Teachers, Preachers, Plotters and Pantsters
by Niki Turner
When we were in ministry, my husband and I had to come to terms with our different methods, or styles, of studying and sharing God's word. He's a preacher, I'm a teacher. He studies and reads and meditates and prays, even takes copious notes. But when he gets behind the pulpit, the notes are forgotten. Sometimes he never gets to the subject he intended to speak about, ending up on a "rabbit trail" of Scripture and following the Holy Spirit. I tried his method a few times, and ended up stammering along about nothing for 30 minutes, leaving my bewildered Bible study class blinking owlishly at me.
I, on the other hand, study, take neatly outlined notes (with multi-colored highlighting sometimes), try to have two or three Scriptural references for every point, and follow those notes rigorously, from A to B to C to the conclusion. Three points and a prayer, and all that. It works for me, but my husband (when he tried it) felt constricted and locked up and unable to hear God's leading.
So it came as a surprise to me during the first week of National Novel Writing Month to realize part of my recent writing dilemna is the direct result of trying to apply that "teacher" method to my writing. After all, I SHOULD have an outline and a synopsis and character arcs and motivations before I start working on a project because that's what everyone else does, right? That's the logical, organized, systematic way to craft a novel. In my brain it makes sense and sounds lovely and appealing and so... tidy.
But in application? Apparently I'm a preacher when it comes to pounding out a story. I rarely know where I'm going to start and have little or no clue where I'm going until I get there. As I tried to explain to my spouse, for me, writing is a lot like reading. I don't know what's going to happen on the next page until I arrive. If I do know, I get bored and skip to the end.
This year, since I decided this year's NaNoWriMo was going to be a "purging the creative pipe" kind of experience, I just opened a blank document on Nov. 1 and started typing. I'm halfway through my 50,000 words.
I have a story. I have characters. I have a setting. I have some scenes. I don't have a synopsis, or an outline, or a well-planned plot, or a character arc, or any of those other literary/writerly terms. I'm not entirely sure the hero is not the bad guy in disguise. I don't know who killed the lady in the hotel courtyard, or why. I know just about as much as what's going on as the heroine. It's a little nervewracking. It's also much more fun (for me). I know plenty of "plotters" out there who would feel as hemmed in and constricted and repressed by this wild-and-free approach as I do by the orderly, logical, planned-out method.
It's been a reminder that we're all intensely, incredibly, unique beings. From our fingerprints to our DNA to our gifts and talents and abilities. We must learn to embrace that uniqueness and be the best US we can be, instead of trying to copy someone else's approach or method or style or system. Sure, we can try new things, but if we find those new things don't work, don't feel natural, quit struggling and go with the flow. Take it from one who has been trying to swim upstream as a plotter for the last year or two, only to find out ... I'm not even a salmon!
Readers: Can you tell which of your favorite writers are "teacher" types or "preacher" types from their writing? Does it matter?