Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Writing: The Great Mystery


I like to study things I don't understand. It's why I like to skim through books on quantum physics and black holes, traffic laws and late-mergers, the psychological profiles of serial killers and the inner workings of the human body. If you read my bookshelf tour post, you'd know that these topics and more populate my shelves. In college, my friends would tease me about putting people in jars. Mentally, I'd stick a particularly interesting person in a jar and tap tap tap at the glass to study their reactions. Lots of fun.

Somethings, though, I can't understand for the life of me, and it's very frustrating, especially when everyone else on the blogosphere seems to get it. So here it is, my big confession: I don't understand this whole writing thing.

Every single one of my blogger friends are working on at least one WIP (work-in-progress). Some of them are juggling multiple manuscripts. They're tweeting about word counts and word battles and Camp NaNo (the July version of National Novel Writing Month). and, of course, all the lovely authors I follow are talking about the same things, in addition to revising and editing and ARCs and tours. It's not just book talk. It's manuscript talk, and that's something on a completely different plane.

Don't get me wrong, I love reading about all that stuff. In fact, when I was younger, I thought I might be one of those people someday. I liked writing in school, and I would often make up stories in my head. I even wrote a first chapter for a contest once and to this day have people asking me if I ever finished the story. But that's all I've ever had. An opening scene. A general plot point. An interesting face. A cool ending with absolutely nothing leading up to it.


I think the problem is I'm a plotter longing to be a pantser. For those of you who don't know the lingo, plotters plot out EVERYTHING ahead of time. They make detailed character studies, plot every single point of their novel, and have all their details carefully lined up before they start to write. Pantsers, on the other hand, write by the seat of their pants. They just DO. I'm a plotter who doesn't have patience to plot.

For example, if I wanted to write a fantasy book, I couldn't just write a fantasy book. I'd need to know what the world looks like. And I couldn't just make a map. I'd have to research what type of geography naturally flows into another type. You'd never find a tropical rainforest and a desert side by side, for instance. They might be near each other, but I don't think they could coexist like Fangorn and the plains of Rohan. But I don't know for sure. Hence the research.

And research is another one of those things I don't understand. I mean, I do, in a way. I understand a type of research. I understand researching for essays and for studies. I was an English major for three years, a psychology professor's assistant for one. I get that stuff. But I also get that I had access to a massive physical library and an even more massive digital collection. (Two of each, if you count the time I studied abroad in England and had access to both schools.) It might take me a while to find the proper sources, but I knew that what I needed was already there. Now all I have is Google (which can be remarkably unhelpful) and my podunk public library system.

Part of the problem, I think, comes from having to research on my own behalf. I'm great at researching for others, even if "for others" just means for the professor who will eventually receive my paper. That's because I know how deeply I need to dig for a paper, and when it's okay to stop. I think if I started digging for something of my own, I'd either stop far too early (because I'm bored) or would never stop at all (because I'm a freaking perfectionist, and that's how we roll.)

To reiterate plainly what has been implied throughout this post, let me state that I have no plans to write anything. None. Parents who read this blog, take note and douse your hopes. However, I like to study things I don't understand. I like to learn. And I recognize a place where I can improve. And since undoubtedly a large number of you are secretly or not so secretly scribbling away at works of your own, I'll ask you.

What's your plan of attack? How much do you plan? How much do you research? And how do you get your research done at all? In other words, please step into my jar so I may poke you. Specifics are welcome.