Writing by the Seat of my Pants

nano-pantserWriting has always been a passion of mine.  I clearly remember the first story I wrote as an elementary student. It was a high drama romance with a hero, heroine and bad guy that had kissing, kidnapping and a happy ending.  It was three pages long and featured some popular kids from my school.

Years later my writing would morph into a spiral bound notebook that was passed between friends.  We were the characters and we lived a life in a way we could only dream of.  As angsty bored teenagers, our writing gave us excitement, adventure, and, duh- romance! They were titled things like Sassiness Anyone? and Two Bumbling Idiots.  Writing these stories are some of my best high-school memories.

Much later, when I decided I wanted to write a novel, I just started writing. I didn’t plan out meticulously what would happen, there was no plot charting or story mountain. I didn’t give each of my characters intensive Myers-Briggs tests so I could know their inner most thoughts. I just wrote by the seat of my pants.  I wrote from instinct and intuition. I wrote without always knowing what would happen next.  It was just how I wrote. I learned this was called Pantsing. It is the Oscar to Felix’s meticulous planning.

When I was goaded into doing my first NaNoWriMo in 2011 I had no choice but to be a panster-even if I wanted to plan I wouldn’t have been able to. This was due to the fact that my friend convinced me to participate on November 1st and told me I had to come up with something completely new. So I tossed my few thousand words of Lodestone aside and began writing Second Chance Key.

Each and every day I had zero idea what I was going to write. I was lucky in that I had a job that afforded me the opportunity to spend hours doing mindless work (photo editing) so my brain was free to think about the action of the day.  I discovered writing by novel days-planning each day of action in the book, helped me to move my story forward.  When I started my story I had a vague beginning and I knew the end was going to be happy, but I had no idea about anything in between.  Breaking it down into days helped me not get overwhelmed.  So each day while at work I would ask myself what would be happening to my characters that day. Sometimes it would come from one of my children, like when they said, “we want Uncle Russ to be in the story” or “I think there should be a dog that lives under a rock.”  Other times I’d run across something odd in the news and find a way to incorporate it.  Regardless of the techniques I used, I got to my 50,000 and ended up writing an interesting story about motherhood, adventure, depression and forgiveness. If I can write a book from nothing, so can you.

If you are new to NaNo and feel overwhelmed at the idea of planning out a novel, here are some tips to help you succeed as a Pantser.

  1. Start with a beginning, middle, setting and end.  Know where your story starts, at least one character, one or two things you think should/could happen in the book and then a general understanding on how you want to end the story.  Then use those as anchors.  Simply write your way to each event/major action.  Sometimes you may not know how to get to your next action, that’s ok.  I’ve been known to skip forward in my timeline to write a scene that I couldn’t get out of my head, then go back and continue writing in my normal timeline.  I also have found myself unsure how to end one scene and begin the next, thinking I needed some major action-this isn’t always true. Sometimes just ending the scene and starting the next chapter actually flows better.  So trying not to overthink things can really help move you foward.
  2. Get to know your main character. If you don’t plan anything else, just spend some time interviewing your character, knowing how they act, what they like, their strengths and weaknesses and what drives them.  This will help you in your writing process because well thought out characters can often carry the story along without you doing very much. It’s odd, I know, but it happens.  Your characters really do take on a life of their own.
  3. If you get stuck, do a quick side writing about how your characters feel about each other.  This will help give the other characters in the story more depth and may trigger a thought to help you move forward.
  4. Use Story Cubes and writing prompts then do whatever it says to do.  You may be surprised, or you may hate it. Regardless, you will get words down and you can always cut the scene in December after NaNo is over.
  5. Finally, understand it is okay to chase the rabbit down the rabbit hole.  Even if something completely crazy, like your entire cast actually turns into rabbits on their second day of action, just go with it.  Again, you can cut the scene in December if you decide you don’t like it.  If you discover you completely hate it- remember, those words still count. Don’t delete them.  Instead highlight them and make a note to cut in December, then try again.  Because, in November, ALL the words count.

