Fools and Cowards: The Classification of Writers


Charge! Wait, what was I doing again?(Photo credit: Kaptain Kobold)

There are two types of writers: Fools and Cowards.

Here is how you identify them: Fools rush in before the story is ready, and get stuck along the way. Cowards spend so much time planning that they forget to go at all.

I’ve always been more the Fool. I know, I know: the outliner, who sometimes goes as far as a scene by scene plan, says she rushes in? Pull the other one. Two points here: one, I’m not pulling anything of yours, even if you buy me dinner first; and, two, I outline that way in order to delay myself as long as possible. At least that way I have half a chance of getting some thinking on the story and the characters done before I start to write. It’s an effort to rein in my own impatience and make something useful.

But I still rush in. I still get stuck. Part of the reason is that I am a swirling vortex of primordial chaos in boots. The other is the fear of not doing.

I remember a moment from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. In fact, I remember it so clearly that, though I no longer live with someone who has all the graphic novels and haven’t read it in years, I can call it quite distinctly to mind.* Lucius, the librarian, is going through Dream’s library, where all the books that have never been written are stacked neatly on shelves. He takes down one and remarks that the lady who dreamed it nerve wrote more than a few chapters in real life, though she often spent hours thinking about it before bed.

I’ve always thought that little moment—and it was little, maybe a panel in the comic—was both true and sad. I wondered what the story was about. And knew that there are thousands of stories out there just like it: dreamed but never written.

Trust me, I know the fun of dreaming quietly about stories in the small moments before sleep hits you with a pillow-padded hammer. It’s cozy. And better than watching YouTube videos before bed.

And you know the best thing about those stories? They’re perfect. Because they almost never get told. They remain dreams, far removed from the hacking and grinding and general messiness that happens when you try to write something for real. Because the thing about dreams is they don’t have to work.

But the thinking, the dreaming, the brain work, is all necessary to tell a good story instead of another word abortion cluttering up shelves real or digital. If you neglect that stuff, then you run into problems: plot holes, dead ends, a mushy middle section. You get stuck. And when they get stuck, a lot of people give up. Which is no fucking good either.

Fools rush in, but cowards never go at all. Given the choice, I’d rather be a fool; at least they’re getting somewhere, even if it turns out to be the wrong place. But I could stand to cultivate a little more thinking before I jump in. I could do a little more brain work before I start writing the main story instead of halfway though. Or after. I have been known to do it after.

There re two types of writers by nature, but in order to get anything done properly, we need to act as both. We need to dream a little, do the legwork. But then we need to charge into the breach and damn the consequences.

*Mark of a good story teller, that.