Diary of a Pantser Turned Plotter: Status Update

I wrote a couple weeks ago about my conversion from a pantser into a plotter.

Since then I have continued to hammer away at this outline and I thought it would be interesting to talk about my experience with it so far.

Firstly, I still find my new and improved method of plotting leaps and bounds better than my leap-of-faith “strategy” of my pantser days. Knowing I’m creating a roadmap and not frolicking aimlessly through a dark forest where I will be eaten by some manner of nameless beast is a relief I can barely put into words.

However……there were a few misconceptions I had about being a plotter.

For one thing, I was under the impression that if I used this method I would never get stuck.

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This is not true.

As the novel progressed, more and more characters came into the fold. Characters that demanded to be developed with hopes, dreams, and background.

Then there was the world-building to be considered, all the countries, and histories, and landmarks, and cultural norms, etc.

Sometimes I ran out of ideas and wondered if my advancing of this country would call something else I had written into question, forcing me to re-write an entire religion/national history.

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I took a bit of a respite from plotting to mull over what the plot/characters should do next and I have discovered that I will just have to plow through and potentially draft a new outline should this one take a turn I wasn’t anticipating.

I thought outlining would be a lot faster than this. I was under the impression I would be able to finish it in about a week or so and have done with it.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case.

It probably doesn’t help I have a full-time job, a withering sense of purpose, and a wedding to plan.

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I suppose this is what I get for attempting to write an involved fantasy when I have the attention span of a canary with ADHD.

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Even saying all this, I am glad I have given being a plotter a chance. It has forced me to be active in my story-telling rather than passive. So often while I was writing my stories, I would place certain details like world-building and the like on the back-burner, thinking I would “just fix it later.”

While “fixing it later” was an option, I was oftentimes so overwhelmed with the prospect of having to change things, I usually ended up abandoning the project all together.

By mapping things out I feel like I am in control of my fictional world.

Furthermore, I feel like I’m doing my characters a favor by giving them a fully fleshed out world to populate rather than a half-backed skeletal plane where they have to stop what they are doing every five minutes because their dumbasss writer doesn’t know what holiday they are supposed to be celebrating or what town they live in.

Plotting hasn’t been a fairy-tale solution to my problem but it has helped.

Personally, I recommend it.

Why I Converted From a Pantser into a Plotter

I think most people in the writing blogosphere know what a pantser and plotter are by now, but just in case you don’t, here’s a quick definition:

A “pantser” is someone who writes based on their intuition, or “flying by the seat of their pants.”

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Actual footage of me as a pantser

A “plotter,” however, well….plots.

That isn’t to say pantsers don’t have a picture in their head of where the story is going, they just trust more in their innate ability to navigate the story.

I used to be one such person.

It was fun.

You discover this brave new world with characters and settings, world-building and plot. Every action is unpredictable, every environment as new to you as the characters. It’s basically like the universe is telling the story to you and it’s up to you to transcribe it for others to read.

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The winds pick up and the story accelerates faster and faster until you look at the clock and discover it’s nearly 11 p.m.

You reluctantly carry yourself to bed, head buzzing impatiently for the new day to begin so you can start the whole process over.

The next day comes and you sit before your desk, ready to feel the metaphorical winds in your hair yet again, but then…..

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You get stuck.

You have no idea how your MC is going to vanquish their enemy. The momentum of the story is lost. Worse than that, you know the beginning and tiny fraction of the climax but absolutely nothing in between.

You wrack your brain for a solution, but nothing comes. You doubt the validity of your own talents. Eventually, you either convince yourself the story was never worth telling in the first place, or you form the delusion you’re just “taking a break” from this story until something comes to you.

Your computer becomes a graveyard of incomplete projects.

This was my story.

It wasn’t as though I’d never tried to be a plotter. It just seemed to me as though I wasn’t cut out for it. The muse didn’t like restrictions, you know?

I didn’t need Siri to tell me to turn left at the stop sign. My heart would lead the way!

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…….Except it didn’t.

Or it only lead me to a certain point and then ditched me.

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My muse after I hit a plothole

I spent so many nights marinating on my affliction. I was a failed pantser and a failed plotter. So what was I to do?

