Forced Schedules: Writing Pitfall #27

As many of you know, we own an eccentric puppy.  To her, socks = crack.  When she eats too many she gets a tummy ache.  Being a highly vocal dog, she moans–yes, sick dogs moan just like sick husbands–and rolls around in her kennel, milking her discomfort for all it’s worth.

She’s also not housebroken yet.  I am.

Sock Dog is a finished hunting dog.   This means she came to us fully trained.  She brought all her year-old quirks with her as well.  The most frustrating is her complete lack of bathroom etiquette.  Having been kenneled outside throughout her short life, she could stop mid-anything to go potty.  She never learned that front yard grass is more appropriate to piddle on than a white living room carpet.

So, I get up from my writing at various intervals throughout the day to let her outside.  I stand in the yard and croon to her, begging her to please quit chasing ladybugs so we can go back inside.  And when she’s done, my “such-a-good-girl-go-potty” praises can be heard blocks away.

We tromp back in where she plops down on the carpet, curls her lips at me in contentment and heaves a huge sigh.  “Such-a-good-owner-I-got-you-trained.”

And she does.  I hate cleaning up piddle spots and she knows it.  I’ve created a schedule for her based on when I think she should go potty.  I’d love to hear her take on this, though I can guess based on the smug smirk she gives me as she dilly-dallies around and my muse begins to wander. 

Writers are also guilty of this forced scheduling.  We don’t want too many messes to clean up, so we direct our characters’ actions.  We steer them to perform the way we want them to in an attempt to tidy up all the loose ends and resolve the conflict.  We write what’s convenient, rather than allowing ourselves to be interrupted.

In other words, we intrude on the story and feed our characters the right info at the right time and unleash them outside when we deem they are ready–when it works for the plot.  Chapter 7, Chapter 16 and Chapter 23.

Sadly, we fall victim to Writing Pitfall #27.  The one where we are housebroken, not our manuscripts.  The one where we force the writing to perform on our timeframe rather than allow it to unfold naturally. 

Personally, I would prefer if Sock Dog whined to be let out instead of piddling on the floor minutes after I let her back in.  In this same way, I prefer to let my characters take the lead in the story.  I want an organic feel to my manuscripts.  Too often, I read stories that feel forced.  As if things happen because the author needs them to happen. 

I try really hard to practice what I preach.  At one point in my YA, my MC acted on her own behalf and dragged another character out the door with her. 

“Noooo!  What are you doing?” I shouted at her–I guess I’m vocal too.  I had no place for the drunk girl in my manuscript and I considered taking her out of the apartment altogether.

It wasn’t until after I let her stay that I realized my MC had remained true to her character.  She acted on her natural impulse rather than let me direct her actions via the delete key.  My story is much stronger because of it. 

So, dear friends, how do you write?  Do you follow a strict guideline to make sure you input all the proper info at exactly the right time, or do you allow the story to control the timing?  What are the pros and cons to each of these types of writing?  Is housebreaking a manuscript even a good thing or are we better off minimizing the chaos by adhering to a more structured form of writing?

Curious minds want to know.

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2 responses to “Forced Schedules: Writing Pitfall #27

  1. According to the basic terms of plotter and pantser, I’m a hybrid. I do design my characters. I also outline for structure, flow and sequence, however once the writing starts I’m still a pantser within the confines of a structure. What I mean by this is, the outline shows me the boundaries of the creative playground and what toys are available. Then I go play and am sure I won’t drift off the playground (i.e. waste 5000 words on a tangent).

    Just as we don’t tell our kids what to play on and make sure they don’t wander off, my characters are free to be themselves and play.

    Great post, Cat!

    • I totally admire plotters for their ability to do something I cannot. I hated outlining back in 10th Grade English. Sadly, the feeling has never passed. Whenever I try to outline for a story, I end up writing sentences, then paragraphs and then I wonder, “Why the heck am I wasting these words here when I’m already writiing the story?”

      Either that or I’m just disorganized!

      Although I guess you could say that I’m not a total pantster all the time. Sometimes I read heavily in the area where I have a strong idea, then let things stew in my brain for a while before the right character comes along to tell the story. But when it comes right down to it, I have absolutely no idea where I am going to end up or what experiences I will have along the way.

      It’s always interesting to me to see how everyone else writes. So many different ways, which is good. It provides anyone a chance to succeed: pantster, plotter or hybrid!

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