Stephanie Burgis
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Real writers
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One of the things I love about Livejournal is how the "friends" page gathers together so many of the blogs that I read, and it sets them in clear contrast with each other. So, for instance, today I read Will Shetterly explaining why he will always use outlines for his novels from now on, and how he's had to fight the idea that "real writers don't use outlines" to learn that outlines really are best for him. Then, just a few minutes later, I read Steven Brust, in the middle of Chapter 16 of his new book, hoping to find out soon what in the world will happen next to his characters. The mixture of those two perspectives makes me very happy. For the record, I think Will Shetterly and Steven Brust are both wonderful writers - which is exactly why I read their journals! - but for myself as a writer, there's nothing better than seeing both perspectives expressed wittily and well, because I still have to fight those messages of "Real writers do [x]..." all the time.

I remember when I was an undergraduate I was told by a friend that I couldn't possibly be a real writer, because I didn't talk about my writing all the time to everyone I met socially, at parties, dinners, etc. (unlike the creative writing majors s/he knew, who shaped the definition of "real writer" status). Looking back, this sounds ridiculous. Even at the time, I did have the snarky thought: So real writers are all arrogant and self-obsessed? But snarky self-defense system or no, I was still crushed, and the wound stayed for quite a while, nagging at me. And of course, by then I'd managed to develop a long, miserable list of self-attacking definitions. Real writers (unlike me) majored in creative writing at college, wore all black, all the time, wanted to live in artistically urban studio apartments instead of dog-friendly houses, definitely didn't want any cuddly dogs or children...

Well, by the time I finished Clarion, I'd realized how silly my first list was, thank God. But then I promptly came up with a new list. Real writers (so unlike me!) wrote strictly to outline and had the plot all figured out (using Roman numeral organization) before they ever wrote the first word of a short story or a novel; real writers wrote all-serious, all-angsty pieces all of the time (whereas I only wrote them some of the time); real writers...well, you get the idea.

Then I went to my first WorldCon, in Philadelphia in 2001, and heard Nancy Kress (one of my favorite SF writers in the world) say very casually that yes, of course she figured out the plot eventually as every book went along, which meant she generally went through several drafts and had to insert all the foreshadowing later, after she'd figured out what the heck happened in the end of the book. And why not? That's just the way it worked for her.

And I breathed a very deep sigh of relief. It didn't make me think that real writers couldn't use outlines. It was too late for that - I'd already met wonderful professional writers who did, and besides which, I only ever came up with "real writer" rules that excluded me and my methods. Instead, it made something different happen. It made me realize: "real writers" do all sorts of different things. And that's okay.

Today I started Chapter Seventeen of Kat, not really knowing what was going to happen. And then it hit me, and I laughed out loud with sheer delight, because I loved that idea so much, and because it worked so perfectly as a twist on everything that had already happened, fitting in so neatly that it was almost as if someone (not me!) had planned it that way all along. Some people probably could have planned it out ahead of time and really enjoyed the anticipation of building towards that moment - and that would be a different but equally fun kind of wonderful for them as writers. Personally, though, I could never have plotted it out ahead of time - I needed to already be in the forest with Kat and the highwayman, listening to them banter, for the perfect twist on the situation to occur, glimmering in the dark.

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