By Jodie Cain Smith
John Hughes wrote The Breakfast Club in two nights. July 4 – 5, 1982, must have been electric, caffeinated, perhaps whiskey-soaked days and nights. I have no basis to believe Hughes was intoxicated during this feat, but I know I would have to have been drunk as a monkey to deliver such a work in such a short time. Fear of the unknown would have sent me to the top shelf or to a fresh notebook yearning for an outline.
So, I pose the question, is art any less artful if carefully crafted?
The planner versus pants-er (writing by the seat of your pants) debate flares up frequently among those who attempt to write and then dare to make that writing public. I am counted among the ranks of planners and have the notecards, plot structure board, and binders full of research to prove it.
My best writer bud is a pants-er. I’ve seen the look of wild abandon in her eyes as she recalls a night when the words rushed from her brain through her fingers until click-by-click she had racked up 5,000 frenetic words in a single session. Her characters came to life, proclaimed their presence, and demanded she write their story right there and right then.
My characters perch gently on my shoulder as I map out chapters, asking questions such as, “Would I really do that?” or “What motivated me to say that?” Sometimes, they become a bit rude, declaring, “There is no way in Hell I would do THAT! Change it, woman!” However, the rude behavior never lasts long. Crisis averted, they settle down for a little nap while I lose hours on the Internet researching squirrel hunting or cholera or medicinal purposes of sage. Then, when I feel I know enough of their world and their lives, I wake them so the writing, the art, may begin.
But, oh to be a pants-er! To never fear the unknown. To write without wondering, “Where the heck is this thing going?” For one or two nights I want to be the cocky one, the love-em-and-leave-em-Joe rather than, “Can we talk? Before we go any further, I need to know where this relationship is going?”
Still, the most important lesson I have learned over the last five years since chucking my cushy salary for a life of writing is I must be true to the type of writer I am. I must develop my style, my process, and my story. I must defend all three and work toward perfection.
Twenty years ago my scenic design professor gave me the advice, “Let the audience see the art. Never let them see the craft.” I share this advice now so that I may follow it again myself. May our readers see our art, the beautiful, tragic, funny, fantastical stories we create, but keep the craft our own. Whether planner, pants-er, or something akin to the brilliance of John Hughes, may we all have the confidence to create and a craft that encourages invention.