One Writer’s Opinion #1: Storytelling vs Writing or Planning vs Winging It

Advice, Editing, Writing, Writing Advice

The following opinion piece was written yesterday in one of the private offices (writer’s forum) at the Zoetrope Virtual Studio.

Being someone who is constantly evaluating things, I find myself compelled to respond to other people’s ideas when they get me thinking. Yesterday it was fellow writer Bonnie ZoeBell’s article over at Flash Fiction Chronicles in which she wrote:

“…you don’t have to know where you’re going when you begin a story. There simply has to be something, however small, that makes you feel like writing—an image, an overheard piece of dialogue, a situation.”

I agree with this, but to a point. I think if you’re writing just to be ‘writing’ and just to be a ‘writer’ (because, hey writers write, right?), then this is spot-on. That’s the passive approach (for lack of a far better term).

However, if you’re writing as a deliberate ‘storyteller’ first, then I think a lot more thought and ‘knowing’ needs to go into the process (active, or proactive; again for lack of better terms). Deliberate storytellers are loathe to writing themselves into corners (not to say they won’t because they will). They’re agonized by it, not nonchalant about it as the above idea kind of suggests. The deliberate storyteller will generally be a step ahead in the process of translating ideas into the story from thought into writing. This is not to suggest that they’ll have everything mapped out or even set in stone because storytelling is too creative, fluid and elastic to support that method successfully.

Naturally, everyone is different, so some people are good at ‘planning’, others are better at flying by the seat of their pants. Or, even if they’re good at neither, they have their preferred methods. You could even say that one type is more about feeling; the other is more about thinking. For me music making is more about feeling and flow and feels less like ‘work’; writing is much more cerebral and labor intensive due to its process and speed limitations.

Of course, what I’ve described above are the typical ‘two schools’ of writing, if you will; the free-flowing writer and the methodical storyteller. I think a hybrid of both would be an unstoppable artist. I’d like to achieve that happy medium someday when I grow up. Until then, I’m happy to be a methodical slowpoke who puts the story ahead of trying to zip through my stories for the ultimate goal of publication. That will come in due time. Nine out of ten things I’ve published so far were not things written in a mad rush with little regard for self-editing. Am I thrilled that the process can take so long? No, but it’s something that I accept as necessary (quality over quantity).

However, I will say that if you’re actually allowed more uninterrupted time to simply flow without other obligations intervening (like a day job that takes you away from your writing desk for 10 or more hours a day, plus having to make time for that weakness of the human condition called sleep), then it’s much easier to get lost in it all and progress toward a more relentless flow. But the constant stop n’ go of it, at least in my life, is so disruptive that it helps to have a little planning. I’m always envious of professional writers who are afforded the luxury (yes, luxury) of writing 8-12 hours a day. How could you not be more productive and “free” with that kind of regimen?

Side note: I had a writing advice kind of article published at Flash Fiction Chronicles back in Februrary. Linkage.

3 thoughts on “One Writer’s Opinion #1: Storytelling vs Writing or Planning vs Winging It

  1. I am a pure panster, at least for short stories. I never know where I'm going. I start off with a idea. For instance, I just completed a story for the Machine of Death anthology with a wikipedia article about astrochicken, and the story flowed.

    This approach doesn't work so well with novels — for me *sigh* So I'm grappling with the basics of planning at the moment. It feels like hard work.


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