If you have some great advice on how to Pants your way through a novel, please leave it here in the comments.

If the idea of Pantsing make you want to throw up in your mouth, here is a buttload of resources to help you start working on your story.  Below you’ll also find a few posts I’m linking to to help you plan out your novel.

Character/Story Development File -lots of good stuff here. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, sketches, word lists and so on.

Blog post about prepping for NaNo-for those in betweeners who want to plan a little bit.

25 ways to plot by Chuck Wendig

If these resources can’t help you plot-maybe you should give up and just throw caution into the wind and pants along with me 🙂

Happy Planning, or, if you’re Pantsing, oooh, shiny!

Story Starters

It’s October and that means it is time to start thinking about NaNoWriMo! If you don’t know what NaNoWriMo is, check out this post.  This year I’m spending October working with some Middle School students who are going to try their hand at writing a book during NaNo and one of our sessions is Story Starters.  If you don’t have an idea for November yet, if you are stuck and don’t know where to go, here you go!  A gift from me to you.  Some images, words and ideas to help send a muse your way!

Plot fodder:

  1. At birth everyone has the date of their death tattooed on their arm, you were supposed to die yesterday.
  2. While researching your family tree you come across a name that has been blacked out.
  3. Every person is born with a twin. One is evil and one is good. Your twin died at birth; the government isn’t sure which one your are. they make their best guess and send you to one of the territories when you turn 16, they choose wrong, how do you proceed? thanks to Sacha Black for the first three.
  4. A guy is transported through a wormhole to another planet that’s ruled by potatoes.- TCWriMo Suzy
  5. Who are they, what is around them, what motivated them to be there, are they together looking one way or are they separate looking in. Oddly enough it’s the smallest details that make the difference.-TCWriMo James
  6. Four kids in a tent after dark. No adults. A loud, unknown noise occurs. What happens next? -TCWriMo Cari
  7. A person/kid is in a locker room changing when they notice another person in the room has the exact uniquely shaped scar in the exact same place as them. -Jacque

Below are some images to trigger a thought.  Think about the What, Why, When, Where, Who and How. Let your imagination go wild. Click on the photo to see it more closely.

Good luck creating your story!  Stay tuned for some periodic posts about getting prepped for the craziness of November!

Will Ego Be Your Downfall?

There is a lot of hubbub right now about the publishing of Go Set a Watchman.  I honestly didn’t know too much about Go Set, it seemed to be spun as a follow up of the first book but after reading some articles I feel doubtful about that.  And as reviews came trickling in it became clear that our beloved Atticus is now a racists and Scout is a bitter woman telling the story, something many of us don’t want to see.

A friend sent me an article to read that cleared up some questions for me.  I was fully unaware that Go Set was actually a first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird.  The author of the article uses what Harper Lee did (the rewriting of her fully finished novel into a wholly different story) as a lesson to authors about checking your ego at the door and trusting your editor/readers.

It is no joke when we write, we are opening our veins and bleeding out onto paper (or laptops).  We LOVE our book, we adore our characters and we desperately want everyone to feel the same we do.  So when constructive criticism or a less than favorable review comes, we clutch our hearts and stagger to the ground in a weeping mass or we brandish our swords and spar back.  I’ve seen authors responding to Goodreads reviews, angry and insulting and quite frankly, looking like total idiots.

Will I read Watchman? No.  It doesn’t seem to be the story the author intended.  But have I learned something from this?  Yes!  I need to work at opening myself up to critique and make sure I don’t fly to defend the stories I write.  By doing so I may miss important feedback that could rework the story into something magnificent.  Harper Lee’s book was rejected at first, with her editor’s direction she wrote a beloved American classic.  Will my books become classics, doubtful.  But will having an open mind and taking to heart the feedback of readers and editors make my book a better book?  Absolutely.

