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Chaotic Writing: A Lesson Learned

When you walk into my house, it’s neat. And clean. And tidy. Almost like a builder’s model home, minus the fake food props. Everything’s in its place. Don’t worry. I absolutely don’t judge others whose homes are not like mine. There’s something warm about a lived-in home, and I often wish I could live like that. Nevertheless, I function best in an organized space.

My drawers follow suit. They’re organized. Items tucked in respective trays. Garage shelves, same. Closet, same. Order ensues. Linen closet? Meh. But that’s a different beast altogether. You need to properly fold a fitted sheet to have a tidy closet. Still, the shelves are sorted by linen type. You get the picture. I thrive on order. But when it comes to writing, well, that’s a totally different story.

My writing is messy. Plain and simple. I had no idea it was messy until one day when I was transcribing, I realized 1. I couldn’t read my writing and 2. I couldn’t follow the page’s arrows, cross-outs, and scribbles. While writing, I’m focused on what words I write down rather than what the page looks like. I was horrified when I realized just how messy my writing was. How could I be so disorganized? This isn’t what I do. This isn’t how I function. This isn’t me.

A few days later, while talking with my writing cohorts, I blurted my deep dark secret: I’m a messy writer. A weight was lifted off my shoulders, admitting my guilt. And while confessing what felt like a failure, I realized why I can write messily: No one else sees it. Unless I want them to. I get to share who, if anyone, sees my hot mess. Sure, the same could be said for my drawers and closets, but realistically, other family members see them daily and company at times. As for my writing, I can keep my notebooks closed. Private. Sealed off from the rest of the world.

It was hard to accept I’m a messy writer since it’s in direct contrast to other facets of my life. Still, there’s something liberating about it. I love that I can write without judgment. Without worrying about how it looks. Without worrying it’s chaotic. Furthermore, I know it’ll get cleaned up during revision. Organized. Neat and tidy. Just like I like things to be.

My advice to others writers is this: focus on getting the words down. Avoid getting hung up on how the first draft looks. For that’s what it is––a first attempt to get the story down. It’s not the final product. There will be plenty of time to polish it later. That’s what revision is for. And because I’ve come to terms with my messy process, I’m sharing some example pages. Enjoy the chaos!

Blog Posts

Writing Outside the ‘Lines

Last summer, when my next book idea came to me, I sat down and filled two notebook pages full of notes and ideas, my first time doing this. Usually, I write without anything to follow. But since I was concurrently revising my second manuscript, I wanted to remember all my ideas. So I wrote them down. I’d never used a loose outline before. Figured I’d give it a try. But then…

Times Change

Several months later, when I was finally ready to write my story, I picked up the notebook and wrote following the ideas. And I used them for about 10,000 words in, approximately one-seventh of the book. But something was off. I just wasn’t feeling it. The tone was too serious. I wanted something more lighthearted. So I went back to the drawing board. Or, more aptly, another two blank pages of a notebook. This time, I jotted down what I envisioned writing––more of a romantic comedy genre rather than a family saga. Pleased with what I’d brainstormed, I set it aside again to give myself time to ruminate. I didn’t want to restart a third time. I wanted to be sure this time. And so, I waited. But then…

Save The Cat

While I chewed on my idea, someone recommended the book, Save the Cat Writes A Novel. This book teaches writers about the 15 essential plot points that make a novel successful. Never having read it before, I figured I’d give it a shot. I took notes, breaking down the pacing of a story and at which points certain things should happen. It all made perfect sense, especially after reading the examples applied to books and movies. They really do follow this particular pattern. Why not give it a try?

So I did. I took my second set of ideas and notes and created an outline using the Save the Cat template. It all made sense. It all fit perfectly. It all looked great on that paper. But then…

The Truth Revealed Itself

After having to set the book aside again for three months, this time due to medical reasons, I picked it back up last week and wrote. And wrote. And wrote. Without looking at the outline. Instead, it sat on my desk, buried under a pile of sticky notes covering it. I was, however, mindful of the pacing, ensuring that the plot and story were moving along. That I wasn’t spending too much time on one part. That I was creating tension. Creating relatable characters. Creating an engaging story. And it helped. But then…

Writing Outside the ‘Lines

I realized something: outlines are NOT for me. I know lots of great writers who swear by them. They wouldn’t dream of writing any other way. But not me. I’ve tried. Twice. But I’ve deviated from it not once but twice. And here’s the irony; I’m the most organized person. I like things in place. I need to follow directions. I need order. But clearly, that doesn’t apply to me in writing (stay tuned for another post regarding how messy and freeing writing is for me).

Throughout my school years, I was told to “color inside the lines.” And I did. But when it comes to writing, I’m tapping into my creative side and staying outside them. Far outside. Otherwise, I feel too confined and stifled. Thankfully, I don’t feel like I wasted my time creating that outline; I’m glad I did because now I know it’s definitely not for me––I like the story to tell me where it’s going, not me telling the story where to go. The mystery keeps me writing, just like I hope it will keep the reader reading.