Many of you may remember the “Herding Cats” commercial from several years ago. This is close to what my wife has been trying to do for the past few days since the Garland EF-4 tornado, as I mentioned in a previous post. The only difference is that the cats she’s after are in hiding, either outside the disaster zone or inside the “Red Zone” (i.e., the area deemed too dangerous for anyone to enter).
I’ve thought about her efforts and have come to the conclusion that there is a similarity between her attempts at herding cats and writing. Don’t get me wrong: I am not comparing anything to the level of effort she has put forth (which has been Herculean, considering the chaos and red tape she’s faced). I merely state that what she’s trying to accomplish is similar to what writers have to face whenever we pull out the writing implement of our choice.
First, a confession: I am a pantser. I spent more than a year chasing ideas that had been running up and down the alleyways of my mind. Whenever I’d get one idea in order, another one would either pop up or get out of line. I spent a lot of time going after these stray ideas and getting them back into the herd, only to find that another idea had gone astray when I returned.
There are people who would laugh and give me a hearty “I told you so” over this—people who outline or pre-plot as many details as possible before making keystroke one on their computers. I won’t argue against their methods. For them, they work. I would still suggest that they are gathering their own herd of feral felines and trying to bring them into the final corral as they create their outline/plot/whatever.
I believe ideas don’t come to anyone in the form of an outline. Creativity doesn’t work that way, as far as I know. Non-pantsers still have to herd their own cats, but they spend time chasing them down and putting them into the chute of an outline/plot/etc. before they start writing their novel proper. In short, I believe they do the same thing that a pantser does, but with an extra organizational step between herding and writing.
I can’t work that way. My ideas are seriously feral—even my musical ideas. I have no chutes in my brain with which I can organize my thoughts into a semi-orderly procession before letting them out onto the page. I can only set out a few traps, see what ideas crawl into them, and use them as each trap slams shut.
The point here is that everyone who writes has their own group of cats to herd, be they pantser or organizationalist. You just have to figure out how you want to spend your time chasing them.