Confessions of a "Free Spirit" Writer

Thursday, June 17, 2021

On a day trip to Greenville, S.C.

Financial expert Dave Ramsey has a philosophy that people have different personality types when it comes to managing money. “Nerds” are the ones who like creating a financial budget, sticking to it, and keeping a close eye on the finances because it gives them a sense of security. “Free spirits” don’t like to be constrained by the budget and have more of a “I want to live life to the fullest—we’ll figure out how to make more money!” attitude. 

In our house, my husband is definitely the nerd most of the time with our finances and I’m more the free spirit. He’s always had a practical approach to money, although he does have a free spirit side that sneaks in occasionally. I feel like it has something to do with the way we were both raised—his family had to stick to a firm budget and his mom thought nothing of shopping at four different grocery stores to hit all the weekly sales. My parents should have been sticking to a budget but had more of the “We need new furniture even if we can’t really afford it!” attitude, which got us into trouble more often that I’d like to remember. They once bought an RV because they dreamed of driving it across the country, but instead, they ended up parking it on a lot and living in it for about a year and a half before selling it. They never took that cross country trip.

While I was thinking over these financial attitudes about money recently, it struck me that I also consider myself a “free spirit” when it comes to my writing. This is probably why I’m not a published novelist yet. I wrote my first few books without even a glimmer of an outline and only recently learned the beauty of outlining and storyboarding BEFORE starting a full-length novel. With my true crime podcast, I don’t have episodes planned out even six months ahead of time—instead, I brainstorm different themes for the show and then sort of back my way into them as I’m researching. I also try to plan content for my writing blog but fail time and again at keeping a consistent posting schedule. I have a daily gratitude journal but often find myself distracted and skip writing in it at least twice a week. 

I’ve interviewed writers over the years who consistently hit a word count goal each day, outline several novels at a time and have a detailed spreadsheet where they keep track of their submissions, acceptances, and rejections. They treat every aspect of their writing like a business, and they are way more successful than I’ll ever hope to be. 

There is some hope for this free spirit, though. The few fiction contests I’ve placed in were the ones where I sat down and wrote a story without stopping to overthink it or spent hours of time editing and revising it. When I have hard and fast deadlines (and in my day job as a magazine editor, I have plenty) I get my work done. I like to think my podcast episodes turn out well once I finally turn all the research into a coherent script. 

I’m interested to learn how many readers here considers themselves writing “nerds” or “free spirits.” Am I in good company? Is there hope for a “free spirit” to have successful creative writing career? 

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer, magazine editor and creator of the podcast, “Missing in the Carolinas.” Learn more about her at


Sioux Roslawski said...

Hi, I'm Sioux and I'm a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pantser... a free spirit. It has been five days since the last time I wrote without any kind of plan.

I think it's easier to write a long piece--a novel--when you're a nerd/planner/plotter. If you're telling a story that has a prearranged/historical timeline, that could allow you to still be a free spirit, because you could use the natural chronology of the story to be your outline. That helped me. I had a hour-by-hour real-life timeline to help keep me on track. I've written manuscripts--pure fiction--and they were hot messes that will never ever see the light of day again. (I apologize to those few writing friends who suffered through my early attempts at novel writing.)

Really lucky writers can just sit down and let the story unfold... and they don't have any outline or plot planned out. I don't know anybody like that. Like a unicorn or a universe where Viggo Mortensen might fall for an out-of-shape sixty-something-year-old St. Louis writer whose phone number is 314-555-1234 (in case that universe DOES exist), I hear they might exist, but I've never seen one.

My advice: come up with a loose plan, a bare-bones plot outline. Give yourself room to be a free spirit.

However, you might be better getting advice from Sue--the business-minded one. Or somebody else who is organized.

Good luck, Renee. I'm confident you can take that free "pantser" spirit and put some suspenders on it. (A belt would be too restrictive. Suspenders would keep the story in place, but allow some roominess for free thinking.)

Sue Bradford Edwards said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Hi Renee,

Hmm. I think I'm a writing nerd but not a business nerd. Does that make sense? My success comes more from being prolific and, to an extent, lucky more than it comes from being methodical in a business sense. Does that make sense?


Jeanine DeHoney said...

Renee, I'm a free spirit also but like you when there's a deadline, I get it done. So yes, there is hope for us who are free spirits, and as for you that just adds to your own unique style as a writer.

Angela Mackintosh said...

Renee, that waterfall looks nice right now--we've been in the triple digits and a few days ago it was 108!

I've always identified as a free spirit, but I'm also a perfectionist, so I can't easily pop out a piece and let it go without editing or revising. When I do, I have to pretend it's some kind of "experiment." ;) Being a free spirit is a great thing because you aren't overthinking it! I hit all deadlines for clients, but my own personal ones often go zooming by.

Did you live in the RV with your parents? That would be great material to mine from for an essay!

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