In his interview this month with Jeff Ayers, suspense writer David Rosenfelt described his writing method, which was not only to eschew outlining, but to rarely know what was going to happen three pages from wherever he was currently writing. I am still a little surprised to hear this from mystery and suspense writers who so often place a premium on plot twists and withheld information, but Rosenfelt is by no means the only writer in this genre who works this blindly. I have long felt that one does not learn how to write so much as one learns to write how one writes. That is, after getting some kind of grounding in the fundamentals of story and characters and pacing and so on, your most important and continuing education is discovering how it is you work. No book can ever teach you this.
Because to some degree, the question is not, “What do I want to write,” but, “What do I want to feel like when I write?” I had never thought about this until recently. I had taken for granted a certain kind of labored suffering, a certain amount of fear, a certain amount of drafting. But then I asked myself, “What do you want it to feel like when you write?” And I realized the answer was not a lot of what I had been feeling when I wrote.
I plan to do this every day, more or less, for the rest of my life. I want it to be as enjoyable as possible. I decline the concept of required suffering. Yes there will be days when it doesn’t come so easily, but I must ask myself, again and again, how does it come most easily for me? What comes most easily for me? What do I want to feel like when I’m working?
Therefore, on the days that go well, ask yourself, “What was different about today?” Yes, I know sometimes it simply comes better than other days, but sometimes there are other factors as well. Sometimes you have delightfully low expectations; sometimes you aren’t thinking about your editor or your deadline; sometime you have outlines; sometime you are writing humor. There are no rules. You are not just discovering a story when you write, you are discovering how you discover, and within that mystery lies the delicious ease that is you being you.