Writing Redux

Hello, friends. I was absent again last week – not because I wasn’t thinking about you, but because I was speechless with frustration. Let me tell you why.

About two years ago, I wrote a little quiz called What Kind of Writer Are You? (It was originally for Teenreads.com, but you can also find it here.) It was purely for fun, not the kind of thing I spent long hours doing psycho-anthropological research on. I liked that it was silly. A play on the kind of Personality Type quiz I love and detest. It was written, posted, forgotten. And now it’s come back to haunt me.

Over the past few months, I’ve been struggling with what kind of writer I used to be, and what kind of writer I will be. I used to set out with a rough idea, fiddle around a bit, write a whole lot, scrap much of it, research some more, become inspired, and start the whole process again. That’s how A Spy in the House, The Body at the Tower, and The Traitor in the Tunnel were written. The process had some frustrations and many redundancies, but it worked, fundamentally.

And then I decided that it wasn’t good enough. For my fourth novel, Rivals in the City, I decided to tinker with the process: I was going to be a Planner. Oh yes. I was going to plot out the whole novel, figure out all my turning points, each small crisis, every transition, right up to the denouement. I even saved wee scraps of dialogue (mostly banter, my Achilles heel) I’d surely be able to plug into this orderly opus. And then, when everything was organized, I was going to sit down and crank this thing out. Sure, the writing itself would be less of an adventure. But it would be worth it, because I would be So. Very. Efficient.

You know what’s coming, don’t you? Last week, the whole thing crumbled. I found myself procrastinating, obsessively browsing Etsy for gifts still in the far future, reading blog after blog after blog – all because I didn’t want to write the book I’d so diligently mapped out. In fact, I’d impulsively written Mary into a scene in which she, too, was at an existential dead-end. Worse, I couldn’t figure out how to rescue her. (Here, you may – if you wish – insert a joke about art imitating life and/or vice versa. I would, but then I’d have to look myself in the mirror afterwards.)

I think, however, that I know how to rescue myself. And it involves – *werewolf howl of frustration* – jettisoning the Plan. I’m going back to my messy, inefficient, non-linear ways. And I’m going to write a book I love. Yes I am. I hope you’ll love it, too.

Happy writing and reading to you!

P.S. If you do take the quiz, let me know how you do! Ironically, it doesn’t work for me. Yes, I’m that inconsistent.

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21 Responses to “Writing Redux”

  1. Helena says:

    Haha this was an interesting blog post! :D i took the quiz and I’m a plotter…and it is true, if i write a poem or a short story i tend to do mind maps with all the characters and the plot..i don’t really stick to them always though :P i cannot wait for the fourth book…have you ever written anything else other than the agency novels?

    I hope you have lots of fun writing the fourth agency book..i know i will have fun reading it in the future when it’s published! :) i think messy ways are the best somehow…

  2. Jamie Blair says:

    You’re speaking my language! When I plot, the story loses the creative spark that makes it an adventure to write.

  3. Starstruck says:

    I want to answer D) alternating between the two with an eye to covering all food groups and leaving off the last favourite food if it isn’t nutritionally necessary.

    For writing, I have critical plot points in mind, and kind of amble from one to the next and see what happens along the way. I leave a very good outline behind me though.

  4. Carenza Young says:

    I’m not sure if this will help, at all but I’m imagining that mary will get her own place and some how find some irish cousins. Bringing back a long lost family. P.S i’m a messy writer too!

  5. Mara A. says:

    Well, since the procrastination involved Etsy, you can hardly be blamed. I mean, Etsy has some way awesome stuff! And your writing quiz is scarily accurate. I was B, and it’s soooooo true.

  6. jilly says:

    I choose B

  7. rayray says:

    im starting to write a book that i planned out in my head, and after i introduced this one character who is a total bad guy and bully, i kept of writing about him and stopped then thought about him and the changed the whole plot of the story!!!
    so planning out a story isnt the best thing for me. Even in writing class, i brainstorm something because the teacher says we have to, but then when i actually write the essay I change everything.

  8. cell says:

    i just finished reading “The Traitor in the Tunnel” and my word, I am in love with your writing all over again. I’m glad you decided to stick to the messy way because that’s how these gems came to be :) can’t wait for the next novel!

  9. Ying says:

    I love that the free-for-allers are edging out the plotters, here. (Helena, I’m counting you as a free-for-aller since you abandon your neat plotting.) Thanks for commenting, everyone, and thank you so much for your very kind words, cell!

  10. Catrina says:

    I’m B as well. It’s scarily accurate. I always felt bad that I had all of these lovely scenes in my head but didn’t know how I would connect them to other scenes later. At least I know I’m not alone! I’m excited to hear that you will be writing a book that you love, because that is the kind of book I’d prefer to read. :)

  11. Ying says:

    Ha! Thank you, Catrina. :D

  12. Sara says:

    Wow. I have tried to write books using a plan and although it may work great for long essays, a la Queen’s English Department, it definitely stomps on one’s creative thrust. Writing becomes an act of mechanical creation rather than being the spontaneous journey I crave. I guess that I will have to resort to the messier non-plan method, Ying. It makes me feel a sense of relief knowing that you have grappled with this issue, that I am not alone with my feeling that perhaps the best plan for creative writing is no plan whatsoever. YAY!

  13. Ying says:

    Yup. Go, Pantsers!

  14. Maddie says:

    I just had to smile and say to myself “she is so awesome!” when I read this. I am attempting to write a book (my first) and I barely have any time to write, and when I do, I hammer out whatever is in my brain at the moment. I never plan anything out, ever! I get WAY too bored with it! I say to myself; Hey! Why write it down if my mind is just going to change directions the next day? And the story seems to be going to my liking so far! All I have to say, is keeping being who you be! (: All of your novels are amazing, and I just go crazy when I finish them because I can’t stand not being able to have MORE!! I think that it’s truly the mark of a talented writer when you don’t need to plan everything out. When the awesomeness just comes to you!

  15. Ying says:

    Thanks so much, Maddie! I think there’s more pain at the end when you’re not a planner (because you then have the chore of making everything logical and flow together), but you’re so right about the pleasure of just letting it flow. And thank you for your very kind words about the Agency! :D

  16. Jill says:

    I am a “B”……100%!!!

  17. Ying says:

    Ha! Would totally have guessed that about you, Jill.

  18. Sam R. says:

    I love all of your Mary Quinn series and I can’t wait for the next one to come out! Do you have any ideas when it might be coming? Whenever it is I can’t wait and good luck finishing it! :)

  19. Ying says:

    Thanks for stopping by, Sam R, and sorry for the slow reply. I’m still writing Rivals in the City, so it’ll come out some time in 2013. I know it’s a long wait, but I hope you’ll find it worthwhile.

  20. Mary says:

    The agency series has become one of my top favorites! I love mystery/suspense books, and you’ve hit it spot on! I’m really looking forward to reading the fourth book. Now that it’s 2013…(haha this is a really late comment on this blog post!) it should be coming soon? Do you have any idea of the release date yet?!

  21. Ying says:

    Thank you so much, Mary! Yes, it’s 2013 and I’m still writing this neverending book, so there’s no official release date yet, I’m afraid. I promise to shout it from the rooftops when I have news, though.

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