Most people would say that fiction writers are creative people, and it goes without saying that logical thinkers can also be creative people. Thus (logically) meaning that those same logical thinkers can also be fiction writers.
In the world of personality testing, throughout my formative teenage years and young adult life—until now—I have tested steadily as an INTJ. Naturally, I know the Myers-Briggs paradigms are not all-encompassing forces capable of stuffing my personality into the confinements of four capitalized letters. But it goes without saying that there are some definitive character points that the test highlights—one of them being that I am a THINKER rather than a FEELER. And that I do base all of my decisions, insights, and thoughts on logic. Obsessively so.
When writing objective papers, I consider logic an asset. I get my facts, mull over the structure, and then write it in one fell swoop—confident that my writing has justified the research and that I have gotten my point across. When I’m writing fiction, however, I find that my reliance on logic can be a hindrance. You see, one of the beautiful things about deeply creative people is their ability to imagine a concept, to create an idea, and then build from it. In that respect, imagining something has never been the problem for me—instead, my problems lie in execution.
Let’s take my method of writing, for instance:
Though I do rely on my intuition, most of my word choices are purposeful. I know exactly when I’m using alliteration and why I’m using it. I know two sentences chime on the basis of internal rhymes (here, for instance, I rhymed within the sentence—unintentionally, I promise, but I still knew I did it). I know the repetition of the first word (anaphor) is a literary stylistic device and that it works. I don’t necessarily count syllables in my fiction, but I make sure the prosody is right—sometimes spending hours obsessing over a paragraph simply because it sounds wrong to me. And at that point, when I look out my window and realize it has been dark for five hours and I’m hungry and I don’t remember what I was writing in the first place, I realize that I’ve left the creativity of words behind and entered the mathematics of them. And when I start doing that, I know I’ve got to find something else to do.
Instead of just putting word after word onto paper (as most writing handbooks would suggest), I get fixated on the details. Everything must bend to my will, work just the way I hear and see it in my head. Every detail must be in order. Every word, sentence, paragraph must be right. I write from start to finish, linearly. And if I come to a part that I can’t explain, then I back track in the story and then brainstorm, write, rewrite, and research until it all makes sense. I know my characters, I know their actions, their reactions, I know what will happen, and when I don’t, I stare at the screen or go to a different project, until some part of my mind works out the particulars.
This also comes out, for instance, when I’m doing writing prompts with my writer’s group. Writing prompts, as far as I can tell, are creative exercises that build primarily off the question what if. But I am not a what if writer; I’m a why writer. That doesn’t mean that I never ask what if; I simply ask why a lot more.
When I see a writing prompt, I get frustrated by the lack of detail. I am a person who hones in on the narrow aspects of a work; I work myself from the outside in. First the universe is created, then the people, then the problems, etc. If I’m going to write a spur of the moment piece or scene of fiction, then I generally have to draw from an already logical world set up in my head. I panic when I haven’t had the leisure of working with a character. I don’t know how to write just three paragraphs about a random human being, in a random world, in a random situation—not without asking why. Which ultimately defeats the challenge of the writing prompt.
When I’m writing my own novel, I don’t ask: what if my world has three moons? and then move on with the story. I can’t just be content with the fact that three moons orbit the planet and that the people worship them as deities. I can’t just continue with this in mind and let the relevant information work itself out along the way.
Nope. In my head, if those three moons exist, I’ve noted them, and then I’ve started asking: why are there three but not four? why do they reflect different colors? why are they named Moe, Curly, and Larry? why does this one group of people worship them? why were those people who worship the Moe moon ever created in the first place? why are they important? why are they wearing gray if the moon is blue? why is their temple of worship located in a swamp under a pillar of stones?
Then I get depressed when I can’t answer the 151 different questions I’ve asked about the three moons and their worshipers, which leads to more depression over the fact that I’ve just come up with 151 more questions that have to do with other facets of my world.
And by the end of it, my primary question is: why am I even bothering with this story? why do I suck?
Which leads to: nothing I write makes any damn sense.
Yeah. I ask why a lot. It doesn’t matter whether the information I’m seeking won’t actually appear in the novel. My inherent curiosity is to know everything I can about what I’m doing. If, for one second, I don’t feel like an expert on the subject or the facts somehow don’t add up, I get flustered, confused, obsessed with solving the problem. It drives me nuts, but I can’t help it. I’ve been known to put stories on hold for years or to rewrite them over and over, simply because there’s a plot point I can’t figure out, a POV question I can’t answer, or some issue with the third-cousin of a king of an unnamed nation that doesn’t link correctly to the story in question.
You get my point.
Good writers should be aware of details, but not so bogged down in them that they don’t know when to come up for air. I don’t know that I can necessarily change my writing process – if obsessing endlessly over the logic of a story can actually be considered a writing process at all – but there are definitely measures I’ve taken to circumvent my own self-imposed why-asking need-for-logical-answers-in-my-fantasy-universe suffering.
For instance, I give myself deadlines. Deadlines mean I’ll have to get it done no matter what. And even if I’m up all night asking WHY, at least I’ll be up all night writing regardless so that I meet said deadline.
I go into writing prompts with one of my already existing story ideas (worlds, whatever else) and therefore effectively kill two birds with one stone: I write for my story, I write for the prompt. I don’t ask why so much.
I talk about the story with someone and ask him/her “why is this like this?” or “why do you think I should go about it this way?” and usually if I’m looking too much at the little details, then that someone will say: “WRITE THE DAMN STORY MICHELLE. JUST WRITE IT!”
I have gotten in the habit of putting brackets in the parts of the story I’m unsure about, such as: [look this up later]. It irks me to leave it unattended, but at least I’ve acknowledged that it is there so that I can return to it later.
I don’t know how it works for other logic-based creative writers, but that search for perfectionism—toeing the fine line between creativity and logical principles—is a constant battle. In my head, I realize that it doesn’t matter—that it’s only a first draft—but I’m still going to work hard to put out the best, most complete draft that I can. I know those two paragraphs that I’ve been staring at for ten hours can be reworked at a later date, but I’m still not moving on with the story until I feel that those two paragraphs are singing on that paper just as they are singing in my head. I know the three moons are going to be there regardless of my explanations and that the people of my made up world probably don’t ponder their existence even a fraction of the way I do, but I’m still going to know, damn it.
I try to believe that my perfectionism, though a pain, does at times serve me well, or that the obsessive desire to know is what makes writing so special to me. Because I want to know everything about everyone everywhere. I want to discover and learn and it’s marvelous. Because when I do hit that sweet spot—find a rhythm, have creative confidence in my knowledge, love the world and the direction the story has taken—I truly feel like I have the power to say anything that I want to say. And, at the end of the day, when I write what matters to me, the way I want to write it, and I question myself the whole way, I do find my answers.
Most of the time, they are answers to questions that I’ve never actually asked, but still . . . they are answers that make me happy.
The writing process of each individual is always a fascinating (for me, at least) topic. Are there any other logic-based creative writers out there who would like to share their processes? Leave a note below in the comments section!