19 October 2013
Following the Maybes
by Elizabeth Zelvin
I’m not the kind of novelist who could write a book about how to write a novel. Maybe that’s because my method doesn’t bear too much analysis. In the division between outliners and into-the-mist writers (or pantsers, as some call them, ie those who write by the seat of the pants), I fall definitely—or mistily—into the category of those who don’t or can’t outline. Picking my way through a mist, with light shining only a little way ahead and no idea what lies beyond that bit of illumination, is an excellent description of how I write long. As I’ve said before, writing short—a poem, a story, a song, a blog post, or a letter to an online therapy client—is a whole lot easier than writing in the mist.
But here’s the biggest difference. To me, “outline” means “commitment.” If I say I’m an outliner, I must have sticky notes, and each note must represent a bit of the story that I am committed to tell, even if the rule is that it’s okay to change my mind later. Every single one of my notes (including the true versions of the examples above) start with “Maybe.” “Maybe the power fails…” “Maybe the journalist wrote a story…” “Maybe the roommate is bulimic…” I’m not committed. But I don’t want to throw away what may turn out to be perfectly good plot points, certainly not just because of my lousy aging memory. Writing it down is like taking a quick photo of that deer at the edge of the mist. I’ve got it, and if I want to, I’ll use it later—maybe.
Posted by Elizabeth Zelvin at 00:01