You’re not going crazy. You’re just a writer.
Yes, I know — I know — sometimes it feels like you’re losing your mind, but the thing is this is all perfectly normal.
No, I can’t explain to you why your character has decided to act in a way that’s not what you planned. No, I can’t explain why you suddenly become obsessed with a theme. No, I can’t explain why or how your plot takes twists and turns you never heard of.
But I can tell you that it is perfectly normal. And I can give you my theory of why.Look, one of the things we’ve lost (but we’ve gained so much more!) with indie is that it’s becoming less habitual for writers to meet at regular intervals.
Yeah, conferences used to be expensive, take place over times when I’d rather be with my kids, and really be a trial for my introvert self. But one thing they did — okay, besides allow me to see editors who might buy my books, and meet some of my fans, both of which are much less important now. Well, the first absolutely, and the second my fans have access to me online — was allow a bunch of writers who would not otherwise meet or talk to get together. Which, in turn, allowed us to know whether things that happened to us were normal, no matter how bizarre.
For instance, when I was a young writer on a panel with much more experienced writers and I talked — hesitantly and sure I was crazy — about the time a story finished itself, I was shocked to find everyone around had similar stories.
To explain, I had a plot for the short story, all written out, and I was about a third of the way into it, when I realized the story was over. That was it. All the other stuff I had planned to do? Irrelevant. It didn’t matter. The story was perfect the way it was at that moment (and in fact, sold first time out the door.) I thought this was the most bizarre thing, ever. Because how could I have written the story so it dead-ended way before I knew it was over?
And right there, several other writers, some of them people I’d grown up admiring and loving their work, said, “yeah, that happened to me.”
So this is the post in which I tell you that your crazy experiences are all perfectly normal. All of them.
Have you had a story change mid-point so that everything is different than you thought it was? Normal.
Have you had a minor character take over and become either hero or villain? Normal.
Have you had a character refuse to die, or conversely die when you expected him to live? Normal.
Have you ever had a story end midway (or earlier) or demand three more chapters when you thought it would be done? Normal.
Have you written a story only to realize in the end it was about something completely different from what you thought? Normal.
But how can those be normal? You ask. Are you not the person writing things out? If you’re not, who is, then?
Well, I don’t know, but I have two theories for this.
The first theory is insane — I am a writer, after all — and it is that we are some kind of transmitter reflecting stories sent by someone or something else. Possibly, even, this explains that annoying feeling when you’re writing a story and you feel like it’s coming through “poorly tuned” and just slight off what it should be. (That is normal, too, btw.)
But that, of course, is insane.
So the second theory is that our subconscious is where our true creativity lies. If we try to hold onto it too tightly and infuse it only from our awake, aware and rational mind, what comes out is uni-dimmesional and lacking the depth and the strength of a book written when we allow the subconscious its say.
Is this true?
I don’t know. I know that if a story doesn’t surprise me, change on me, come up with even one scene I didn’t plan, one twist I didn’t expect, it’s not as good.
I’ve gone through phases of plotting and phases of pantsing, and just about everything in between. But if I make an outline and then follow it, slavishly, unable to change at all, the story feels paper-thin and like something is missing. The ones that surprise me, shock me and make everything I thought I knew be otherwise? Those are the stories that tend to be good.
Now… there is another side to it. And that’s when you turn off your conscious mind completely, and let yourself be ruled by the subconscious, or the transmitter, or whatever it is. When you do that, the story becomes what critics call “self indulgent” and readers — okay, me — call “incoherent” or “WTF?”
Sure, you can let your subconscious drive completely… eventually. The point at which you can do this varies, and only you — and your beta readers — can judge it. The point at which you can do that is when you’ve studied the forms and written so much that your subconscious KNOWS what makes sense/what is good plot/what form to follow and doesn’t vomit forth a formless mess.
Alternately, it’s the point at which your tuner is so perfect that you can let the signal come through loud, clear and without interference or confusion.
The point exists (for me it was different points for short stories and novels, but both existed.) And you’ll probably know when you hit it.
Until then… Plot, (or pantse, or whatever you do) but don’t hold onto your plans so tightly that you don’t allow the subconscious to enrich it, the alien signal to come in, or the creativity to shine forth and enrich the whole thing.
Take a deep breath. You’re perfectly normal. Well, you’re as normal as writers get.
Don’t be afraid of your creativity. Let it shine through. If you go wrong, you can always fix it in post. And who knows, it might go very right, and be the most awesome story you ever wrote.
Give it a chance.