Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A little throw up never hurt anybody

David Anaxagoras has an essay up on the perils of vomit drafts. He suggests that it's much better to organize yourself completely before you start writing so you don't end up with an unfinished first draft that you hate because you put a bunch of crap on paper.

I get that. It works for him. But it really doesn't work for me.

You know that feeling you get when you come home from the party after one too many Jello shots and the room is all spinny and you just really wish it would all come back up so you could go to sleep? Then you throw up in the toilet and even though that particular event is not fun, you happily lay down on the floor and peacefully drift off to sleep. But the longer it takes, the more it sucks.

Okay maybe that's a faulty metaphor. If you didn't do all those Jello shots you'd have no need to vomit in the first place.

But I digress.

My point is, I used to be so organized in my writing. I wouldn't even start typing unless I saw every single moment of the script from beginning to end. By the time I got down to business I had index cards and outlines and snippets of dialogue already prepared. And my scripts still sucked.

They sucked because by the time I started writing I was set on my story. I left no room for creativity during the writing process, and I wasted time agonizing over tiny details that made me second guess myself constantly.

I had to learn to let go.

So I started jotting out really loose index cards and posting them on the bulletin board as reminders. If I get writer's block I just look at the next card and remember what I was planning, and they look all pretty when they're color coded so it helps keep me working. But most of what I write now comes straight out of my brain onto the screen.

Not that I don't plan, I just plan less than I used to. And it works much better.

Maybe that's because I can only truly see the story when I've already put it down. I get to know my characters as I write them because I live in the moment of the scene as it unfolds. I can plan all the themes I want ahead of time, but when I start writing everything I planned goes out the window because my characters do things I didn't expect and it can throw off all those carefully laid plans, especially since what my characters decide to do is usually better than what I'd ordered them to do when they first popped into my active little brain.

I still know where they've been and where they're going, but I'm less sure of how they're going to get there.

I believe in the vomit draft. I throw my characters into the mix and give them a destination and a collection of obstacles and see how they handle it. Then I go back and fix all the things that suck. Because one of my favorite things about writing is the problem solving aspect. I have a hole in my plot - how do I fix it? I can only see the answer when the major events are already on the page.

But that's me. Everybody's different.

I've got to go puke up the rest of my boxing scene now, if you don't mind.


  1. Anonymous11:42 AM

    I come from the Paul Attanasio school. He uses this analogy.
    Writing a script is like planning a family road trip from point A to point B. The family knows the exact route they are taking to get from A to B.
    But they can still take detours to go sight seeing, as long as they always know how to get back to the original route.
    But, every writer is different.
    I used to write my scripts without knowing anything that would happen later and all that did for me was create several lousy, and a few unfinished, scripts.

  2. Em, I totally agree with you. I think part of this may have come from my participation in National Novel Writing Month. But too much planning always killed a story for me. I like to write stories to explore the situation and find the story. I forgot which author said it, but when talking about how little planning she did, she said that she wrote to find the story with her characters.

    It's how I write my school papers, too, which may not be the smartest idea, but I always find that I never really know what I want to say until I just go out there and say it.

    Amy (Evie)

  3. Write however makes you happiest, Princess Emily. Write like the wind!

  4. Anonymous2:25 PM

    Emily. You. Me. In the boxing ring. Let's go.


    I don't think our approaches are all that incompatible. I do beleive that an outline can be a supportive structure that frees the writer to be creative. But if you feel psychologically bound to your plan, sure it can be a hindrance.

    At some point, though, the details have to come out, be it as an outline or a treatment or a screenplay. I think it's harder to revise a full-blown screenplay when all those choices are heavily integrated and dependent on each other. I'd rather rejigger my outline, or revise my scriptment, than kill all those darlings in my screenplay.

    Anyway, as you say, everyone's different. I'll concede one point -- your vomit picture is much, much better than mine.

  5. That's a picture I've had on my computer for ages. I'm pretty sure I stole it from Greg over at a Web of Lies and Deceit.

    He always has the coolest pictures.

    I think my writing style is something of a reflection on the fact that I loathe being told what to do. Somehow keeping to an outline that's planned out ahead of time feels like me ordering myself around. I'm not the boss of me, dammit.

    I have problems.

  6. Creativity is to think out of the box once in a while or do something completely free and fun.

    I once took the book The Noir Style by Alain Silver and James Ursini (it has a lot of great pictures from many of the classic film noirs) and startet with the first page and the first picture. I looked at the picture and the first thing that came into my mind was the beginning of my story. I moved on to the next picture and what I saw there was the next scene or event in my script. I went on until I reached the end of the story (I almost finished the book). At the end I had a quite long outline of a really cool and mysterious film noir story. It had the femme fatale, the bad guy, the protag, the ugly twists, mindgames, drama, action etc.

    All that in just one nights work.

  7. And there's a tweener even -- vomit can be outlined after the fact. Maybe it's nasty, but it can be done.


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