I just finished the fourth of ten short stories for a Christmas collection I want to release next year. Three scenes. Forty-eight hundred words. It took me six weeks.
Yes, you read that right. Six Weeks. How is that possible?
It's because I tried something new. I got impatient with myself and my tried-and-true process of detailed pre-writing that includes a plot outline. After all, I told myself, it's only three scenes. I should be able to start with a couple of characters and a general premise and bang something cute out in no time. Everyone else seems to be able to do it, or at least they say they do.
For several years I've suffered from "pantser envy". So many writers talk about letting the story flow, letting the characters take over, being surprised by where their story takes them. It sounds so seductive, so creative. A few will admit this method slows them down or causes extra work during editing and re-writes, but most pantsers seem satisfied with their process.
I tried, and it paralyzed me. I found every imaginable excuse not to work. I knew the beginning and the end, but had no idea how to get there. Without an outline, the story refused to reveal itself. I hadn't done enough pre-writing. I didn't know my characters well enough to know what they wanted and needed.
Some writers say even the idea of an outline stifles their creativity. For me, it's always been the most creative part of writing. It's when I get to make the story up, visualize the whole thing, then write it down without having to worry about craft issues. It's formalized brainstorming, fast forward from beginning to end. When I've finished my outline, I know what happens next. For me that banishes writer's block. Small surprises pop up along the way, but they delight rather than paralyze me.
I thought I wouldn't need an outline for a short story, but apparently I do. I'd like to finish this short story collection and one complete novel by the end of next year. If I don't try to reinvent the wheel and apply a reasonable amount of self-discipline, I think I can do it.
The moral of this story: Honor your own process; it won't let you down.