I had major difficulty with today’s post. I almost gave up.
There. I said it. Now I can move on.
I drafted several different things on several different topics, and just couldn’t get excited about any of them.
I considered a post on following one’s dreams and aspirations. I considered another on having the courage to follow one’s dreams (okay, that’s the same idea). I debated the merits of a post about a co-worker who has been planning her husband’s surprise birthday party for over a month. The big day is Saturday and he’s given no indication that he even has a clue. She’s starting to think he’s a moron.
That last one made me laugh until my sides split, but I still couldn’t get thrilled about a write-up when a couple of sentences would cover it.
And then I remembered a dream I had the other day when I was taking a nice afternoon nap.
I was in that between state. You know the one where you’re not quite asleep but you’re not really awake and if you try to move, nothing happens? Yeah, there. My mind was drifting and all of a sudden my Muse shouted, “Drop your filter!”
She was super loud. I was very comfy and she startled me.
But Good Muse, too. She made an excellent point: a filter can really get in the way of creative writing.
A filter is great in the air conditioner and your car engine. It’s an absolute necessity in the coffee maker if we don’t want grounds in our morning brew. It comes in handy when your boss ticks you off and you want to tell him where to stick it, but you don’t, because you don’t want to lose your job. Sometimes, we use our filters to soften bad news and other times, we may hide behind them.
That last one, the hiding, isn’t a good choice. In our personal relationships, we may need to drop the filter and speak up to set boundaries and protect our emotional and mental well-being. That’s not easy, but may be necessary, and it is critical to vulnerability.
We also do ourselves a disservice when we hide behind our filter when we’re writing fiction. This holds true whether we are plotters or pantsters.
Let’s say we’re pantsters. We’re writing away, happily banging on the keyboard, words flying up and onto the screen. The creativity is flowing like that coffee, from pot to mug, smooth and hot. And then, all of a sudden, WHAM!!, the stream is cut off. We raise our fingers from the keys and stare at the screen. We stop, do a quick brain scan, and discover we got nothing. Or at least nothing that actually applies to the story we’re writing.
What if the only idea that lurks in our head would take our story straight into the mystical and the mystical has no place in what we’ve been writing? So now we’re sitting there, frustrated because we hit the wall and we can’t get this mystical thing out of our mind in order to get back to the story idea we were working on.
We just filtered ourselves and we have a few choices to make.
- Go ahead and write the mystical thing into the story. It can always be edited out later but it might just take things in a new direction that work better than what we started with.
- Open up a new document and write out notes for the mystical idea. There’s our next book.
- Hide behind the filter and throw the idea in the trash.
When pantsters stop writing because a filter appeared and halted the process, effectively creating writer’s block, what should they do?
Now, let’s consider plotters. These organized, detail-oriented souls outline and index card the whole story before they sit down to write. They’ve got a nice road map to follow and they’re unlikely to run up against any surprises. In fact, their first draft is not going to need nearly as much editing as that of a pantster.
But here’s the rub: when applying those detailing skills, isn’t it possible to get so locked into what’s been plotted that there’s no room for a new idea? To find oneself in the position of not being able to see the forest for the trees?
When plotters are drafting that outline and jotting scene ideas and the like on index cards, aren’t they, by the very nature of the detailed plotting, filtering themselves?
(Did you guess that I’m a pantster yet? The irony is that I am very organized and detail-oriented in most aspects of life but when it comes to my writing, the very thought of plotting it out beforehand slams up so many filters and roadblocks that I might as well pack up and go home.)
To sum up:
Coffee filter — good
Creative writing filter — bad.
At least in my opinion.
Which are you and what option above would you choose? What other suggestions do you have for dealing with a filter?