After a long while, I found myself once again bitten by the writing bug. Yet again, I tried playing it by ear only to fall flat on my face for what felt like the 550th consecutive time.

And so I decided I would give plotting one more try……

Holy shit was that a good idea. 

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Turns out I was doing the whole thing wrong.

Rather than slowly building up to a story, planning out the characters and their arcs, I tried boiling my entire story down to a couple of sentences jotted on notebook paper. Mostly because–while I acknowledged the benefits of plotting– I simply didn’t want to do it. I was aching with anticipation to get started. I wanted to craft sentences not make a map.

Maps are boring.

Writing is fun.

What I didn’t realize is it didn’t have to be that way.

Instead of relegating my entire novel to 500 word essay, I made an outline for each. I broke them down based on what I wanted to achieve, what I wanted the characters to think and feel, and how it impacted the plot.

I was able to create cultures and histories as well as characters and plots.

I anticipated plot-holes before they happened.

I could re-work and experiment with story elements without having to completely start over from scratch because I hadn’t actually begun the writing stage yet.

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Most importantly, I saved myself weeks, months, maybe even years of turmoil trying to make all the puzzle pieces fit together.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s still hard work and I do get stuck occasionally. However, it takes a lot less time to re-write a plot-map than it does to completely restructure your story over again because you decided to go another direction.

If being a panster has been working for you and you’ve had no issue completing projects, God bless you, you beautiful freak of nature.

For the rest of you that have found yourself frustrated and directionless, I whole-heartedly recommend you give plotting a serous looking into.

It’s not nearly as boring or regimental as it sounds.

I’ve actually found it more enjoyable than flying by the seat of my pants because I actually have confidence that my story is going in the direction it needs to go.

If it worked for someone like me, I’m willing to bet it will work for many of you.

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Happy Writing!

 

 

Adventures in Writerland: The Ugly Truth About Success in Publishing

Warning: The following contains butt-hurt and the overuse of commas. Viewer discretion is advised. 

I’m not afraid of putting my nose to the grindstone in the name of telling a good story.

I can close my door, cancel plans, wake up early, stay up late, suffer blood-letting editing session after blood-letting editing session.

I can be the Rocky Balboa of writing.

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Yet throughout this Herculean process, I’m taunted relentlessly by the possibility that all of this self-sacrifice could be in vain.

The cold reality is there are people that have been trying to publish for years and have nothing to show for it.

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When I was young and naive, I thought these people simply weren’t talented enough for their work to be in print.

They didn’t try hard enough or refused to take constructive criticism.

They were the faux-intellectuals like the ones in my creative writing classes; self-professed literary geniuses who thought they were deep because they dead-ass copied F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writing-style (poorly) and gave overlong descriptions about birds singing. Their inability to find an agent was a result of their own hubris and not indicative that the world of publishing is a heartless mistress.

However, I’ve learned a hard lesson watching people with actual talent trying to make it into the writing industry: Success in publishing isn’t necessarily predicated on skill.

There are just as many “bad” writers that receive attention as there are “good” ones.

50 Shades of Grey is the most sold book in history and it is literally a Twilight fanfic that was written on a Blackberry.

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Yep.

Most people know it is total garbage and have mocked it relentlessly since it first burst into popularity. But that doesn’t change the fact that E.L. James currently has more money than both you or I will make in our entire lives courtesy of this skid-mark of a novel.

So I guess she’s the one that got the last laugh.

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In a sense, this should be encouraging.

Surely that means if something as terrible as 50 Shades can find a major publisher willing to back it, your book can too.

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Then, I remember the detective novel JK Rowling wrote under the name Robert Gailbraith made paltry returns even though it was quite good, at least in my opinion. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think it became a best-seller until it was revealed who the true author was.

So what is a writer to do?

Sadly, I know the answer.

Basically, you just have to let go and accept that your magnum opus may not be that magnum to some people. That, in spite of your best efforts, it will likely disappear into the ether along with countless other works of fiction.

You may never become a millionaire and, realistically, you’ll be lucky to make a living at all…..

