By Adrienne Proctor
To me, writing has meant embracing my messiness.
I’m not talking metaphorical mess. That would be a whole other post. No, I mean my literal messiness. In my everyday life I’m untidy about most things—cooking, laundry, cleaning (yes, even my cleaning is messy). As a student in art school, I’d always end a studio session covered in paint, charcoal, pencil smudges, ink, or glue, whatever we might be working with that day. Despite concerted efforts to keep my tee shirts and plaid pants clean, I’d still end up at the sink to wash my hands thinking how on earth I got that splatter of red and blue on my thigh. I’m sure there were days when I even walked down the halls with charcoal streaked across my face.
I guess it’s only natural that it would spill over into my writing. But here’s the thing about it. I’ve been told for years that I need to clean up. Yes, I was the kid who argued about making my bed in the morning because, Mom, I’m just going to get back into it again. No one’s going to see it during the day. What difference does it make?
I’m sure I was super not annoying as a kid.
So I’ll admit it. I write sloppy. I spill words onto the page without a plan, without knowing the character completely, or the setting, or sometimes even the full plot. Okay, who am I kidding. It’s not sometimes. It’s every time. I write an ending scene first. I jump around, from the end, to the beginning, to the middle and back again. I edit as I go. Sometimes I leave notes in the margin with a million questions, each one potentially taking the story in a different direction.
And it never fails that somehow, I think this is the wrong way to write. I get outline envy and try to make my own, to figure out a direction before I take off. I’ll have a better draft, I think. It might not take me as long, I tell myself. Look at all those other writers who make beautiful complicated spreadsheets. Their way might be better. Then I get stuck.
One day it finally hit me. Agonizing over a chapter that just wouldn’t work no matter what my outline said, I realized was working against myself. I was trying to clean up when I should have left that bed unmade. (Sorry, Mom!)
Being messy can be a valid process, too. If that’s the way my brain works best, then I should accept it. Drafting a story in my own circuitous, chaotic way allows me to write the best story I can. And that’s the point, right?
I always admire those super organized writers, but I’ve tried to stop making myself into something I’m not. Because here’s the thing—in accepting that I work the way that I work, I can enjoy the process. My process. I’ve learned to love the feel of it, the total immersion and the organic discovery of the story that comes with getting my writing hands dirty. Instead of worrying about the mess I might make, I’m concentrating on making the best product I can. It shouldn’t matter how the path looks to anyone else. The point is that it works for me and it gets novels written.
I can always clean it up later. Like my room. Yeah, right.
Adrienne Proctor is a fantasy writer working in Richmond, Virginia. When she’s not writing, she enjoys archery, playing board games with her kids, and taking care of her insane chickens. You can follow her on Twitter @almccall and sometimes you can find her on her neglected blog.