Writing With the Jellyfish

Have you ever been to the aquarium and seen the jellyfish?  I went to the National Aquarium, and they had a tank full of ethereal jellyfish.  I could have stood there for hours and watched them.  They don’t swim, or move — they go with the flow of the currents.  That’s the way it feels like when I write a novel without an outline — pantsing.

Glowing an eerie blow, ethereal jellyfish float in a tank.

Post updated 5/28/2012

But it’s tough being a pantser.  If you’re one, you know we can scare outliners because our process is so chaotic.  It can be challenging to get a story finished and working.  So I took a workshop that used a “pantser friendly” outline, thinking I just needed to find the right type of outline.  There are many stories about pantsers seeing the light and discovering outlines.

The workshop turned into a 4-week nightmare.  I watched as the instructor gave out the lessons, and every other writer instantly got the concepts.  Me?  I was left to mechanically follow the steps without understanding what I was doing.  I couldn’t connect my creativity to outline.  I almost quit the workshop every week because it was that much of a struggle for me.  It was like swimming against a strong current.

But I had to try it, because failing at it was a breakthrough for me.  I understand that my process was unique to me, and I needed to find ways that would work within it.  Sometimes all the other things outside of us — craft books, other writers — can be too strong of an influence, and we spend our time trying to fit instead of finding our way.  I still find myself unlearning things so my process can work the way it’s supposed to.

For you:  Have you focused on getting it “right” according to someone else’s standards?  Post your comments below.

5 thoughts on “Writing With the Jellyfish

  1. Pingback: Writing With the Jellyfish – Post Update « Linda Adams

  2. I took a 90 days to rough draft class over the winter that required an outline. I struggled with the outline then failed miserably at following it scene by scene. The most helpful thing I learned is that I don’t do well with outlines. Once I threw it out I was able to write freely and get something accomplished. I’m scribbling ideas down and working them into the story as they fit. Strict outlining killed my creativity.


    1. It’s amazing what seems to easy to other people can be some a frustrating experience to someone else. I like the idea of scribbling down ideas. I’ve been keeping a Moleskine notebook and using it as a memory dump. I may never use some of them, but I won’t forget them!


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