Thursday, August 26, 2010

Five Years Later

I was thinking this morning about how much I've changed as a writer over the last five years and what it all means.

Five years ago, I was a mad outliner. I did these crazy outlines that might run 20 or 30 single-space pages where I mapped out everything that happened. Ultimately, I was after control. I like complicated books with lots of moving pieces; I like books with five or six plot lines that converge in the end to really pop. So I approached writing a bit like a chess player approaches the board—I wanted all my pieces in play, and I wanted to make it all fit together like a clock.

Five years later, I still like the same kind of books, but the way I'm trying to get there is dramatically different. For the book I'm working on now, I've done one page of notes for an outline. I did a few first-person character sketches so I could get the characters' voices right. And that's pretty much it.

The interesting thing about this book, as opposed to others I've worked on, is the element of surprise. I'm continually surprised by what's happening on the page. I go into scenes knowing what just happened, and sort of suspecting who will be involved, but then I'm frequently surprised by what comes next.

I think the real difference is that I've surrendered control over the book to the characters in the book. Over and over again, I've reached points when I thought, "Well, so-and-so would naturally do this, but I don't really want that to happen that way because I don't know what to do next." But then I go ahead and jump and write it anyway the way that's natural to the moment. So far, the amazing thing to me is that it's always managed to work out somehow.

The idea of surrendering to a story is new to me, and it couldn't be more different from where I started years ago. In a way, even though I know how this story ends, I'm just as curious as anyone to see how I'll get there.


Jude Hardin said...

I work in much the same way, Jon. I think it's a good way to go!

E. Flanigan said...

Jon, YOU ARE AWESOME! Your evolution as a person and as a writer are beautifully intertwined, so that each grows the other.

That's the amazing thing about watching you over the past few years. The end result is not even the point. Although publication would be extremely rewarding and validating, and that external process has at times been challenging, it is nothing compared to the process you've chosen to submit to INTERNALLY.

It is a pleasure to witness. Keep going :)

Jon VanZile said...


Thanks. You must be getting excited ... every month brings you closer to The Date.

Jon VanZile said...


You're making me blush :)

Kath Calarco said...

At least now you have an answer for those voices in your head. ;-)

Seriously, I've never in all my life experienced the personal evolution that this writing path has dealt. Constantly growing in several ways, and chronically learning. If I never see the light of publishing, I'm grateful for the significant, positive impact it has had on me.

Jon VanZile said...


I feel exactly the same way. I'm almost superstitious about changing my intended path because of it.