Posts Tagged ‘writing process’

Rant Alert! R E S P E C T – Have a little why don’t you?

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Today I was listening to an RWA workshop from a previous year. My jaw dropped when I heard the speaker say this (verbatim).

How many of you are pantsers? [Pause] You’re making the biggest mistake of your lives. Just gonna start with that. And if you are a pantser, what you need to do in terms of brainstorming is find somebody that’s going to help you do the 42 drafts of the book you’re going to have to write because you didn’t plan it out in the beginning. Pantsers invariably have a harder time of it because they have to do draft upon draft upon draft and then revision upon revision upon revision. My suggestion would be: plot your book. It’s a little faster that way.

When she was finished unloading on pantsers1, my first response was along the lines of F.U. only without the acronym.

I think it’s safe to assume that this woman is not a pantser.

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard a writer who works on the plotting side of the spectrum make such statements about pantsers. I don’t know where these particular folks are getting their facts. I suspect that they’re making an inference based on their results. They’re plotters so pantsing doesn’t work for them and, therefore, they ended up doing all those drafts and revisions because their writing style isn’t suited to seat of the pants writing. Or maybe they just don’t see the value in revision as a method.

The problem with her pronouncement isn’t just that she’s wrong in just about every way. I happen to know she’s wrong because I am, myself, a pantser. Not only is she wrong, but she certainly gives the appearance of being inflexible and close minded to the possibility that there is more than one way to end up with a publishable novel. She was disrespectful to every single writer for whom plotting does not work.

Let me state for the record that I have no problem with plotters or anyone who needs more structure in their writing process than I do. Hey, if it works for you, AMEN sister. I applaud you for discovering for you what gets the job done — for you. And I will never tell you that you need to give up your charts and outlines.

The only thing that matters is that a writer discovers what works for her. And that she respect what other writers have discovered about what they need to do to write.

By all means, offer and explain your process, especially to writers who haven’t reached a working process. I suspect we’re all looking for ways to improve and be more efficient. But don’t make the mistake of believing your way is the only one that works and that all other methods are mistakes. That’s insulting. And it closes your mind to things that might actually help you.

A little later in the presentation, this person remarks on the empty seats and says, All the pantsers have left.

Gee. I wonder why? Because maybe they were depressed and disheartened to hear they were wrong even though they may well have been struggling with plotting or perhaps even suppressing their seat of the pants tendencies because of wrong-headed claims like this. Or maybe they figured there was no point in listening to someone so close minded, because I assure you, at least some of those pantsers knew she was wrong.

She lost the opportunity to let curious and inquiring writers learn about another approach, parts of which may actually have been useful. I know if I’d been at the workshop, I’d have walked out too. Life is too short to sit around listening to someone tell me that I’m doing it wrong. Because, you know, the evidence suggests that I’m not doing it wrong. But neither is she, and therein lies the respect she lacked for others.

I respect her process. It works for her. Just for fun, let’s examine those disrespectful and incorrect statements from the point of view of a pantser:

  • Even if I were to write 42 drafts, I don’t need help writing them, thank you very much. But I don’t write 42 drafts. I actually usually have only one draft but I revise the living hell out of it until it’s not a draft anymore.
  • I don’t have a harder time because I’m a pantser. But I sure as hell had a harder time when I was trying to plot in advance.
  • I write my books in about 4 months. Now, I prefer to have more time, but so far I keep ending up with 4-5 month deadlines. And I meet those deadlines, pantsing the whole way.

I don’t think there’s a reader or editor in the world who cares about an author’s process. They care about the finished product and whether it’s any good. I also don’t believe it’s possible to tell from the finished product whether the author was a plotter or a pantser or something in between or even neither of those things.

How Plotting Failed For Me

Don’t think I haven’t tried plotting. I have. I really, really tried. Between 1989 and 1991 I wrote and published two books and I wrote them totally by the seat of my pants because I didn’t know how else to write. Or that, apparently, I was making the biggest mistake of my life.

From 1991 to 2002, I was unpublished. Why? Because I was trying to plot. At one point, I had a 50+ page outline (for my doorstop book). I wrote long character bios and filled out GMC charts and made lists and kept spreadsheets, and whenever my writing deviated from my master plan, I killed that dead and stuck to my plan.

Let me repeat the really important statement: During the period I was doing all the things plotters do, I was and remained unpublished.

Finally, I reached a point where I had to decide whether to give up writing — because eleven years is a long time to fail at something. But I didn’t want to stop writing. I wonder what would have happened to me if I’d heard that anti-pantsing statement at this point in my writing life? Because you know what I did?