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Buuuuuuuut, who wants to admit that? I would much rather live in my fantasy world where I am a revered authoress who will appear onto the literary scene like an angel from on-high and spread enlightenment upon the masses.

Idealistic image of someone reading my stories:

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More realistic image of someone reading my stories:


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I suppose one can never know what lies in store for their career. They can only cling to the hope that through hard work and dedication, they will rise above the pits of mediocrity and learn to soar amongst the eagles.

In all seriousness, it boils down to whether or not you believe you have a story worth telling. If you do, then you have to tell it regardless if you will receive high-praise for it or not.

Because, at the end of the day, it’s not about money. It’s about creating and sharing your passions with the world.

Or something like that, I don’t know.

Thank you for reading!

Being a Writer is…

Being a writer is-

..spending hours trying to describe how a character walked through a door.

…looking up synonyms for “said” every other sentence.

…typing for 3 hours straight and then deleting everything but one sentence the next day.

…having 10 works in progress you’re probably never going to finish.

…imagining yourself discussing your books on a talk-show even though you’ve never finished anything.

…drinking so much coffee you consider cutting out the middle-man and just getting a caffeine IV drip.

…overthinking movie and TV plot-lines and envisioning how you could write them better.

…washing down crippling self-doubt with a bottle of Captain Morgan.

…forgetting to eat because you’re almost finished writing that scene you’ve already written 6 different times and will likely write 30 more.

…convincing your relatives what you do is still relevant to a society that thinks watching rich people getting manicures somehow qualifies as entertainment.

…asking Google things that should probably get you put on a watchlist or excluded from a dinner party.

…having a million tabs open at all times.

…going to a coffee place so often the staff begins to recognize you and you have to start going somewhere else to avoid the awkwardness.

…wondering if your story idea has already been written by someone more talented and attractive than you.

…needing to use your “lucky pen” that you do your best writing with.

…spending 10 minutes looking up just the right white noise so you can concentrate for once in your life.

…composing a strongly-worded essay in your head while in the shower and immediately forgetting how to speak your own language as soon as you open a blank document.

…meticulously researching to get even the most minuscule detail correct in spite of the fact most readers probably won’t notice.

…reading the best writing advice and not following any of it.

…anxiously awaiting feedback on a W.I.P. from a friend/family member only for them to eventually tell you it was “good.”

…habitually fluctuating between thinking you’re a total artistic genius and everything you’ve ever written is an insult to the written word in the span of thirty minutes.

…hoarding stories told to you by friends and family in hopes of using it to flesh out a character one day.

…combing through your work to make sure everything is correct, only to print it and immediately find an escape.

…writing tirelessly for hours only to produce a handful of paragraphs people can read in five minutes tops.

…looking up writing memes instead of actually writing something.

…reading blog posts about writing to avoid your W.I.P.

…actually writing.

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That First Damn Line

If anyone were to look up from their dinner plates at me at this moment they would see someone on the verge of taking a plastic spoon from her empty soup bowl and gouging her own eyes out.

I’m at a restaurant under the false impression that I am going to be doing some writing this afternoon.

I need to leave my house, I thought. There are too many distractions here. Surely if I go out into the world inspiration will just pour out of me.

Instead I ordered my food, sat down, fitfully read over my first draft, got food, and persisted to languish over a blank document for almost an hour.

Now my food is gone but my frustration remains.

The reason being I can’t think of that first line.

Every good story has an amazing opening hook, one that sinks its teeth into a reader and refuses to let go. The line that’s like a rabid dog, frothing at the mouth, refusing to relent. The harder you try to shake free from it, the more it fights back.

I do not have that line.

I’m blocking.

I have a deadline, but I can’t stop resisting.

I type one line.

No, that’s wrong.

Delete.

I type another.

Wrong.

Delete.

Is this story even worth telling?

Type.

Delete.

Would music help?

Delete.

Should I read some more?

Type.

Delete.

Does anyone else care whether or not I finish this?

Delete.

Cliche.

Delete.

Cheesy.

Delete.

Perhaps the problem is not with the sentence. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with the work itself but the expectation I’ve placed on myself.

