How a Pantser Became a Plotter

Every now and then, you come across an article or some other resource that talks about how to begin writing a story. Some people swear by outlines or long synopses, while others believe you should just start writing and see what happens.

The first sort are known as Plotters. The second sort are known as Pantsers.

Up until about two or three years ago, when I decided that I was going to “get serious” about this writing thing, I was a bonafide Pantser. I would sit down at the computer (or in the early years, with the spiral-bound notebook and mechanical pencil) start at the beginning, and write until I reached the end. Occasionally I would jump ahead and write out a scene that came later in the narrative. (I may or may not have spent a fair amount of time doing this during my Intro to Computer Science class in college.)

This method worked well for a while. After all, when I started rewriting the “magnum opus” in 2005, I pantsed my way through about 3/4 of the manuscript, typing along in Microsoft Word. Then one day, I realized I was spending more time thinking about what was going to happen than actually writing it. So I decided it was time to try outlining the remaining major plot points.

The hour and a half I spent to make this outline was well worth the effort (and also killed some time while I waited for the hubs to pick me up from one of my teacher certification tests). Outline in hand, I completed the first draft of the “magnum opus” within a few weeks.

Shortly after this, I downloaded WriteWayPro, a writing software program that allowed me to organize my manuscripts by chapter and scene. (Happily, it sorted the “magnum opus” automatically when I imported it). I’ve since moved on to using Scrivener, which works the same way. But the moral of the story is that I learned that plotting was not the enemy and could, in fact, help me stay on track.

I still pants to a certain degree when starting a new story. Sometimes this is due to having a little Plot Bunny nibbling at my ankle. Other times it’s because I don’t know whether or not I want to pursue a story idea. But I’ve learned that by taking the time to either outline or write an extended synopsis, I save a lot of work for myself on the drafting end of things.

Every writer needs to find a method that works for them, and for many, pantsing will always be the way to go.

As for me, I know I’ve been converted. Now that I have a contract for a series, I have to plot the next three books, or I’ll never get them done. It’s all about time management at this stage in the game.

My Writing Process, Step-By-Step

If you have never seen Nathan Bradford’s explanation of the publishing process in GIF form, you should definitely check it out. Funny and accurate.  It sort of inspired today’s post, in part. Or at least in format.

