I have learned that there are two primary types of writers:
Truth be told, I’m the main one I know who fits into #2, but I’m definitely not the only one. Like Neil Gaiman says, “Writing a novel is like driving through the fog with one headlight out,” and then he goes onto say that you can’t see very far ahead of yourself. Ain’t. That. The. Truth.
Well, it is for me, anyway.
Several years back, I gave one of my books to my brother to read. The thing is, my brother is not a reader, and while he really liked my book, it took him a year to finish it. That meant I had some time to twiddle my thumbs, but…that’s boring. I write, after all. That’s just what I do.
I remember seeing the streetlight outside one night, and I thought of a figure, and I thought of a voice, and I just started writing. What was it about? Didn’t know. Who were the characters? I’d figure it out. I purposely kept moving forward. I didn’t go back and change things. That was my rule. Maybe some characters come in a little later than usual. I mean, I didn’t know they existed yet, so they just had to end up there. I ran with it. I kept going. Soon, I knew more and more. Eventually, I knew all 200,000 words of it, and I finished the first draft. Twice as long as the book my brother was reading.
Maybe if I really tried, I could have planned it all from the get-go. Honestly, I probably would have dropped it. After all, I couldn’t see too far down the road. I just had to keep driving, slowly at times but driving, until I saw enough signs that I knew where I was going.
I do that with a lot my writing. Maybe I know the middle, but not the end. Maybe I know the end, but not the middle. The thing is, I don’t care. I keep writing. Sometimes, I get stuck on one book, and I work on another. Either way, I always try to keep writing, even when I don’t know what I’m doing. Especially when I don’t know what I’m doing.
Sometimes this means that you realize something you should’ve done differently halfway through, and you’ve got a whole editing task on your hands, but that could happen either way. Writing is an adventure. Sometimes I walk into a scene and, just like life, I don’t know what’s going to happen next until it happens. Someone could die by the time the scene is through that I thought would last until the end. It’s like living your story as it happens. That makes the future hard to predict sometimes, and the end a distant thing. I don’t think that should ever stop you. You don’t have to know everything, not until the end, and sometimes not even then.
Here’s the thing about writing advice, though: There is no one-size-fits-all. There is no right way to write. The only right way to write is whatever the hell gets you to write. Maybe you need to plan every scene, but consider that…maybe you don’t. Consider that maybe you just need to write and keep going forward until you’re done. If you’re always planning and never writing, go write. Take that risk. If it turns into a monster, dissect the good parts and build a better monster. It’s nice to get it right the first time, but you don’t have to. That’s what second drafts are for.