After five years teaching English in Japan, I have packed up my belongings, my soon-to-be husband, and marginally overweight cat and made my not-so-glorious return to Australia and unemployment. Hooray(?) for me!
I suppose the one good thing to come out of the fruitless task of tracking down work in rural NSW is that I have endless time to devote to my writing. I should be jumping at the prospect. All through my full-time working life I whinged and bitched about how I didn’t have enough time to put into writing or reading or updating my damn blog; this morning (day twenty-five in Australia) I turned on my computer, made a mammoth cup of coffee and proceeded to organise files in My Documents, dating back to 2008.
Score 1, Procrastination.
Having technically completed the first draft of my manuscript in November last year, I should be eager to sit down and use this time to world build and get to know my characters before getting stuck into a second draft, ready to be sent to beta readers for feedback. I have enviously been admiring my writer buddies who have slugged through a rough draft and then spent months gleefully tightening their manuscripts and creating an array of Excel documents and notebooks outlining every inch of their carefully crafted world. I couldn’t wait to get there, to get down to the nitty-gritty as it were, pull everything apart and put it back together tighter, faster, stronger than it originally was. I was so full of gusto, so enamored by the dedication my peers put into their work that I too wanted to record every facet of my characters into questionnaires, alignment spectrums and Harry Potter houses.
But I can’t. I just can’t work that way. And it’s brought me to a standstill.
Am I a lazy writer? Am I less passionate than my fellow wordsmiths? Will I forever respond to questions about my novel’s plot or main character’s motivations with a blank stare and unattractive ‘uuuh’? The whole prospect of having all this time dedicated to polishing my novel has made me realise how much I don’t want to polish my novel by writing spreadsheets and questionnaires. And now I am sitting here, paralysed, feeling like I will never have a well-crafted novel with believable characters and a realistic world because I don’t sit and write character questionnaires and scene breakdowns and structure outlines pinpointing the complication, the climax and the resolution. So my novel can’t possible be anything but a hot mess, right?
Wrong. (I hope.)
I am, according to NaNoWriMo’s rather tasteless terminology, a Pantser: I fly by the seat of my pants, go with the flow and let the words pour out of me, a slave to my muse! As horribly wankerish as that sounds, it’s actually the most apt way to describe my writing: I do not sit down and plan my characters. They just appear, and I write about them. The ironic thing about this chaos I call my writing practice is that I am, by nature, a very organised person: I thrive on routine, require thought-out plans and frankly shudder at the idea of spontaneity. So why is my creative brain such a lawless entity? I honestly have no idea, but I wish it would stop because it would make my life so much easier.
My aversion to creative order is in no way a judgemental sledge at those who do construct plans and character sheets—it’s an out-pour of envy and admiration at your organisational skills because my haphazard way of working does not make for the most cohesive, tight and well-polished manuscript: I have a mishmash first draft of multiple-personalitied characters following a plot line that changes as often as underwear all while faffing about in a world with an ever-changing history, a random magic system and cast members that appear, disappear and reappear because I can’t decide whether or not they are relevant to the story. But what I can do now is wade through the sludge and cherry-pick the character traits and plot lines most appealing and develop them into something that I can actually use. I will piece together the related ideas that sprouted organically amongst the waste and write scenes and scenarios to understand my characters in place of dot points and ability graphs. I’m sure it would have been a whole lot easier to sit down and think all this through before putting pen to paper so to speak, but where is the fun in that?