Fools and Cowards: The Classification of Writers

Charge!

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.

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10 thoughts on “Fools and Cowards: The Classification of Writers

  1. I would consider myself a middle of the roader. I get a loose outline going and mainly the characterizations, then just let the story go where it goes. I often break out of my outline because I realize there’s a better story. But I do spend a lot of thought on what I’m going to do next. So I don’t know if I’m a fool or a coward, especially since I spend marathon days writing.

  2. I love this! I used to be a Fool. Now I’m a Coward. 🙂 I always knew the concept but your labeling couldn’t be more accurate. And I agree that diving in is better. Thank you for this post!

    • I’m not sure if it’s ‘better’, but it is the way I tend to do it. I guess I’d rather be a spectacular failure than wait at the edge of the cliff for eons. However, I could do more upfront planning. A lot more.

  3. Definitely a damn’ fool here. I know the beginning and the end of a story I want to write before I start, but often enough that’s it. Once I start writing though, I’m fleshing out the entire story and characters in my head all the time. So I know, when writing, at least what’s around the next curve, and where the major exit and entry ramps are along the way, and I know at least approximately what the destination looks like.
    It doesn’t bother me when I have to rewrite things because they don’t quite fit, or toss out twenty well-written pages because I realize the story just ain’t doin’ that, not on your life, no matter what well turned phrases may be burried there. This may happen then and again if you are a fool. But in following a wrong path, and discovering my mistake, I’ve just learned something about the story and the characters, and that is part of what makes writing so fascinating for me.

  4. I used to be the coward. Then I was the fool. Now I’m somewhere between. I think the trick is to understand that yes, you’re going to get stuck, and you’re not going to get it perfect, but something is better than nothing, and at least you can say that you tried.

    Besides, first drafts always suck 🙂 It’s the lump of clay, formed from the stuff of dreams, that you can then shape and mold into the story you always wanted to tell. If you don’t rush in to take that first step — if you don’t play the part of the fool — you’ll never have any clay to work with.

    • I always think of what some writer said in a pep talk once: that if writing is like sculpture, then getting the first draft done is like getting that giant block of marble out of the quarry. It’s a hell of a lot of work and sweat, and you’ve got something that’s a pretty big deal, but it’s still not a statue yet. Time to start cutting and polishing.

  5. I’ve had this post open on my browser for days…the title grabbed me. Glad I finally read it. I def agree (and love the way you broke it down). I’m a fool turned semi-coward but I’m about to get foolish again lol. I just have to if I ever want to finish.

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