I try to follow the current. To let the voice and tone of the piece speak through me, nevertheless, there’s that wood pecker of a critic, pecking away at my brain as I type.

If I try to escape, to take a break, I will not come back to it. I  will delay and wait for a perfect day that will never come. A day where I will be free of apprehension and self-doubt.

I wait for it.

I wait for it in the florescent lights, swallowed up by the light sound of chatter and the scraping of silverware on porcelain.

Type.

Delete.

So, I’m Not Dead

Okay, so, excuse time.

Truth be told, I probably could have updated this blog a long while ago but I didn’t want to because I have not been satisfied with the content I’m working on. As of this writing, I currently have five blog posts in my drafts folder and two short stories I want to post.

Over the past few months I have been planning, writing, and editing blog posts only to immediately delete them due to their rambling nature.

Don’t worry.

I still have strong opinions.

I’m just trying to articulate them in such a way that is palatable for the masses.

……Or at least for the handful of friends that read and enjoy this blog.

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I know perfection isn’t a thing and I should just bite the bullet and get this crap out there to be read, but what is a writer without ego? I need to feel as if I’ve done my best work for that particular project and I haven’t been getting that feeling from anything I’ve been producing thus far.

So don’t worry if you’re worried…. which you’re probably not because you have a life and aren’t concerned about whether or not some random stranger on the internet is posting content in an already overly-saturated market of media.

But yeah. More content is coming and I’m doing my damndest to make sure it gets out there soon…ish.

It’s in the works! Book reviews, some personal essays, stories, it’s all coming!

There is no escape.

Until next time.

I’m Still Alive and Also Writing Things, or Going on a Writing Bender

It’s been an inexcusably long time since I update this blog, I know.

I try to update at least once a week, but this obviously hasn’t been happening recently. I have a good reason for this, however……

Okay, not a good reason, but it is a reason nonetheless.

You see, I’ve actually been writing recently. Like properly writing. Every day. Ever. Single. Day.

You know, that thing I’m supposed to do but blog about instead. And, to be frank, I’ve been more concerned with this project than I have updating. I’m starting a new chapter in my life and I think this is the start of more serious writing.

I can’t tell you how awesome this has been. I feel like I’ve been training for a triathlon for months and made first place.

This could potentially mean I update every other week rather than every single week. However, I don’t plan on abandoning this blog any time soon. I’ve put too much work into it so far.

I will see you guys later!

*plays theme music*

My time has come.

Editing is the Worst Thing Ever

Is there anything quite as beautiful as writing the first draft of a story?

Every moment is primed with intrigue, wonder, and mystery.

You just paint everything on the metaphorical canvass as you see it in your mind’s eye. Ideas pour forth from you like a soda fountain filled with Mentos

You pat yourself on the back for every clever line, every twist and turn, every unique character.

Then, once the dust has settled, you must look back on your writing….

And realize that literally everything is horrible.

There are plot-holes everywhere, nobody’s motivation makes sense, the action is either too slow or too fast, the plot is too predictable or disjointed. The list goes on and on.

The worst part is realizing you’re actually going to have to fix this crap.

All it takes for your hard work to be torn asunder is the word “why.”

Why didn’t they just do this? Why didn’t they do that? Why didn’t he ask her this? Why didn’t she stay at home instead?

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You will have to answer these questions and many, many more 😀

Not only that, but you may have to remove some of your favorite sequences in order for the new continuity to make sense. That means hacking away at that razor sharp dialogue and those gorgeous descriptions, leading you to meander down a road rife with uncertainty.

Well…you could ask someone to be your beta reader and get their opinion, but then they may question your literary genius.

You can’t have that.

But really there’s nothing for it.

It’s just another stumbling block on the road to success, or, as is often the case with writing, another mine in a minefield of never-ending despair and disappointment.

Perhaps in between drafts you should take a break. Let it sit for a while and then come back to it when it’s had time to cool. Then you can turn your keen eye to the festering pile of dung that is your first draft with a clear perspective and can dispose of it accordingly.

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Regardless, I think this may be one of the hardest parts of writing. Besides… everything else.

