I like cowboy movies. Maybe it’s the swagger and the scuffed boots, or the squinting into the sunset with a toothpick jutting out of a parched mouth. Whatever the reason, I like them. Maybe that’s why I live in a certain famous historically rich cowboy town. Actually, there’s no ‘maybe’ about it. The thought of squinting into the sunset like Wyatt Earp, maybe even standing in the exact place he once did, thrills me. I’m kind of a nerd like that.
Is there a point to all this, you ask? Chill. I’m swaggering and my spurs are jingle-jangling. I’m caught up in the moment.
There’s a saying in the writing community, “Shoot from the hip.” My guns are out and pointed at my computer screen, but in a friendly howdy-do way. Because sometimes I do shoot from the hip. This means I don’t plan what I write, it just comes. When this happens, I try to keep up with my brain. That’s what happened last summer when I sat down to write The Grave Winner. I got as far as chapter four with no idea where I was going to go next. Then I twirled my guns out of their holsters and started shooting. But the ideas came so fast as to what would happen next, I had to write them down. No way was I going to forget them. After a third of the book was written, I shot my guns again. Here’s a picture of the bullet holes:
It’s messy and hardly legible, but you can kind of make out the chapter numbers on the left. So I wrote the second third of the book based on these bullet holes, though some of the tiny details changed. My momentum carried into the last third, but soon I had to get my guns out again.
My point, and I do have one, is that I don’t know what’s going to happen next until the smoke clears from my blazing guns, and an outline appears in my little notebook like the above picture. I do both – shoot from the hip and outline.
What do other writers out there do? If you’re not a writer, what’s your favorite western movie? While I await responses, I’m going to YouTube the preview for True Grit and squint at the computer screen while I watch it.