Paint by Numbers
I attended the DFW Conference in Dallas last week, which was truly a wonderful experience which I will detail for you in another post, but the topic today is something I heard at the conference. What that was got under my skin so much that I have to exorcise it before it festers.
I’m sure everyone is familiar with the eternal debate/discussion of plotter vs pantser. It’s one of those questions that if you talk to a writer for any length of time will eventually come up. Does your writing process involve making some version of an outline before the actual writing begins (plotting), or do you make up the story as you go along (pantsing)?
I’m a plotter…always have been, but I know plenty of writers from both sides of the aisle. Personally, I can’t fathom writing any other way, but I realize there is no ONE RIGHT WAY to write a book. The conversation about which method works the best has always been neutral, both sides realizing that whatever works…works for them. But at the conference this past weekend I heard not one, but TWO, rather famous writers refer to using an outline as “painting by the numbers”. I was in shock the first time it came out, but I chalked it up to the presenter fumbling for a clarifying thought and maybe they ended up expressing themselves poorly. But then I heard it again, from a different presenter! It flew all over me this time. This wasn’t some isolated brain-fart where someone groped for an explanation and chose badly…like a slipping climber latching onto an electrical wire instead of a rope. No, it was as if both authors were saying that those of us who choose to utilize an outline were less creative and not as spontaneous – that marking a canvas ahead of the time for brush strokes limited the creator and compelled them to stay within the lines. Even though one of the writers backtracked later and admitted that using an outline would probably make her a more efficient writer, the damage was already done.
Here’s what bothers me. Though both of the authors may not have meant it in such a way, the connotation their analogy provokes does not shine a favorable light on out-liners. Do any of you wonder if outlining squelches the creative process and forces writers to become regimented and deliberate? Let me enlighten you. Not at all…not for this writer! How common is this belief though? It’s also possible that one of the authors may have actually heard it from the other, which could even be worse. These analogies spread like wildfire, and how many other conferences will these two be speaking at in the near future?
The morale of the story…do not try and explain how different writing styles are viewed through your eyes. The better approach for both of these authors would have been to simply comment with something like – “Outlining doesn’t work for me.” Instead they both chose to explain something in an off-handed manner they clearly don’t understand, and in the process they lost a future reader.