During a recent coaching call one of my clients asked me if it’s important to have each scene meet a specific goal that contributes to the overall story. He said he was a bit worried, because sometimes he felt he “just needed to talk on the page” and so he didn’t start every scene with a preconceived goal in mind.
He wanted to know: Do writers need to outline their goals before they even start writing?
Of course, the answer to that question comes back to writing vs. editing.
But…it also comes back to finding your own inner guidance system as a writer.
When you are in that first-draft writing stage—and by that I mean the raw, messy, totally awkward process of getting the words down onto the page for the very first time—it is completely normal to have goals that are either extremely vague, or that don’t exist at all. I’m not saying all writers write like this, but rest assured that it’s still normal and okay if you do.
Plenty of writers have written bestsellers and masterpieces starting from nothing, by just following the nonsense of their mind wherever it might lead them. That’s what editing is for. So that we can go back and pick and choose between the delightfully cool things that took shape out of the nonsense of our head, and the things that remain utter nonsense and should probably be cut.
If you’re a writer who needs to talk things out on the page before you find your goal, then keep doing that. Do more of what works for you. You can worry about sifting through the pieces in the editing stage.
On the other hand, this does not work for all writers. Some writers need plotting, organization, and a firm timeline before they begin or they end up overwhelmed and frustrated. If you are a writer who works better with a meticulous outline at hand, then do that. Use the natural organizational pull of your mind to set yourself up to do your best work.
The point of all this is that there is no right way for all writers. This would seem to be an obvious fact. However, there are a lot of writing guides, gurus, and blogs out there (mine included) that offer information about “what works”. What we’re really saying is that “this worked for me.” But sometimes, we forget to make that last part as clear as it should be.
Practicing the art of writing is really about finding out who you are as a writer. And no one else can tell you that. The only way to master the craft is to get to know yourself better and better, until you become the top expert on you and your writing. You and the way you work. You and your message. You and the story you are here to tell.
This is the true area of your studies as a writer.
Fortunately, you already have your own inner guidance system which came built-in to your personality. The tough thing is learning how to listen to it really, really well. And ignoring those who would have you replace your own inner guidance system with theirs, whether they be friends, family, random entities on the internet, or the news media.
To stay true to your own road, you have follow every twist and turn in the path that has been marked out just for you. It might be a long strange trip before you get where you need to go.
But there’s an easy way to tell when you’re staying true to yourself and you’re on your own road. You feel good. You feel hopeful and excited about your writing, and more at peace than at war with yourself. When you are following someone else’s GPS and it’s not working for you, you feel the opposite. You feel uneasy, anxious, and sometimes resentful.
Pay attention to the emotions you hold around your writing. Realign your course as needed to follow your own GPS. And then sit down and write, the way you want to do it.
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