Lack of Originality

Recently I was ranting about my desire to burn down the library after coming across a book with very similar premise to my current work in process.  I had thought my idea was so original and different!  Yet here it was, taunting and pointing at me from the bookshelf!

“I’m here first,” it sang at me snidely.  And I did not respond diplomatically.  I may have startled the nearby patrons with my cranky retort.

Of course the book wasn’t exactly the same idea.  Just a similar concept….sigh…but still…

I raged to my writing group, who put their virtual arms around me in comfort.  They told me to just make it mine, do it better than other author had, or that by the time mine was ready for release the other would be ages old and forgotten, if it was even noticed in the first place.  But I was still cranky and dismayed.  I sort of wanted to set fire to something.

However my outlook changed a bit today. I was listening to the TED Radio episode Where Do Good Ideas Come From– and it made me feel TONS better.  Writer Steven Johnson essentially said that there is no such thing as an original idea anymore.  That innovation comes from taking ideas and repurposing them to make them your own.  And that does seem true.  It goes along with the idea that there are really essentially only seven different story plots.

So when my character comes into a specific birthright on a specific birthday and I come across a novel where nearly the same thing is happening to the character in that book, instead of getting upset I will understand that characters everywhere for years and years have had strange things happening on birthdays.  The world is not out to get me.

Therefore I will embrace that fact that there probably are no truly original story lines out there anymore (notice smut novels featuring dinosaur partners as proof that everything under the sun has been done) and I will continue blindly plugging away because it makes me happy.  And if someone says, “Hey, you’re book is like this other book I read.” I’ll decide to take it as a compliment and move on.  I think Stephen Fry said it best.  “An Original Idea.  That can’t be too hard.  The library must be full of them.”



Done and On to the Next

Last night after my husband I were incapable of watching Bad Grandpa (we just couldn’t do it) I decided to do more editing for Second Chance Key. I surprised myself and finished going through the edits and am now farming it off to beta readers.

After I get some initial feedback I may approach a book club to read and respond. I want to have all my rewrites done by October 1 so I’m not certain I’ll have that month a book club will take to read it.

I think if I can get around five to seven beta readers then that may be enough. I hope.

So what’s next? Well on to rewrites for Lodestone. I have a good sized bug list from my meeting with readers a few months ago and now I need to immerse myself in the world of Wander Glimly.

Consecutively I will be going through my 2012 NaNo book about Jora. I reached my fifty thousand words but the story isn’t finished. But that might be a little much :).

So there you have my update. I hope it finds you well. And sorry for the lack of eloquence, I wrote this on my phone :).

One last thing. I always require a photo so here is my new writing desk. It is an old sewing table minus the machine. The framed image is an artist rendition of Amanda Palmer, compliments from some friends. Amanda via a Dresden Dolls song, makes an appearance in the book. I’m not a stalker, just a product evangelist.

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Boy oh boy have I been busy.  Day Job requires a lot more time than I expected but I enjoy it so it’s okay I guess.

What I’ve been up to – well, I’ve finished a side project I was working on.  That has been submitted and approve, so that is exciting!

Now that that is off my plate I am back to editing Second Chance Key.  It takes almost an hour to edit one chapter and I’m only on chapter 7 of 20 something!  I have a lot of work ahead of me in that respect.  But I’m feeling excited to get this finalized and out for publishing.

I will be looking for some beta readers for Second Chance Key at the end of June (goodness please people, hold me to this deadline!).  So if you are interested in being a Beta Reader let me know.

What do I require of my Beta Readers?

  • Read my book in a reasonable amount of time (like two-three weeks)
  • Provide content feedback and info about Plot Holes
  • Let me know if I missed a typo or grammar issue

What do you get in return for being a beta reader?  I’ll let you keep your proof copy and will love you forever.  Loving someone forever is a big honor so keep that in mind.

I hope everyone out there is enjoy their world, the sun that has finally come to visit us in Northern Michigan and the upcoming holiday weekend.

Stay safe!