When I first started writing, I knew I was a discovery writer. I listened to a Writing Excuses episode, and somebody, I don’t even remember who, made a comment about how writers should try both discovery writing and outlining/planning. I don’t remember the exact reason he said, but I’m sure I could figure it out—they’re two different writing techniques, and sometimes, you can learn from both. Or maybe that you’ll discover you’re not the one you think you are. Or, really, it’s just a good thing to try new things, and trying the opposite of what you always do is definitely a new thing, right? I scoffed, thinking that I wasn’t a planner, and I’d never ever be a planner, and I didn’t need to try being a planner.
I’m a planner.
Yeah, go ahead and laugh. I’m already laughing. But you wanna hear something even funnier? When I was little, I wanted to be one of those artists who can draw something, and then people would go, “Wait, that isn’t a photograph?” I wanted perfect realism. I wanted to draw something that really would look like a photograph and people would have to take a second—and third and fourth—look before they realized it wasn’t.
Guess what I draw now?
I really have no idea, but it isn’t realism.
Here’s a lesson for you all, right from my own experience.
Don’t be afraid to explore. Exploration makes you better at what you do.
Somewhere along the lines, I somehow started planning one of my novels. I don’t really remember how or why I did it, but I did, and my writing turned out better. It made me stop and think… Hmm. Maybe I’m not a pantser after all.
I ended up writing more things that were pantsed and more things that were planned, before I finally realized that, yeah, I’m a planner. I do discovery write somewhat, and I do enjoy it. But I plan more often than not lately, because when I plan, I’m more likely to end with not only a slightly better written and less plot-hole-y first draft, but an actually finished first draft (which was a hard thing for me, for a while).
The truth is, if I hadn’t explored the idea of planning, and if I had just stuck with discovery writing, I probably would not be where I am right now. I would have more half-finished projects where right now they are finished, and I’d probably be a lot more frustrated and discouraged simply because of that fact. That sounds like fun, right? Everybody wants to be discouraged.
You can’t succeed at something if you don’t try it, right? Well, try it, and then fail or succeed. Learn what works. Learn what doesn’t work. Are you a planner or a pantser? Or are you right smack dab in the middle? Do you use elements of both? Do you outline extensively, or do you have a loose outline? Do you write an outline, and then defenestrate the outline at the first change you have?
What seems to work best for me is to have a loose outline, just enough that it tells me the general events and plot, and I get to know my characters a little (but not even extensively), and then I discovery write all the rest. I even discovery write the emotions, strange as that sounds. I may know of an event that will greatly affect a character, but I don’t even know for sure how it’ll affect them, until I start writing it, and they take it in the direction that’s best for them, and I learn something new about them at the same time.
Even if, in the end, you discover that you’re writing style is exactly what you thought it was to begin with, you’ll still have learned new things and, more importantly, you should have had fun. (Writing is all fun and games, right? Riiiiight?)
Don’t resist the change when it finds you.
One of the hardest things I had to accept at first was that…I was wrong. I had been so completely and totally wrong about myself. Hard hit to the pride, for one. I didn’t want to accept I had been wrong, and I didn’t want to give up what I’d been doing before, and I didn’t want to be a planner. Planners are so boring. They know their stories in advance and they don’t discover anything and that’s so boring.
(That’s a huge lie, by the way. Even if you do outline the story to death, perhaps through the Snowflake Method, if it was that boring, nobody would do it. [And considering the Snowflake Method exists in the first place, well… you see.])
I think in probably all aspects of life, accepting change is hard. I had the same issues with realizing that I really didn’t want to draw realism (or at least exclusively realism), too. But change is important. Change is what allows growth and improvement.
I mean, think about it. Improvement is change. If you improve…you’re changing, aren’t you? You’re changing from bad or mediocre or even good to better. So if you don’t change, you don’t improve. Simple as that.
Change wants to be your friend.
Now go do what works best for you.
Well, that says it all, mostly. Go do it. And remember, finding change, seeing change, embracing change—it’s the key to improvement.
So go improve.
And because GIFs make everything better, here’s Ten basically summing up the essence of discovery writing.