I thought long and hard about the difference between what I was doing all that long and unpublished time and what I had been doing when I wrote two published books. And the difference between the two was that before, I followed my instincts. I looked at what was happening on the pages and went with that instead of what I’d plotted in advance.

Sure, I had outlines so I could keep track, but they were short. And when I read something in my work and had an inspiration about what was really going on in my book, I followed my instinct. To hell with my outline.

So I took my WIP and I tore that thing apart. I let go of all that advance plotting and I followed my instincts. I followed the thread of story that was interesting and unexpected and I deleted the stuff that wasn’t. I wrote in a kind of fugue state where I just fucking put the passion down on the page and flew without a net. And guess what?

Six weeks after I finished, the book sold.

I am a pantser. I can advance plot until the cows come home and it won’t help me. In fact, I know it will kill my story dead. I know it for a fact. Every book I have written since then has been seat of the pants. I have figured out the level of advance work I need to do, which, no surprise, tends to be minimal — but not none. I don’t plan more than three chapters ahead.

Right now, in my current project, I’ve been brainstorming and doing what if scenarios and keeping track of who’s who, what they look like and keeping a skeleton outline. Two days ago I started working on chapter 1 again (to refresh after RWA and ComiCon) and my heroine lost her ability to see. The words just ended up on the page. At that point, I was 14 chapters into the book — about 27,000 words. Early going.

I know, because I now pay close attention to such things, that this development deserved some thought. And I also know that her loss of vision never once came up in any of my advance work. I also know that I’d just hit on a very powerful theme for my story. And I’m now working it, layering and complexifying what it means for my heroine. As this theme develops, I will learn whether the loss of vision is permanent. I suspect it’s transitory in nature. I don’t need to work that out yet because the questions will resolve themselves as I develop what I have and forge ahead with more chapters.

I highly recommend that writers read Freud’s Introductory Lectures for a fascinating discussion and analysis of the role and function of the subconscious. It’s a far cry, by the way, from his suggestion that women have penis envy.

As for me, I don’t care if someone gets at the subconscious meanings of their stories before they’ve written a word or if they find it while they’re writing. What I do care about is whether others have respect for a process that isn’t theirs.

1. Panster: Someone who writes by the seat of her pants, that is, with minimal outlining and advance plotting. As opposed to a plotter, who does a good deal of plotting before the book gets written.


So many things to ignore

Sunday, June 21st, 2009

One of my main strategies for making time to write involves ignoring other stuff. Housework, errands, shopping. That kind of thing. It’s a brilliant method, if you ask me. The clutter doesn’t really go anywhere, and you’d be surprised how little underwear you actually need if you do laundry often, which I do because I only have one set of gym clothes and a 14 year old currently digging a hole to China in the field.

The downside to this otherwise successful method is that eventually circumstances become dire and one simply MUST clean, buy new underwear and more shampoo.

My friends, that is my situation today. It’s not going to be pretty.

Please keep me in your thoughts.

I will meet my minimum, though.


Synopsis Heck

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

I’ve been in synopsis heck lately. Today I think I finally wrestled the thing to the ground and have it pinned. I’m trying to write another one, but we’ll see. I have pretty much ZERO ideas. I have a working name for the hero. Well, maybe I have a glimmer of an idea, but I need to tie this one into the previous one somehow. I really need to spend some time with the notebook brainstorming this one.

I’m sure you’ll be shocked if I confess that I LOATHE writing a synopsis. I loathe it even more when it’s a story I haven’t written. For me, my story develops as I write and discover my characters. Therefore, the synopsis I send to my editor prior to a sale will bear little, if any, resemblance to the story I actually turn in. It’s just one of those things a writer at my level has to deal with. With luck, one day I won’t have to write a synopsis in order to sell. But not yet.

So, I have to do some brainstorming on this second story.

And finish checking the galleys for My Forbidden Desire.

I’m feeling kind of overwhelmed. Rats.


On Avoidance Behavior and Shopping Aversion

Monday, July 7th, 2008

Avoidance Behavior

Sunday was a tough day writing-wise. Basically, I wrote my characters into a boring place. Now, I knew better than to try to make it un-boring so I left everybody on the stairs because I had no idea what to do with them, and did other stuff so that the old brain wouldn’t realize I was trying to trick it into giving me the answer.

