To Thine Own Self Be Shrewd (with apologies to Shakespeare)
Shrewd: having or showing an ability to understand things and to make good judgments: mentally sharp or clever. —Merriam-Webster Dictionary
It’s funny the things we learn about ourselves by virtue of talking to and discovering details about other people. For instance, when asked by other writers, “Are you a plotter or a pantser?” I’ve always answered “plotter” because I begin my work from an outline. But several blog posts ago one of my pals commented that, by my own admission, I don’t follow my outline. By the time I pass the first third of the book that outline is, with the exception of key plot points, more along the lines of a suggestion.
Over the weekend an author friend asked how long my outlines are. They’re short compared to hers, 700-2,000 words versus her 10-15,000. Her books run in the 65,000 word range, making her outlines roughly 25% of the size of her completed novel. By comparison, my novels run in the 90,000 word range. Even with my longest outline of 2000 words, that’s less than 3% of the total word count. (To be clear, there is no right or wrong. Long outline, short outline, no outline at all—the right way is whatever works for the individual author.)
Aside from showing off the extent of my dubious math skills (take away my calculator and I’m as confused as Dory in “Finding Nemo”), what does this mean?
What I drew from this is that I shall neither a plotter nor a pantser be. I am a hybrid, a plontser. This is a revelation to me, which is crazy. How could I be a writer all this time and not know that basic detail about my own process?
This leads me back to the whole point of this post, which is how much we learn about ourselves when we take the time to learn about others.
Comparing ourselves to and keeping up with the Joneses isn’t what I’m getting at here. That sort of get-to-know-your-neighbor is a losing battle. Our journeys are different (see my recent post on this, The Road (More or Less) Traveled) and by comparing ourselves to others we do ourselves and the other person an injustice. I’m talking about drawing personal understanding from the insights and methodologies of other people, taking that information and using it as a tool for greater understanding of ourselves. In a very real sense, the sharing of ideas and methods offers each person the opportunity to look inward, not for the purpose of comparison, but for improvement and growth.
Not everyone we meet will open doors of understanding, of course, and it would be a little bizarre if we viewed every encounter like an opportunity to suck information from the other person’s brain (unless it’s Kristan Higgins agreeing to the mind meld I wish I’d asked for). But keeping an open mind, believing in the value of what others have to offer while admitting that we may hold some misperceptions about ourselves—and be willing to view those with honesty—these are all good things.
I’m not trying to be profound here, just delivering the Naked Truth. This is one of the reasons I love blogging, because I put my notions out there and you respond with comments that allow me to learn more about you, but also provide food for thought that helps me learn more about myself at the same time—like the earth-shattering realization that I’m a plontser! Y’all are better than any therapist’s couch.
Have you ever gained unexpected insight about yourself from a simple exchange of ideas, and if so, why was it unexpected and did your newfound knowledge change the way you operate? What have you learned about yourself recently that you didn’t know before, and what prompted your realization?
Thanks for popping in, thanks for reading, and thanks for leaving a comment (words, words, words—devoutly to be wish’d for, Buttercup!).
One more Hamlet reference because it fits, and because I owe you one that I didn’t mutilate:
“Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.”
Happy Wednesday, and I’ll see you next week for more of the Naked Truth. Right now I’m off to do more plontsing. 🙂