HOW TO WRITE FROM THE HIP
Writing from the hip can be cumbersome to some, but freeing to others, like me. The previous post was about writing with a plan from start to finish. I’ve tried writing with a plan, and I find that the craft itself becomes more of a burden than a pleasure.
A lot of times, I have ideas in my head, and I have to see which direction they lead me before I can truly be committed to the ideas themselves. In order for me to see the direction, I have to let it flow, which ultimately means that I am usually one step ahead of my pen.
Some writers find this difficult, because they feel that they are unable to connect plot points logically in their head. However, I have found the contrary to be true. In fact, in my post Frozen, I discuss how oftentimes characters reach a point in the story that’s difficult to navigate because there are so many paths that a character could take. In those moments as writers, we tend to freeze, not knowing which avenue to take.
Writing from the hip helps to solve Writer’s Freeze, because we are forced to keep the pen moving, no matter how indecisive we are.
For instance, let’s say your main-character-hitman busts into a room and sees three people when there should have only been one. He must make some quick decisions, so he can A) Kill everyone in the room, B) Kill the target and escape, or C) Cancel the hit altogether.
Each of those options gives a very different outcome to the story as a whole, and you must decide which is better. A “planning” writing must and should map out each of the options equally to see which fits the story best. A “hipster” should just move forward with what feels right. And if it doesn’t work, then rewrite it from a different decision.
Does writing from the hip create more work for the writer? Not necessarily. A planner spends most of her time planning each detail, and then goes on writing from there. A hipster just moves forward, resulting in pages and pages of rewrites. What’s important is to determine which way is more liberating for you as an author.
If you’re okay with chunks of rewritten pages, then become a hipster. If you want to keep your rewrites to a minimal, then become a planner. And notice I said “a minimal,” because you will ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS have to do some degree of rewriting.
TECHNIQUES FOR HIPSTERS
Developing techniques for hipsters is not as cut and dry as developing techniques for planners. But I do think that techniques can and should be utilized. After all, the subtitle of this blog is “HOW TO WRITE FROM THE HIP,” not “WHY WRITE FROM THE HIP.”
So here’s what I do.
1. Be willing to abandon an idea, even if it means that you’ll have to untangle a major plot thread.
Many times there’ll be some things that seem to fit when you’re a hipster, but as the story goes on, it just seems more like a dead-end – something that you really can’t tie down in a fluent fashion. Learn to just let it go.
Often times I am tempted to keep weak threads because I feel like I’ve spent so much time working on them. But the truth is that a weak thread equals a weak read, and the Story is King.
2. Be willing to invite an extra idea, even if it means you’ll have to tangle it into a major plot thread.
Writing from the hip gives hipsters the disadvantage of not being able to see the future like the planners. We get to live in the moment more, expressing and feeling the emotions of the characters as their journey goes along.
There have been a host of times where I’ve had to go back and weave in some key idea because it was missing from the original story. One example that I’m working on now is that I’m doing my pre-pre-final edit of the The Black Lands. I just realized that one of my characters needs a little more personality, so I’m going to go back and add in that personality throughout. Had I known this from the beginning, I wouldn’t have to suffer through this rewrite, but The Story is King.
3. Be willing to push forward with an idea.
The main advantage that hipsters have in writing from the hip is that we get “in the moment” ideas of what our characters are feeling, so when they make decisions, it’s a true and authentic decision that’s not contrived by a plot-driven desire.
So let me pull that statement back a bit, because it is not a slight on planners. When planning, it’s easy to become plot-driven because we know what we want to happen. When that foreknowledge is taken away, or hindered let’s say, then we are forced to battle through the hordes of soldiers with our characters and hope that the outcome is a good one.
Okay, that sounds counterintuitive, I know. But at the end of the day, a hipster can’t just be firing off shots into the darkness. She must have a plan – an end goal, and she must have a means to get there.
Does that mean you have to draw out everything you do? No. It just means that there should be a series of events in your head that you want to connect.
So hipsters should have at least some form of a plan, just like planners should not be afraid to write from the hip.
What are your thoughts? Which technique do you lean towards more?
In my just-published novel, I a couple of major re-writes where a story thread began to roll in the direction opposite of how I wanted the story to end, and I had to go back and change what I was doing. The worst was a good 15-page section that I chopped (in my head, I swear I heard the sound of a VHS rewinding…) For all of that, though, I love writing from the hip. It feels more organic and leaves me more excited to write more, because even I want to know what’s next!
Yikes – 15 pages! Yeah that’s painful. I’ve definitely had my word dumps, and it’s not fun. But you’re right, organic writing feels more fun, and figuring out how the characters are going to get themselves out of their difficult jams makes it all worth it.