Let’s see. I fiddled around with MySpace and Facebook stuff, but that wasn’t un-writing related enough. So then I read a book for a while. Also not un-writing related enough. I went grocery shopping. Definitely not-writing related, plus I listened to my MP3 player while I shopped. But that didn’t help much. Groceries are expensive and I think I was in sticker shock the whole time. Then I came home with sandwiches and frozen yogurt and yes, the child was up, but he was cranky. Then I started cinnamon rolls after which I had a vague idea that turned out to be stupid so I picked up the dog and walked up and down part of the driveway for a while. Then I came back, stared at the computer, felt a bit panicky and decided to take a nap. Because NAP is just a short word for Avoidance Behavior.

Two seconds after my head hit the pillow I was falling asleep at which time a little voice says Send in George Brooks. He’s a psycho and he’ll make something happen and then I dreamed about this other story I want to finish up. But when I woke up an hour later, I sat down to write and brought out George the psycho and darned if he didn’t get some conflict on the pages to the extent that I met my minimum for the day and knew the next 3 things to happen. One of which I wrote today, far exceeding the minimum, I’ll have you know. Because I was stuck in the car at soccer practice.

Shopping Aversion

People have contacted me in various ways about my clothing dilemma. Thank you every one, and please keep with the advice and links. But I will say that I am now in this odd state of decision paralysis. I have some cute suggestions and I’m afraid to take any of them. I’m paralyzed by my lack of style. What if I only think something looks cute but in reality it’s totally dorky? I was kind of hoping to avoid stores and shop online but I think I’m going to have to hit the stores anyway. I’m going so far beyond my comfort zone here (and the really sad thing is it’s like an inch, not a mile) that I need to see what I’m getting into. I think. Or maybe I should order stuff online– only so late that I can’t return anything and have no choice but to wear this new stuff.

Waaaah!! I just want to put on my plain blue shirt or maybe the plain red shirt and pretend no one can see my feet.

On the other hand, I decided today that I would be okay with painting my toenails and that boots might be a nice shoe choice.

I am so pathetic.


Memoire of a Plot

Thursday, June 26th, 2008

Alas poor plot, I knew you well.

But now I’ve kicked you to the curb in favor of a brighter, shinier plot. A better plot. Sorry. But them’s the breaks when you’re at the mercy of a professional writer and panster. It’s not for the faint of heart, but there you have it.

Today, the machete came out. Maybe not the machete, but for sure it was the weed whacker. First, two or three days ago, I had this big but not enormous refinement which was great and good for more words. But right after I was almost done with that, I had a dream about a marriage under dire circumstances and it is just so way awesome a better plot I could hardly stand it.

Oh, new plot! I still get all shivery and excited just thinking about you.

I love you, brighter shinier plot!

But you are a High Maintenance kind of plot.

My New Plot is making me pay

Hence, the hacking and replacing. The new plot required that I change the names of some secondary but main characters, and first I changed it to Cartier because, well, it was half the solution to a crossword puzzle I’ve been working on and so it was on my mind. Only today I realized Ack! that left me with three names that start with C: Camilla, Crosshaven and Cartier.


So I changed that to Brooks becuase, well, confession time here. Meljean Brook’s Demon Night was sitting on the top of a pile of stuff I need to do something with (like just about everything in my room) because I want to keep it since it’s an awesome story, so I thought, hey, I’ll just stick an S on the end of Brook and no one will ever know I stole Meljean’s last name for my heroine’s cousins. Mwahahahah!

But then the fun part was over and I had to pretty much redo chapter 1 and then I ran out of time. I should be in bed already. Only I’m not.

But I’m about to. Thinking about my shiny new High Maintenance Plot that I still love.


Literary Twister

Tuesday, March 4th, 2008

Last night, this morning at the gym and during various downtimes of the day, I’ve been mulling over this particular scene that Just Wasn’t Working the way it needed to. It involves Xia giving Alexandrine a substance that affects people with magic. Originally, he did it to prove to her she has magic. But the new! Alexandrine already knows that. Obviously, that original scene needed a re-write. While notebooking at the gym, I settled on her taking the pill by accident. I recognized the idea was a wee bit lame, but I thought if I meditated on it some more, I’d see my way to the solution. I am not at my best at 5:00 a.m.

So I sat down to do the work this evening and I was in there with the machete getting things conformed etc and at last I get to the substance scene at the end of chapter 6. How is she going to take this pill?

She’s not. It turns out, as I was writing, that, as a former teen runaway (which was previously established) she had issues with drugs and does not take any drugs ever anymore. Color me surprised! But this revelation ended up being a major development in their relationship. Oh! Oh! I get it! Neat-o.

