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Writing Organically – I can do it!

I’ve just had the revelatory experience of reading back over some of my notebooks kept from the beginnings of my novel. Strange. And enlightening.

I’m amazed how much has changed. Character names, story tracks, the intention, definitely the outcome.

A little history: I started writing this novel as part of Year of the Novel 2008 at the VWC. I swapped novel ideas mid-year when the starting settings, of what became my new project, fired my imagination and lit a fuse of research passion. At first I could barely start the writing, so engrossed was I in emigrant life aboard the steamship, living in a coal-mining pit village in Scotland, and the era of the Great War. BUT…  I  wrote copious notes of story ideas and character profiles. (Interestingly, no one remotely resembles my initial physical descriptions and personality profiles. I think I wrote them out and then completely disregarded them!)

For the course, I had to come up with a 250 word synopsis (to sum up my novel idea). BUT… and, for me, a big hurdle of a but, (I may already talked about before) – I was encouraged to write it organically. Me – a plotter and planner, not a pantser. The thought was exciting, the reality – terrifying. For six weeks between our bi-monthly classes, I couldn’t write a word. I didn’t know what to write. I wrote characters, ideas, snapshots, but with no plot point to start, I couldn’t begin. Not even to write my way in.


I cheated. I wrote out 13 possible plot points and the starter’s flag dropped. I was away, and kept on going for 136,000 words. (I’ve since cut many thousand of them from the early writing, but added as many back.)

I find it fascinating over the course of writing both the novel and three notebooks, how in the early stages, the chapter or storyline ideas morphed into entirely different beasts. Yet, the early incomplete synopsis is almost identical to the basic narrative line of the story. So much surrounding it is different though. Better, for sure. Deeper, more thoughtful and character full. The story has deepened and taken on texture of the lives of the contributing cast and the effects of the Great War.

At a point, and I’ll guestimate here from memory, it was around the 60,000 word mark, when I handwrote scenes in my notebooks, some became keepers. Whereas earlier, I wrote chapters by hand, but never looked at them while I typed the actual scene. It always came out so differently anyway – as I typed.

Suddenly, I found some handwritten chapters worked on the page, the voice strong and the narrative line connected directly into the story. New writing could suddenly be typed as written direct into the manuscript. It was a flashpoint: The voice of the novel was set. Finally I knew my characters well enough to trust their decisions and let them lead me a little more. I knew how they’d react to different circumstances and events. Of course, they, and those they came in contact with, continued to surprise me totally on occasions with some contrary behaviour and choices. (Thrilling when that happens – in context.)

The thrill for me too is in realising how organic the process of writing my novel turned out – despite my thinking I couldn’t write organically. In spite of me thinking my process strictly that of a planner’s because I knew where it was going. So much altered in the writing and I can see now looking back how I had no intention of certain outcomes originally, but I knew little back then of the Great War and its fallout. My story evolved and grew into something far beyond my original scope or what I believed my scope to be. The journey totally transported me during the writing, and I’m hoping it will do the same for my future readers.

I’m edging toward the starting line again. It’s a little daunting facing the blank page, but hugely exciting to be meeting new characters and glimpsing their lives and stories. A new notebook is started and I can’t help wondering how much these characters stories, and mine, will alter when they begin to lead the journey. I can’t wait. I’m excited to be going with them. I like a couple of them already. Though I see some trouble and troublemakers on their horizon.

So plotters and pantsers all, how do your stories grow and change? Do they? Do you dare to let them?


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