SJ Duncan

The Tipping Point Blog


I can be a jerk.


Not usually. Like right now, I’m cool, we’re chatting. But when I’m working on a new book and people ask what it’s about, that’s when I can be a little bit jerky.


I don’t mean to, but here’s the thing: I learned a long time ago that the surest way to kill a story is to talk about it too soon.



For me, writing requires a sense of exploration and discovery. I have to feel like I’m chipping away at this idea for the very first time. It’s why I can’t outline like some writers do. Outlining gets boring. It feels like paint-by-number when what I want to do is sling color. 


In order to stay excited about an idea, I have to feel like I’m breaking new ground every day. It has to be hot and alive, a glowing ember on a bed of dry tender. And the quickest way to dampen that ember is to talk about what I'm working on, to try explaining a loosely formed idea that I don't yet understand, and to get too much feedback too soon from too many people.


The last thing I want to do after talking about an idea is sit down at the keyboard and try to recapture all that energy I let slip out through my mouth. It's never the same the second time around. 


In the writing community there are two camps when it comes to drafting: Plotters and Pantsers.


Plotters outline, plan, take notes, etc. . . They sometimes know how the story will end before they even begin writing.


Pantsers, on the other hand, simply follow the narrative, flying by the seats of their pants (hence the name) with only a vague notion of how things will end up.




I'm a pantser. My first drafts are fast and messy. They are sometimes rambling, occasionally nonsensical, and often peppered with little note-to-self addenda written directly into the narrative. Nobody reads my first drafts (you wouldn't want to), and by the time I'm done with the second draft, the first has been thoroughly destroyed. They say there are as many ways to write as there are writers, and this is the way that works for me.


Being a pantser does have drawbacks, though. Plotters have a clear and direct path to a finished book. It may be a long, tedious slog through a series of prepackaged plot points, but you can get to the end that way. Pantsers, on the other hand, usually try numerous routes, writing dozens (sometimes hundreds) of pages of unusable, digressive material. If you're unfamiliar with the phrase "kill your darlings," you soon will be. As a pantser, you'll kill a lot of darlings.



But the feeling of discovery is so richly rewarding, and the work is fun. And in all honesty, no writing is wasted writing. It all informs your work as an author. Even the stuff that goes in the trash.


So, in short, please forgive me if you ask what my next book is about and I won't tell you.


Just trust that it’s not you, it’s me.


And I know what I’m doing.






2017-06-23 10:07:24 - rochelle
wow! first time i've heard anyone talk about this! now, i'm no writer, they've called me a "poet", i prefer the term 'scribbler' but what you've just said certainly applies to my process. very. oil that you've shared! thanks rochelle @shellilouwho
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