Do you feel as if your writing is turning into a boring production line, filled with have-tos and don’t-dos and use this formula and write this way, not that?
Don’t feel alone. Every writer begins at the beginning and often, that comes with much frustration and a huge learning curve. What is important is to learn how you write, what works for you and what doesn’t, and it means trying things out.
But that takes a lot of time! How can you, the author, produce a book with all this other stuff going on around you?
Online classes. Writing workshops and seminars. Writer’s magazines telling you how to write. Your critique group dissecting your manuscript, shredding your hard work into pieces. Should it be an ebook or in print? Should I get an agent now or later or ever? Finding the right market.
Writers face hundreds of questions like these every day. It’s mind boggling. My mind is boggled, bouncing around from trying this and that. In fact, when I started writing, I mean write to publish, write my first novel, I was overwhelmed with all the ways to write, all the tools, all the stuff we needed to do. I didn’t like it!! I liked it before I wanted to publish, when I just wrote and didn’t worry about anything else. It took me 2 years to learn to separate the writing part from everything else.
Maybe I can help make your writing life a bit easier.
Let’s begin simple.
What type of writer are you?
Are you a plotter? One who lays out the scenes and story, outlining or jotting down scenes and playing with them before you actually write the words?
Are you a pantser? A pantser is one who “writes by the seat of her pants.” Pantsers, first write our story, then edit and organize it. They e do the first draft as an creative tour-de-force before editing. Or maybe it’s not a tour-de-force, maybe your first draft is written over a long time period, either way, it’s written first, edited next.
Or are you an organic writer? One who uses techniques from both the plotter and the pantser? Some call them hybrid writers (sounds a bit space-fictony, doesn’t it?)
All three methods of writing are perfectly fine. Well, they have to be, right?
However, you might say, nobody writes like I do. Really? Nobody?
Plotters have a lot of tools and techniques. Some get quite obsessive about their technique and are stuck in a rut, never able to see over their writer’s toolbox lid. Plotters often use outlines, scene cards, storyboards, character profiles and personality charts, and writing programs like Scrivner, for instance, feed their need to categorize. Plotters have folders filled with historical data, notes on history, culture, languages, technical data, etc. They use something to outline and layout their story and then they pound their story into submission with other tools (their hammers and chisels) until their story is precise and done, well done.
One of the problems with plotting like this is you never see past your tools. Plotting is great. Plotting is like a blacksmith, forging his metal into weapons or tools. But be sure to look over the edge, get out of the forge, and let your creativity soar, then return to your tools to hammer that story into shape.
If you’re a plotter, then you are in the column of plotters like--
Katherine Anne Porter: “If I didn’t know the ending of a story, I wouldn’t begin. I always write my last line, my last paragraph, my last page first."
Pantsers usually abhor the tight lines and forced rigidity of plotting. They look on it as a collar, constricting their creativity and freedom.
Kathleen Baldwin: “A pantser needs to plot on the fly so she can stay enthralled with her story. Her creative psyche requires a challenge in order to operate optimally.”
But pantsing has its limits, too. Pantsers can write forever and a day, and write big, big stories! But publishers have to print those stories, so it’s good to know when to stop, to end the story and move on to the next.
"Chase your story, believe in your characters and follow them. Do not predetermine every step they take but record what they do, and do the recording breathlessly but with control, as if you just came inside to report…a marvel you have just witnessed." ~ David L. Robbins
Diana Gabaldon, writer of the Outlander series, is known for her large, well-crafted historical romances. You’d think she was a plotter, but she disagrees. She is well-known as the icon of pantsers everywhere. As is Nora Roberts.
Jance Hardy crafts her stories using a more hybrid approach. She creates a framework, drawing her lines with a pencil so they can be erased sort of thing, then writes.
In a blog interview at The Pen and the Parchment, Janice Hardy said:
“I’m an outliner all the way when it comes to crafting the plots in my stories. But for my character arcs, I’m a total pantser. I always know where my characters are going, but rarely how they’ll get there.”
Jane Graves says, “I’m cursed with not being able to see the good twists and turns of character and plot until I’m in the middle of writing the book. I can have sense where it’s going, but absolutely nothing comes alive until the words start going downon the page. That’s when I start having revelations and seeing things I never saw at the synopsis level. For me, it’s kind of like remembering the words to an old song. If you ask me the words, I can’t tell you. But if the song comes on the radio and I’m in the middle of listening to it, I can tell you what comes next.”
And then there are those even more organic writers, much like me, that have been stuffed into the pantser category but really aren’t one or the other, they are both. Call them plot-sters or pant-ters or Plotpantster, whatever, it doesn’t really matter what we call them (me), the process these writers use incorporates a little of both, the pantser and the plotter.
“This does not mean that I know every detail and twist and turn of a story before I sit down to write. It does mean that I have an idea of my characters, the basic plot points, some kind of theme and the ending I’m working toward before I sit down to begin actually writing the book. And I do write these things down in a kind of outline or master plan for the book before I sit down to actually write the book.”
Organic writers do things differently. You might think they write willy nilly, but not so.
Keith Cronin, in his article “The Big O” on Writer Unboxed, said, “Maybe you’ve hit this bump as well. You’re about a third of the way into your first draft, and things have been going great, but suddenly you grind to a halt, at a loss as to what comes next. And you may not have a strong sense of how far along you are in your overall story arc. This is actually the stage where I usually build my chapter outline.”
Skipping around scenes is a good tool for managing writer’s block. Stuck on one scene? Set it aside and write a different one, one that doesn’t have to be the immediate scene after.
Serenity Woods applied a formula she derived from Michael Hague’s Six Stage Plot Structure to her epic fantasy, Heartwood. She said that her first draft was 187,000 words! But after using the Six Stage Plot Structure, she hammered it down.
“I now pants a lot more than I used to. My plotting is very rough and whereas I used to break down every chapter, now I usually only have the major plot twists in mind, and in between I make it up as I go along. But on the journey I’m always making stops at those major cities. That way I know I’m on the right track, and I’m going to get to my destination on time.”
Whichever writer you are, don’t let the noisy ‘how to’ world stop you from writing. Sure, experiment, play with different tools, but in the end, it’s the word count and the your story that matters, not what someone else tells you to do.
“Characters should not, conversely, serve as pawns for some plot you’ve dreamed up…I say don’t worry about plot. Worry about the characters. Let what they say or do reveal who they are and be involved in their lives, and keep asking yourself, ‘Now what happens?’…Your characters had something in mind all along that was brighter and much more meaningful than what you wanted to impose on them.” ~ Ann Lamott in Bird by Bird.
Whatever style of writer you are, accept it. Run with it. And be the best whatever style you can be and write the best novel you can write. That’s all there is to it, really.
Pat Hauldren's upcoming writing workshops: Tropes, Trollops & Truths in Speculative and Paranormal Fiction begins September 30, and Witches, Faeries & Wizards-Divining the Supernatural World begins October 28. You can find out more about Pat Hauldren and her online writing workshops on her website: www.pathauldren.com