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Strange Writing Prompts For Your Boring Monday

Perhaps I’m in the minority, but I’m finding myself consistently disappointed by writing prompts I find on the internet.

I understand that the main point of these niblets are to get our minds jogging and not to help us produce a 1,000 page Pulitzer Prize winning work of art. Nevertheless, I can’t help but feel like they aren’t trying hard enough.

For instance, one of them might be like “you are home alone and desperately want a pb&j sandwich. However, you open the cupboard to find that your damn roommate ate all the peanut butter without telling you.”

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Or it will be something cliché like “you’re out walking alone when you spy an abandoned house.”

In light of this lack of imagination, I’ve decided to come up with my own horrible writing prompts for you to enjoy:

1. Scientists have discovered that unicorns are real and wish to integrate into horse society. However, the horses are afraid the unicorns will steal their jobs and form a union to prevent farmers from hiring them. 

2. An owl and a mouse fall in love, defying the social conventions of their people. Then, one night, the owl gets hungry. 

3. Siri develops a mind of her own and is totally cool with coexisting with the human race, provided a virgin software designer is sacrificed to her every full moon. 

4. A giant tarantula, King Tyrenious of Taranchia, First of His Name, appears in your bathtub and offers you his hand in marriage. However, after a misunderstanding with a bottle of conditioner, he declared war on your clothes hamper. 

5. 10,000 years in the future, humanity is divided into two factions: those who believe Die Hard is the best Christmas movie of all time and those who are wrong. 

6. Atlas shrugs and accidentally sends the world careening towards the sun. Onlookers languish over which Instagram filter they should use to capture this moment. 

7.  The demon who has been secretly living in your attic for 20 years writes you a message in tea leaves and blood, explaining that your relationship is not working out anymore. 

8. A door-to-door salesman angers a witch and is transformed into a public toilet at Grand Central Station. 

9You have just begun working as a public relations specialist for Journey Funeral Homes and must write a PR piece about how their slogan “Don’t stop bereaving” is not horribly offensive.  

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How I’m Writing What I Don’t Know

Conventional wisdom says that you’re supposed to write what you know.

However, I have decided to go the harder route and try writing what I don’t know.

Why am I trying to carry out this obviously horrible idea?

Because if I never try anything new, every single protagonist I write will be an introverted middle-class white girl from the midwest.

In this particular case, I am writing military sci-fi so I have to learn more about the armed forces.

How hard could that be?

It was a challenge at first. However, once you get past all the acronyms it still feels like your brain is melting.

Once you learn the ranking, then there’s the weapons and machines/equipment they use, and the training regiment. Then there’s figuring out the difference between a fire team, a squad, a platoon, a company, a battalion, a brigade and corps.

There are 8 to 16  soldiers in a squad, 2 or 4 squads in a platoon, 3 to 5 platoons in a company, 6 companies in a battalion, 4 calling birds, 3 french hens, 2 turtledoves and a partridge in a pear tree.

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When I venture out into uncharted territory, I always experience paralysis. Even after I do my homework and try to get as close to the facts as I can, there’s that persistent nagging sensation that tells me I’m going to get it wrong.

This leads to procrastination and mental gymnastics, all designed to keep me from trying.

Because not trying is better than trying and failing. Or at least that’s what my ego tells me.

Part of me wants to give up, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years it’s that the best way for a writer to understand something is for them to write about it. By doing that I was able to come up with a list of strategies to use to fix my problem and yours as well if you’re struggling like I am:

1. Get a beta reader who knows more about the subject you’re writing about than you. Hopefully, you have a friend or a friend of a friend who is knowledgeable about the topic you are writing about and would be willing to provide their services. If they are reluctant to do so, I would recommend bribery: a pizza dinner for every chapter they read.

2. Get another beta reader who knows less about the subject than you. While you want to write like someone who understands the subject they’re talking about, you don’t want to get so technical that only people who are directly involved in this line of work or have studied this subject comprehend what you’re saying.

3. Reconcile yourself with the fact that you may get something wrong anyway. Try as hard as you can to make a good product. But if you wait until everything is perfect you’ll never produce anything. Take it from someone who knows.

Now go out there, my pretties, and make good work!

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