Writer’s Quote Wednesday – E.L. Doctorow

Writer’s Quote Wednesday is organised by Colleen from Silver Threading, and is a wonderful weekly series in which bloggers share the quotes which inspire them. I highly recommend checking them out.

This week my quote comes from E.L. Doctorow, an American author, known for his works of historical fiction.

Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as  your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. E. L. Doctorow.

This probably relates to pantsers more than plotters, and it’s certainly something I can relate to. It got me thinking about the journey, about the approaches we take and how we get there.

Jane Graves, a romance author, has talked about how this process works for her. She has a general idea of where the story will take her, but nothing comes to life until the words are on the page. She described it like this – ‘For me, it’s kind of like remembering the words to an old song. If you ask me the words, I can’t tell you. but if the song comes on the radio and I’m in the middle of listening to it, I can tell you what comes next.’

I experience a similar thing. It isn’t until I’m midway through a novel that I begin to realise what’s going to happen – that I can see further down the road.

Similarly, Nora Roberts has said that she never knows where her story is going – she sits down at her computer to find out!

On the flip side, Katherine Anne Porter said ‘If I didn’t know the ending to a story, I wouldn’t begin. I always write my last line, my last paragraph, my last page first.’

I understand this process, and some of my friends work this way. But for me, I like to be surprised – I like to meet new characters and give them the drivers seat for a while.

How about you? Do you have the entire route mapped out? Do you enjoy to take a few detours to see where the road will lead? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks for stopping by.


23 responses to “Writer’s Quote Wednesday – E.L. Doctorow”

  1. I guess a plotter has a temperamental GPS then. I plan out a lot and have the general ending in mind before I do my outline. This helps me set up foreshadowing and make sure everything makes sense. I have had the occasional change, which causes me to go back and rewrite a few sections. You really can’t know entirely what is going on until you write it.

    • That’s true. Even when you have the ending already written or an outline to work from, I imagine there are many detours along the way. It fascinates me, it really does. I love to learn about other writers’ processes. I’m envious of you plotters at times, because I usually have to do a lot of repair work in the second draft! 😀

      • Plotting certainly reduces the editing hassle. Having an in-depth outline helps me get everything out and then toss/merge scenes that aren’t going to get much mileage. Still there’s always the risk of something changing when put into practice.

      • Whereas I get everything out and then toss, merge, and add in scenes! There are times, of course, when I plan more than others. For my crime series I usually have a breakdown of the story, even if it’s not comprehensive. I need it. But I know what you mean about plans changing. There are times we have to go with the flow! 😀

      • I’d think a crime series does need some planning. Just the nature of the beast. Fantasy doesn’t need it as much, but I’m so used to outlining that it’s become a necessary stage.

  2. We are all so different, aren’t we? I always start with an outline, a loose one, but that’s after I’ve developed my characters. Aiming for each of the major plot points, I get an even mix of the headlights experiences and the map driving. It’s definitely my preferred way to go.

    • Absolutely. And it’s so great you found a system that works for you – the best of both worlds. Balance is really important. My stories are character orientated too, so I always have a very strong idea of who is running the show! I like that, wouldn’t change it, but I do enjoy meeting the characters I’m not familiar with. It a wonderful surprise!

  3. Another great choice 🙂

    I’m a bit of both, oddly. I always have a clear end point that I’m writing towards but many of the smaller twists and turns develop along the way 🙂

  4. Well, I tried the planning, and my MS wasn’t very good. I did the pantsing method for Nano, and, so far, people like the MS. 🙂 So, I think I’ll do pantsing from now on. But, I want to work on an epic fantasy–not sure pantsing would fit? Do you need planning for epic works? We’ll see…

    • Excellent – epic fantasies are always such fun! Speaking from experience (though limited in the area of fantasy I must admit), as a pantser I’ve thoroughly enjoyed flying by the seat of my pants with my fantasy characters in tow! Notes on the other hand – I have lots and lots of detailed notes! If not, I wouldn’t be able to keep track of the creatures, the powers, the realms, etc. When I’m writing though – I just go for it! It’s a joy 😀

    • I expected as much, given your sense of balance in general. And, depending on the project, I usually find balance too (heavily weighted on the pantser side!) 😀

  5. Mel, this is the perfect quote for me right now. I started out writing (pantser) and ended up having to backtrack and plot it all out! I used to be an accounting assistant. I have to have structure! Thanks so much for sharing such great wisdom. I loved it. ❤

    • It’s my pleasure, Colleen. As always, thank you so much for providing us all with the opportunity to share our inspirational quotes. I’m a pantser, who is learning to plan a little! ❤

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