Story Worms: How to Write Badly


As I’ve discussed (admitted, maybe) in previous posts, I am not a plotter. Why don’t I plot? Because I find it boring. I find that it stagnates my creativity and bleeds all of the excitement out of a story before I’ve even started it. I really enjoy bumbling around inside the story, letting the characters lead the way, letting them surprise me.

And it’s all well and good for writing short stories. But longer pieces? I believe this to be the reason that I haven’t finished a novel yet.

I’ve tried a million different ways to plot. I’ve read books, blog posts, and websites, watched YouTube videos, poured over all the plotting advice I can. But here’s the thing: there is not one magic formula that works for everyone. We all need to find what works for us. For years I’ve been kidding myself that my way works. But it really doesn’t.

Writing in this way causes problems – I abandon a lot of floundering stories, I drown in the middle, and I get stuck not knowing how to end. It’s hard to stick to a word limit, it’s hard to meet deadlines, and I often find editing results in an almost entire rewrite. While I have got much better, this made me a slow writer in the past; always waiting for my muse, going months without writing a word.

At the beginning of October I started writing a short story for a deadline on the 31st. I had a month, I knew I could do it. By the 15th, the story had tailed off. I was lost in it. I didn’t know where it was headed and I was writing nothing more than empty words without purpose. I thought I would have to give up on it all together.

Some time ago, I subscribed to The Self-Publishing Podcast; run by indie writers Sean Platt, Johnny B. Truant, and David W. Wright. I’m still catching up with it, and their July episode, The Long-Awaited “Story Beats” Episode, came at exactly the right time for me. Whether you’ve already found your perfect plotting method, or if you’re still floundering like me, I suggest you give it a listen either way.

Plotting with Story Beats—basically bullet pointing the main events of the story—is not only a quick and simple plotting tool, cutting back on stagnation, but it also allows a lot of scope for discovery writing around the skeleton outline, allowing the characters to continue coming up with surprises. It seems perfect for me.

With just 10 days to the submission deadline, and a promise that this method allows for much faster first drafts, I sat down to beat out a whole new story. In a matter of minutes, I had my plot scrawled onto one sheet of paper. I was ready to go.

Along with writing a fast first draft, you have to allow yourself to write badly. You have to silence that inner editor. It’s not easy, it takes practice. Every cliché, every lazy phrase, every plot hole and lack of foreshadowing, my inner editor went nuts. But I just drank more coffee, looked back at my story beats, and pressed on. I wrote badly.

In less than a week, I had my first draft. And actually, when I read it back, it wasn’t half as bad as I expected it to be.

As for the story’s success, I’m still waiting for a response, so I’ll have to let you know. But I think I may have found something that works for me, and that’s very good news. Sure, the jury’s still out right now; I can’t exactly claim one finished story as proof positive that this is the method for me. But I’m certainly going to give it a shot.

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9 Responses

  1. Linda says:

    You should know, it’s not “poured” over, it’s “pored”. As in “be absorbed in the reading or study of”.

  2. Robert Stava says:

    Not sure how ‘story beats’ differs from plot outlines, at least how those two gentlemen explained it (which btw, took at least 30 minutes into their podcast to even address – maybe they should apply it to their interview method). Their methodology strikes me as more appropriate for TV scripting as it seems formulaic. Personally I’m a big proponent of the old Robert Frost axiom ‘No surprise in the author, no surprise in the reader’ which really lets the story (or characters)reveal itself naturally.

    But I guess everyone has to develop a style that suits them.

  3. Angeline says:

    Good spot; those darn homophones!

  4. Angeline says:

    Yes, they do seem to take quite some time to get to their point in those podcasts. Although, once they get to it, they do have some very valuable advice.

    No, their Story Beats method is far from unique, but sometimes it takes a particular someone to explain something in a particular way for you to really ‘get it’. And I think the nice way about their method—very vague, simple bullet-points—is that it still allows for discovery writing. Rather than a route drawn out on a map, it’s markers along the way, giving you the choice of how to get between each of them.