Writing: The Art and the Madness
By Jeb Bohn
I felt compelled to do something a bit different today. Namely, I’m going to provide you with a glimpse inside my writing process and—by extension—my mind.
Plotting Vs. Pantsing
When it comes to writing, there are two primary camps: plotter or pantser.
Let’s address the first issue: pantser is a funny word.
Plotter is pretty self-explanatory. A plotter will come up with an idea and create an outline, laying out story beats and ideas to ensure that they include everything they have in mind for their story. Maybe they use a slideshow program; maybe they have a Pepe Silvia-level mass of photos and post-it notes.
That’s not judgment. Whatever works, works.
A pantser, well, that one is pretty clear, too. A pantser writes, perhaps starting with a concrete idea or maybe only a vague one. Things can change on the fly as new ideas pop up and old ones get either discarded or elaborated on.
Now, time for an admission: I am a pantser.
Phew, I feel so much better now.
I’ve found that hammering away at the keyboard gets me rolling more than creating an outline. Part of it comes from me wanting to let things develop in a natural way; part of it comes from the thrill of chaos. It’s a rush.
What's Your Major Malfunction?
The true test with this manner of writing is discipline. It can be easy for an idea to get away from you, often once you’ve committed hundreds (if not thousands) of words expounding on it. Deciding to excise a passage that you’ve spent hours fleshing out is never easy and it can be incredibly deflating.
The flip side of that is the amount of work that’s already been put in can sway you to leave in material that may not serve the story. It’s akin to balancing on a knife’s edge and deciding which limb you’re willing to sacrifice.
When it came to Kill The Messenger—my first full-length novel—I was inspired by a dream. There were key points in the dream that I could remember and I filled in the story around it. It flowed. It was (relatively) easy.
Then came the follow-up, The Hangman’s Soliloquy. Once again, I had the story in mind. The characters were there, the main beats were there, so it should have been easy, right?
Spoiler alert: it was not.
During the writing of that book, a very bad habit of mine took hold: over-thinking. No, I didn’t endlessly analyze every page or chapter; I did it to every sentence, sometimes getting hung up over single words. It was exhausting; it was frustrating. I had written a book where everything flowed and was now knee-deep into one where every thought required pushing a mental boulder aside.
It was such a draining experience that I’ve hardly re-visited the material since the final edits were completed. The exception is the upcoming audiobook, which sounds amazing!
So, Did You Change Your Approach?
Fast forward to now: I am working on wrapping up my third novel and still battling the urge to overthink. It’s not as bad as it was but it’s still there, still a hurdle. Just like the last time, it’s not due to any shortage of ideas. Instead, it’s small details.
What I try to boil everything down to is two questions:
- Is this a big deal?
- Does it have a negative impact on the story?
If the answer is no—which it usually is—then I push it aside and press on. It can be difficult, but I know the story I want to tell and I believe in it so I have to trust myself. Yes, sometimes it takes a bribe (no further comment), but if I don’t believe in what I’m writing, why would I expect anyone else to?
Maybe for the fourth book, I’ll try an outline.
I probably won’t, but I might.
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