A few days ago, somebody over in the Scribophile forums posed a question about what different members’ writing processes looked like. And there are a lot of ways you can approach writing. Some people are plotters, some are pantsers. I happen to be a combination of the two. But to make my process clear, let me go through it with you step by step, with handy images to illustrate each point.

~~~~~~~

Step 1 – Get struck by brilliant idea somewhere that is not conducive to writing, such as while driving the car or when taking a shower.

Writing While Driving?

Probably not the smartest way to multi-task.

Step 2 – Pants the pants off the first several scenes and/or chapters until hitting a point where I know where I want the story to end, but have no idea how to get there.

It's often 90% adrenaline, 7% caffeine, and 3% brilliant idea.

It’s often 90% adrenaline, 7% caffeine, and 3% brilliant idea.

Step 3 – Eat some chocolate, watch stupid YouTube videos, create character profiles, which includes scouring the web for photos of actors who could play the parts and/or create images on Morph Thing.

Eating chocolate

Is there something on my face?

Step 4 – Plot a general outline.

ouline

And you thought you were close to reducing your carbon footprint.

Step 5 – Work through the outline, adjusting and adding scenes as necessary.

Watson types slow, doesn't he?

It’s not a quick process.

Step 6 – Finish a draft, rejoice, eat more chocolate.

Chocolate Cake

If it’s celebratory, it has no fat or calories, right?

Step 7 – Let the draft sit for at least three weeks. Do lots of workouts to counteract the chocolate.

Chandler works out

Eh, that’s sufficient.

Step 8 – Read through from beginning to end, out loud and possibly using accents, marking places that need editing and revision.

Editing, track changes, etc.

Just make sure nobody’s home if you decide to use voices and accents.

Step 9 – Slog through edits and revisions

Writer's Block?

Trying to meld your mind with the computer’s hard drive is, unfortunately, very ineffective.

Step 10 – Post to online critique site(s) or otherwise present to critique groups/partners.

Don't criticize

Remember to be nice and accept all feedback with an open mind.

Step 11 – Revise and edit some more. Eat chocolate.

Never too much chocolate

Why are you looking at me funny?

Step 12 – Develop pitch and synopsis.

Writer Cat is frustrated

I hate writing queries and synopses.

Step 13 – Eat chocolate.

Chocolate lifeline

At this point, the chocolate is all about staying sane.

Step 14 – Repeat.

 

(Images found through Google Image Search.)

Lessons Learned from NaNoWriMo (vlog)

Did you survive NaNoWriMo?  Learn anything while you were at it?

Insomnia

It’s 1:06 am, Eastern standard time.  I wish I was sleeping.  But I’m not.  Probably because I slept for ten and a half hours last night.

I totally deserved it. I’ve spent the last four days preparing cookies and pies for a friend’s wedding, plus had to work two six-hour days doing professional development (looking at student test scores from last school year, analyzing gaps, getting a feel for my incoming class, and discussing the NYS Core Curriculum and upcoming student learning objectives training).

I have been making some small headway on my writing, though.  I’ve managed to do some revisions and editing on part one of the “magnum opus” and have a query letter I finally think I’m almost comfortable enough to send out.  Plus I’ve been puttering away on my chick lit novella, and have outlined a couple short story ideas.

Two weeks until school starts.  I can’t believe how fast the summer went by.

Civil War Resources (because accuracy counts!)

I believe I’ve mentioned once or twice (or thrice) that my current work in progress has taken about 18 years of my life to get to the complete first draft point.  I can assure you, it hasn’t all been about writing and editing and revising.  A huge chunk of that time has been spent on research.

Because I believe in historical accuracy.

I love reading good historical fiction – I’d either start screaming hysterically from joy or faint from shock if I were ever to actually meet John Jakes.   Any historical fiction author worth her salt knows the value of honest, accurate research.  Part of creating your world is understanding… well, the world you’re writing.  And nothing makes me more twitchy than reading historical fiction in which the author has obviously not done the required homework.

I don’t care what your historical passion is, but if you want to be taken seriously, I really believe you should know what you’re talking about when you place your characters in the middle of the American Revolution or Tudor-era London.  If you want me to read your book, do your homework.  Yes, you can sometimes get away with vague references, and a little creative license is allowed as long as you’re not changing history. But that said, nothing makes me put down a book faster and think the author is an ignorant git more than stumbling across a fact that is blatantly wrong.

I am a slave to historical accuracy. When I sat down six years ago (!) to start my complete rewrite, I vowed I would fill in the historical blanks in my original manuscript.  I felt it was important for my characters to exist in a world that was as true as possible (at least, true from their perspectives).  And besides that, in the years between my first attempts at publication and the start of the rewrite (years that included a personalized rejection letter stating areas I needed to improve upon), I had done a slew of my own research and exploration into the Civil War. Not specifically for my book – rather, I am a geek. And while I am an avid student of all history, the Civil War is, by far, the most fascinating to me.

Anyway, I digress.

Because historical accuracy is so important to me, and because I’m sure there are writers out there who also would like to churn out a bit of historical fiction of the Civil War persuasion, I decided to list out some of the resources I’ve used over the years to hone and expand my knowledge.  This will be something of a “living document” post, as I will add and edit as necessary (especially in the case of websites).  If anyone comes upon any broken links, please let me know!

Books

Online Resources/Websites
Documentary Videos and Other Media

Wise Words

When I was in graduate school (earning my first Master’s degree in Elementary Education), I took an excellent class called “Literature, Art and Media” from an excellent professor during the spring semester of 2004.  We had the opportunity to attend a poetry reading by the 2001-2003 Poet Laureate Billy Collins.

If you ever get a chance to attend a reading by Billy Collins, I highly recommend that you do so.

We prepared for this reading by studying a few of his poems and discussing his career.  Hearing him read his poems aloud, however, was a vastly different experience than dissecting them in class.  His delivery, his explanations for the genesis of each poem, brought a new dimension to his art.

It was my first time ever attending a poetry reading, and I was floored.

Now, in addition to reading several of his poems, Mr. Collins also provided some discussion of his writing process, how he views poetry and the art of writing, and, knowingly or not, gave some advice to the young (and old) writers in the auditorium.

One particular piece of advice has stuck with me for the past seven years.

“You can’t just get up in the morning and commit an act of literature.  It requires some effort on your part.”

I’ve been writing since I was a very small child.  I’ve always loved putting ideas and stories down on paper.  I’ve dabbled in poetry.  I’ve played in several different genres.  I’ve lovingly put my heart and soul into my written words.  But as an adult, as someone who really does want to see my work in print someday, not just someone who writes for pure pleasure (though I certainly derive plenty of pleasure from writing a particularly good scene or passage of dialog), I needed to change my focus.

That one bit of advice from Billy Collins totally changed my perception of what I was doing when I sat down to write.  It’s not just about the love of the craft, though without that you’ll fail before you finish the first page. It’s about loving and developing the process, learning what works for you.

There will always be fits and starts, I think, when I write, just as there will always be bouts of writer’s block (and that’s where the effort comes into play!) – and of course, life does get in the way, especially when writing isn’t your full-time job.  The effort is finding those few minutes every day to consider your work – to figure out what’s coming next, rereading that scene that just keeps nagging you, or just plunking down and kicking the internal editor off your shoulder and just writing.

Put in the effort, and the act of literature will come.