Linda Maye Adams

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.


  1. 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.


    • 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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