinking fast on my feet and reassessing as I go along.  The first draft – which is rough, short, and written very fast, is actually my outline. Which then gets fleshed out, tweaked and tightened.

I’ve been wondering, of late, how much my personality type influences my writing style. I’m a INFP, for those of you who are familiar with the Myers-Briggs temperament types. And my writing style is consistent with this. Decisions are often made on what “feels” right. I hate to make decision, or close out possibilities.

What about the rest of you? Is your writing style consistent with the way you live the rest of your life? And, if you happen to know your temperament type, (either Meyers-Briggs or Keirsey-Werner) that is a piece of info that I’d find particularly interesting. You can take the Keirsey-Werner sorter here. The site will then try to get you to buy a full report, but it will give you some information free.

“This must be Thursday. I never could get the hang of Thursdays. ” ~ Douglas Adams

It’s not the dreaded Monday.  ‘Nor is it the middle of the week Wednesday, or the universally acclaimed and highly favored Friday.

Merely Thursday.  Often passed over, seldom discussed.  The challenge of a Thursday, it would appear, is merely to get through it relatively unscathed, in order to reach Friday.  

All writing at this point is in my head.  

I am planning a murder.  To be precise, my client Jeremiah is planning a murder.  How will he pull this off?  Frankly, I have no idea, but I’m certain he will figure it out.  So this is the track that will play in the back of my mind today as I go about other business.  My crisis clients will never know as I listen attentively to their problems that somewhere in the back of my head I’m thinking murder.  The kids won’t know it when I get pressed into taxi service.  It amazes me sometimes just how nefarious and dastardly my characters can be.

What does that say about me?  Who knew that behind these innocent eyes lurks a devious brain that can plan murders and betrayals?  People who read my drafts sometimes look at me and say things like, “you’re much more twisted than I thought.”

I’m much more twisted than I’d ever thought.  Seems like the shadow side finds its way into characters and books.  A safe outlet for it, perhaps.  Maybe if we taught creative writing classes in our prisons the crime rate would decrease.

Well, those are my Thursday thoughts and plots.  What are yours?  Stay tuned for yet another weekend challenge.


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