On being a plotter with Izzie from Pill Pop

Izzie Austin is a zinester and postgraduate student. They are one half of the podcast Pill Pop, an audio road trip through the sounds of chronic illness.

I have just turned 18 and the world is my oyster. I have a new group of friends, I’m just about to start uni, and I’m working on what I assume will be my smash-hit debut novel. What better way to kick off a career as a novelist than to have my first novel published before I even finish my writing degree? It is a level of confidence I have not had since.

It is 2011 and zombies are the in thing, so I am writing about a zombie apocalypse hitting Brisbane, but something is just not clicking. What’s stopping me writing is the same thing that stopped me from participating in all those “what’s your zombie apocalypse survival plan?” conversations my friends were all having. Sure, we can all imagine building makeshift weapons, stealing food, finding places to stay out of harm’s way for a few days or weeks, but can we synthesise insulin? In order to imagine myself surviving in a zombie-ridden landscape, first I would have to imagine myself without diabetes, and that is something I cannot and will not do.

In the years since abandoning that project (for more reasons than just the insulin thing–the plot was tropey and boring, the characters all sucked, I was so sick of hearing about zombies that I couldn’t bring myself to write about them, all the usual reasons a project doesn’t get off the ground), this is something I’ve been thinking about more and more, and not just with diabetes. Is there room in The Walking Dead for the non-walking alive?

Something I learned in the first year of my creative writing degree is that there are, broadly speaking, two kinds of writers: plotters and pantsers. Plotters have at least a general outline of their story before they start writing, while pantsers fly by the seat of their pants; they have a premise and work from there, surprising even themselves as they go. There are strengths and weaknesses to both approaches, writers often say that pantsing is better for character development while plotting is better for…well, plot. George R. R. Martin is a pantser, he likens his writing process to planting seeds and watching his garden grow. Most television writers are plotters, especially when it comes to serialised drama with a dense meta-plot and a large writers room.

Living with chronic illness has made me a plotter, both creatively and in how I live my life. Between diabetes, asthma, my yet-to-be-diagnosed fatigue problem, my propensity to iron deficiency, and my depression, there are a lot of medications I take daily. Oh, and I’m on The Pill. I keep forgetting to list that. Constant in the back of my mind is the question of “When will I run out of this?” My whole life is a bit like walking into a supermarket, browsing the produce section, and thinking “should I get onions?” Except it’s the kind of onions that will make you really sick if you run out of them. Some of those onions are easy to come by, but some you’ll have to wait a week for the store to get a new delivery, and sometimes you’re out a bunch of different kinds of onions and they’re all expensive onions so that week just sucks.

I need a plan, or I’m lost. I need to know where I’m going and how I’m going to get there, or I’ll find myself walking in little circles looking for my other shoe. I used to think that removing spontaneity from my life made me less creative. I had this romantic idea of a writer as someone who just sat down at a keyboard with no idea what they were going to do, and seventeen coffees later they collapse in a writerly heap having written their magnum opus. Now I realise that the way I write isn’t incorrect, it’s just the way I live. If I can’t write without knowing at least pretty much where I’m going it’s because I’m used to making a conscious effort to keep myself alive. How badass is that?

Izzie Austin is a zinester and postgraduate student who grew up in Brisbane with several cats, and now lives in Brunswick with just one cat. They are currently undertaking a PhD in cinema studies and working on a podcast about chronic illnesses, including their own messed-up pancreas. They are one half of Pill Pop podcast, an audio road trip for the chronically ill. In each episode the podcast interviews a guest, ask them what their illness sounds like, and then build a soundscape that represents that.

Photos by Valeriia Miller on Unsplash, Nguyen Nguyen on Pexels and Goh Rhy Yan on Pexels, respectively.