Discovery Writing is Weird

Discovery writing is weird. And amazing. And weird. And fun.


I’m a list-making type-A type of person, so when I first decided to write fiction, I thought I’d be a plotter. I’d know what was going to happen, to whom, and when.

I tried that with my first novel (Squeee! I still giggle thinking I’ve written and published a novel. Squeee!). I studied beats and three act structures and books on How to Write a Cozy Mystery and Plotting, etc. I plotted, some. I knew who the victim was and who did it and where it happened. I knew the big stuff.

I tried plotting out the small stuff.

My characters had other ideas.

I’d sit down to write and they’d take off like they had minds of their own. And I realized, they do have minds of their own. These aren’t simply caricatures that I make up. I’m channeling something, some creativity, some force.

Stephen King talks about this in On Writing. Elizabeth Gilbert mentions it in Big Magic. A gazillion other storytellers have said the same thing.

It’s given me permission to acknowledge that hey, I’m just the messenger.

Now, I realize I’m doing more than transcribing. It’s not like some ethereal being is whispering in my ear (or is she….). I put a lot of thought, and I mean a *lot* of thought into my characters, the setting, and what happens. I revisit as I write. Does that make sense? Oh, I need to set that up.

It’s the setting up part that blows me away. For example, in Peril on the Peninsula, William grabbed a honey crisp, rubs it against his shirt, and took a bite. Until he did that, I had no idea there was a bowl filled with apples on the island. Until I wrote a scene a few chapters later, I had no idea why there needed to be a bowl on the island. And then I wrote that scene and the lightbulb flashed and I sat there in absolute wonder.

So that’s what they mean, I thought.

I’m writing my second novel (almost done!) and I’m trusting the process, trusting my characters, a lot more. I’m not getting used to the idea that they’ll tell me what’s happening, because that implies a sense of complacent acceptance. Every morning, when I sit down and begin typing, I’m enthralled with what comes out.

A few thousand words ago, this WIP (Work In Progress, as we say in the biz. Aren’t I cool for knowing acronyms like WIP now? I feel cool.) concerned me. I didn’t know where it was going. But then I decided to trust the process. Trust the universe. Trust myself.

And the words are FLYING. I am having a blast. I’m having so much freaking fun.

This morning I wrote the beginning. I didn’t plan to start writing this book in media res (another writing term. See? I’m soooo cool.), but I didn’t want to begin it the same way I began my first novel: with my protagonist arriving.

And then I realized, wait! That’s exactly how I should begin each novel in this series. It sets up the anticipation for the readers. Where’s Alex this time? And since it’s a mystery, you know someone’s going to meet their untimely end; it’s only a matter of who, why, and how.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be a full-on discovery writer. I like fleshing out the who, why, and how. It’s the how Alex uncovers the mystery that I’m leaving to the muse. I’ll let her tell me.

For now. It’s my second novel. That may change. But in the meantime…


Leave a Comment