I’ve always been proud of my productivity. When I know something needs to get done, I plan without hesitation. I create goals, break them down into smaller tasks, and celebrate little victories. My planner is my savior.
When it came to writing I took the same approach. I planned my ideas down to the tiniest detail. My outlines ran ten pages long because each chapter contained as much information as possible. My character sheets were thorough and their relationships clearly defined.
Then the time came to start the first draft and my fingers wouldn’t budge. My brain hit a brick wall and I’d be sitting there — twenty minutes or more — just staring at the blank screen before me.
What the hell?
I couldn’t figure out why with this amazing outline in front of me I wasn’t able to write. I spent a month or more planning, plotting, and outlining. The actual writing part should be a piece of cake. Right? Wrong!
This happened more times than I care to admit. I gave up writing fiction for a long time because of it. I just couldn’t seem to get a draft written with a full-fledged outline.
I’d read advice from best-selling authors and aspiring writers alike where they’d all say, “Just start.”
One of my favorite Stephen King quotes even goes…
“The scariest moment is always just before you start.”
I’m going to say something you probably shouldn’t say (unpopular opinion?): But the advice of “just start writing” is bullshit. It’s all well and good to tell someone that, but it’s a lot harder than it sounds. It’s literally the saying, “Easier said than done.”
I knew the concept of “just start.” I share that advice with people myself. And why not? It’s solid advice. You truly can’t finish something unless you start. But that advice doesn’t help me when I’m sitting with my fingers frozen above my keyboard.
Because in my mind I’ve already started. I put time and effort into the outline I created. Yes, I know an outline and a draft are two different beasts, but the notion that I could punch out an exceptionally detailed outline but not a draft was bothering me.
Now, I’ve finished manuscripts before. At least five. All written and edited with a detailed outline beside me.
So what changed? Why isn’t this tried and true method working for me anymore?
The older I get and the more I learn about this industry has made me realize a few things:
- You cannot expect a process to work for you forever.
- It’s hard to put your own writing advice into practice.
- The only writing advice that matters is the one that gets you writing.
As a copywriter, I know if I don’t produce a piece of content by the due date I tell my clients to expect it, I’m not doing my job right. I’m putting my business in jeopardy. Since copywriting is still writing, I’ll admit I have off days. There are days I don’t have any inspiration to write a blog or email sequence. But I set my timer for an hour, draft whatever comes to mind, and edit it the next day. Sometimes I find what I wrote wasn’t horrible. Other times I cringe reading it back.
So I ask again, why can’t I do that with fiction writing?
If you’ve made it this far, I applaud you. I realize I spent the first chunk of this post whining and I apologize. Let’s get to the solution, shall we?
While sorting through old files, I found my Myers-Briggs results. Done when I was working for a non-profit, I was reminded that I’m an INFJ-T also known as “The Advocate.” Essentially, I am someone with introverted, intuitive, feeling, and judging personality traits. The T stands for Turbulent, which is the opposite of Assertive. I never really dove into the meaning of this until recently.
I was particularly struck by this paragraph:
People with the Intuitive trait prefer to exercise their imaginations as they seek new ideas and possibilities. They live their day-to-day lives just like any other personality type. But while that’s happening, their minds tend to point inward while at the same time gently focusing somewhere beyond the horizon. Their lives are ones of questioning, wondering, and connecting the dots in the “bigger picture,” and they love the theoretical. They often ask, “What if?” and ponder the possibilities the future might hold. 
Further reading led me to discover that INFJ types create more through intuition and feeling rather than observations and thinking. This then brought me to look deeper at the differences between plotters and pantsers. Wouldn’t you know it, but most INFJ personalities are pantsers.
For those that don’t know what I’m talking about: In the writing community, writers often identify as plotters, pantsers, or plantsers. Plotters detail their story from beginning to end. They know every twist, every turn, every character flaw. Pantsers write “by the seat of their pants.” They are inspired by an idea and write without a plan. Plantsers are a combination. They have a general idea of what they want to write and have some basic outline things down, but if they go off-script they’re okay with it.
Have I been doing this all wrong? Has having a rock-solid outline disrupted my intuitive feelings when it comes to writing? I’m a planner, yes, but perhaps I’m not a plotter.
With this new knowledge in hand, I plan — LOL — to tackle my next project using the pantser method. I have a few ideas in mind and a lot of “what if’s” brewing. So I am going to “just start.” I don’t know how long I’ll be drafting for or where the story will take me, but I’m excited. This is the first time I’ve been excited about a fictional story in a long time.
I’ll be sure to update you guys with how it’s going.
And I also recommend finding out your personality type. If you feel like the process you’ve been using has been slipping from your grasp perhaps you need to try something new. If your process works every single time, then keep it up. I’m not here to tell you to try something that won’t work for you. I’m here to tell you that if something isn’t working, maybe you need to look deeper into yourself to find out why.
Do you know your Myers-Briggs personality type? Do you swear by outlines or do you switch up your process project to project?