CORDELIA APPLEBY

Writer of children's stories, passionate about writing. Author of Black Water.

To Sum Up

I have been labouring over my synopsis, which I find the hardest thing to write in a book. Because I’m a seat-of-my-pants writer, I have been happily writing scenes without knowing how they fit together, just trusting that they will. It’s a bit like travelling by instinct instead of a map!

Sometimes I think I’m mad to write this way; it gives me vertigo. However I was gratified when I heard Philip Pullman say at the Oxford Literary Festival this year, that his advice is to write a story first and plot it afterwards, because plotting beforehand is death to a novel.

It doesn’t mean he’s right, but it does give me confidence that I’m not a total fool, although I often think I must be, because what if I spend all that time on it and I can’t make it work?

The real benefit of writing this way in my opinion, is that you find an order in what you’ve written, rather than imposing one on it before you start, and this makes the writing itself a true act of discovery. I am permanently open to what I will find and it’s an electrifying place to be.

These last few days however, I reached a critical point where I couldn’t go on without a bit of joined up thinking because I didn’t know how to decide what to write next. So I forced myself to sit down and think: What is this story about? Where is it going? How is it going to get there?

I’ve found it really painful, so much harder than the real writing. (Although it is of course, just as real.) All the time at the back of my head is a mean little voice saying, ‘You can’t do this. You don’t know how.’ Over and over. Fortunately there’s a stronger one saying, ‘I can and I will’, otherwise I would just give up.

I do know people who love plotting. They sit down and plot before they’ve written a word. I couldn’t do this because my ideas come to me either when I’m writing, or when I’m walking across a field reflecting on what I’ve written. It’s like falling in love. It happens when I’m not looking, and when it does, it’s heaven. Or maybe when it doesn’t, it’s hell! Anyway, it feels like a massive relief.

Anyhow, today, I finished my synopsis. Now I can get back to crafting the story, which is what I do best. More to the point, I can do it ith the security of knowing where I am heading this time, in more than the vaguest sense.

7 Comments

  1. E.L. Doctorow said: ‘Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way’. Here you’ve got your synopsis, like the road map, but there’s still the fog, it’s still the middle of the night, and you never know what lies beyond the beam of those lights.

  2. What a wonderful & interesting read. Couldn’t resist your other blogs. Inspirational. Wishing you lots of luck & success. One of the joys of twitter is discovering mega talented people. You’ve a mighty gift with words. Thanks for the follow.

  3. As a panster myself, I agree with your creative writing process. Why in the world anyone would want to stifle that is beyond me. However, I occasional stop to “check the roadmap” to make sure I haven’t missed anything. But oh those rabbit trails, how they produce wonderful storylines that cannot be forced when I try to outline first, how I love to explore them.

  4. What an extremely interesting blog!
    Not only this one, but also the preceding and succeeding ones.
    I happened upon your site because of your kind follow on Twitter, and now I’m pleasantly distracted from whatever it was I was doing before.
    I’m very much in the ‘plot-the-story-first’ camp, but then serendipitous accidents happen along the way, forcing me to change direction altogether.
    Writing ‘on the seat of one’s pants’ is to be admired, but I’m afraid it only left me with inky letters all over my bottom!
    Lovely to make a connection, Cordelia, I applaud the heartfelt honesty in your writing and look forward to reading more of the same!

    • admin

      31st August 2015 at 6:40 pm

      What a kind comment Kevin. I wish I could plot in advance; it would save an awful lot of re-writing! Cordelia

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