But now I had a chapter 7 of substance-induced events that needed a new home. And I knew the perfect place for it. Between chapters 13 and 14. The beginning of 14 got spliced onto the top of chapter 7 which was renumbered as Chapter 13 (with 8-13 becoming 7-12) Are you following me here? and then about-to-be 13 and 14 were temporarily combined so I could look for the best chapter ending. Found it. Chopped it. And Voila as they say in France. Chapters 7 and 14 were spliced and split and became 13 and 14. It’s a bit messy yet but tomorrow I will smooth that out into a scene that has my heroine who is afraid of backsliding on drugs facing the ABSOLUTE NECESSITY of taking a drug that humans with magic routinely abuse… See? Much more at stake.

It’s like that game Twister. Only with words and paragraphs and my characters and story instead of people.

This sounds like a horror show, I know. I suspect it is, but that’s how it’s been for all my books so far. I have an advanced case of esprit d’escalier only since these great ideas have to do with a novel which takes a while to put together, I can actually go back with the perfect bon mot and nobody will ever know I didn’t think of it until way late.

I have to do this kind of slice and dice very quickly because I often need to have 3 or 4 chapters all in my head as I reassemble and sort out the bits and put the left overs in the right places, and I don’t want to forget who’s going where. If I go too slow or think too much every thing just goes to heck. It’s scary because in the middle every thing’s a bit fat mess, and I get in there and muck about and then it’s all better. Usually. To be honest, sometimes it’s not and I have to start over. But this one feels good.


Arghh!! Or is it Sigh?

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

I’ve got a bad case of Writer’s Itch. Otherwise known as Inspiration. I think. Sometimes Inspiration feels more like a dump truck full of work.

Right. So dinner’s all done. Speed Brick is asleep behind me on the chair (thus I am forced to sit on the edge of the seat with my back very very straight — do not fail to compliment my wonderful posture should you see me!) I get back to my room at last and fire up Parallels and the incomparable Word Perfect. I make a new chapter and type this: Please, this is worse than first draft, OK? When this is done, chances are NONE of these words will remain.

Alexandrine woke up with her face flat on the mattress. Not even a pillow. The room was dark, and beside her the place where Xia’s body should have been was still warm. Something was wrong. What exactly that was, she didn’t know, but the air felt wrong. The center of her bones jangled with a sense of being off-kilter.
Without moving, she opened her eyes. It turned out she was facing the side of the room with the door, which meant she could make out Xia standing in front of the closed door with his head cocked.

All ready for the kidnapper! I should be so lucky. Instead this stupid little voice says Hey, what if Alexandrine knows all along that she’s a witch and she’s got some information about how things used to be in the long ago past and is willing to try the old ways with Xia?

Carolyn stares into space while she lets this major temblor of an idea ripple through the book as it exists in her head…

I’m leaving out all kinds of stuff about the story here. Suffice it to say that this would be a total rewrite of just about everything so far. But it would be good I think. It solves some nagging little things that have been bugging me about Alexandrine and her fate yet leaves me with many questions and issues to fill in later. Not impossible. I’m pretty sure I’m going to do it because it makes Alexandrine WAY more interesting…

I know exactly what Jack London meant when he said that you have to go after Inspiration with a club. Whack. Inspiration is a lot of work and sometimes I just want to club it.

And yet, I am glad for the visit.


Friday, and not a moment too soon

Friday, September 7th, 2007

It’s going to be a busy weekend. I didn’t get any writing done yesterday, for one thing. sigh. I skipped the gym this morning because I was so darn tired. Instead, I went this afternoon, while my son was at soccer practice. I did some good notebooking. I had a bunch of little errands to run today, too. I mailed off the signed contracts for the two historicals, I bought new windshield wipers since mine have deteriorated to the point of being non-functional, and since it’s September there’s bound to start being some mornings of heavy mist with perhaps some rain, though it won’t start raining (if it does at all) until November, but still. Gotta be prepared. Then I had to get gas so I have a full tank for the drive to the wedding tomorrow.

So, now I’m looking at my chapters and conforming my outline and I’ve had to delete one chapter for being repetitive. I wrote a better version the other day. And in doing this I can see I have stuff in all the wrong order, so tonight will be fixing that. No writing, probably, given the time. No writing tomorrow, what with my brother’s wedding and all. Soccer and Art In The Park Sunday, so I’ll have to fit the writing in sideways. No rowing, obviously. Rats.

Anyway, back to getting my chapters in order.