Navigation menu

Thursday, August 11, 2022

The Happy Wanderer (Or How I Follow the Hybrid Method of Writing)

When Libby and I are at the beach, we take a walk down our gravel road for her…er, constitutional. On one side, there’s a tidal creek, and at high tide, there may be six or seven feet of water. We might chase a few fiddler crabs or see minnows darting, but mostly, it’s floating sticks or the occasional clump of marsh grass. A perfectly innocent, picturesque tidal creek. 

But at night, it’s a different story. In the gloomy shadows, it’s a creepy, downright scary stream of doom. Who knows what lurks in those tidal creek depths? Sharp-toothed alligators?! (Yes, there are alligators around here, once seen swimming in the ocean!) Rabid otters? Maybe even a junior sea serpent, or a selkie, or the creature from the marshy Black Lagoon! 

The point is, my imagination runs wild when the environment changes and that triggers different, not to mention exciting stories as I mentally wander in the darkness. Which brings me to all the stories we write and how a bit of wandering might change everything. 

I know writers never tire of the pantser vs. plotter writing approach but the longer I create stories, the more I wonder if there are any writers who truly follow one method over the other? It’s not so much a pantser OR a plotter as it is somewhere in between. A pantser/plotter hybrid if you will. At least for me, and at least for fiction. 

And I’m pretty okay with mixing it up. Some of my best stories come from a bit of mental wandering in the middle of the firmest plot notes. It’s exciting when I stop for a moment and think, “What if?” When I dutifully check my carefully enumerated points and know what I’m supposed to be writing but I pause…and then say to myself, “Cathy, old girl, what if you just mosey down this interesting trail?”

And once that happens, I sigh and wave a fond farewell to my painstakingly-written plot notes. I swallow the red pill and fall down the rabbit hole to something entirely different from what I meticulously planned. 

Sometimes, it can be glorious writing that brings out surprising truths in my characters and story, truths I didn’t know were lurking right there, under the surface! And sometimes, it can be a colossal waste of time and energy and a big, fat clump of dead-end sticks. But as you can probably guess, only the writing of the wandering will tell. 

In my latest manuscript, I had—as I almost always do—a fairly firm plot all worked out. A wonderful plot. Really. But somewhere along the way, I strayed off the track. Honestly, I don’t remember exactly where or what made me pause, sit back in my chair, and ask, “What if?” I only know, to paraphrase the famous Frost poem

 Two plots diverged in a manuscript and I— 
I took the one I wandered by, 
And that has made all the difference. 

 (So what do you think? Do you mix it up with your writing methods or will you stand by your style, no matter what? Also, bonus points if you recognized the song alluded to in the title of this post!)


  1. Cathy--I am a combo. Sometimes I veer from my pantser path, although rarely do I end up with "painstakingly-written plot notes." Unfortunately, often my research leads me onto a different and unrelated path.

    Keep Libby away from those gators. ;) To them, she'd be a tender treat.

  2. It's funny, Sioux, now that I think about it. Plotters will wander off the well-planned path but pantsers probably rarely decide to suddenly start plotting! :-)

    And yes, I'm a nervous wreck when Libs gets close to the creek's edge at night! I've never seen or heard of an alligator in the tidal creek but that doesn't mean there can't be a first time, right? And P.S. I'm the only one that thinks that way around here. But then, I'm the only writer around here. :-)

  3. Hi Cathy,
    Ploster? Is that a thing? It depends entirely on what I am writing.

    Some pieces come with a plan and stick to it. Others are exploratory and had nothing more than an ending in sight when I started.

    And some start one way and end up the other. I think we just have to follow where the story goes.

    I have learned the hard way not to take the compost out at midnight while listening to a Dean Koontz audio book. I'm fairly certain all I heard was a possum, but why take chances?

  4. I'm a "Plantser" for sure. I start with an outline and then just color outside the lines and all over the place. :)

    Love your photo. When I lived in the Valley, I used to go hiking at Corriganville Movie Ranch, where they filmed parts of The Creature From the Black Lagoon (and The African Queen). They had a man made lagoon and under the bridge was a concrete room with square windows for filming the underwater scenes. It was pretty creepy looking, but nothing like running into real alligators!

  5. Sue, I can only read Koontz in the middle of the day with the sun shining BRIGHTLY. And Ang, I'm not so sure about your Lagoon. I think that concrete room is the stuff of nightmares!

    And yes, going outside the lines, following where the story takes way or the other, we get there. Whew, right?!

  6. I tend to wander, revise, wonder why I didn't think of that sooner. Yeah, I am a wanderer even when I have a clear vision.


We love to hear from readers! Please leave a comment. :)