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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Angeline Trevena is a British author of dystopian urban fantasy and post-apocalyptic fiction. She has an impressive backlist of novels, a series of worldbuilding guides for authors, and short stories appearing in various anthologies and magazines. Despite the brutal and dark nature of her fiction, Angeline is scared of just about everything, and still can’t sleep in a fully dark room. She goes weak at the sight of blood, can’t share a room with a spider, but does have a streak of evil in her somewhere. Find out more at www.angelinetrevena.co.uk