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Balancing Pantsing and Plotting: Part 1

Pantsing and Plotting: A Never-Ending Debate

Pantsing (also known as discovery writing): Flying by the seat of your pants while writing, letting the stories and the characters come to you as you go.

Plotting (also known as outlining): Planning the details of your book—the plot, the structure, the characters, the settings, the theme, everything—before you write.

Pantser or plotter? Which one are you? There always seems to be a battle over which is best. However, rarely are writers completely at one end of the spectrum because that’s what this whole thing is: a spectrum. Plotters often find some bit of instantaneous creativity creeping in and messing up their well-laid plans. Discovery writers often get stuck and need to take some time out to figure out (i.e., plot) where the story is going.

This post is about my journey with pantsing and plotting and how I have found a tentative balance between the two.

pantsing and plotting, lost, stuck, writing, writerMy Story: Pants First, Plot Later

When I really got serious about my fiction writing, I was terrified. I had spent many years writing nonfiction and editing other people’s writing. Somewhere along the way, I had gotten it into my had that I couldn’t finish a novel. I had started so many times over the years with a brilliant idea, only to get stuck at 500 words or 5000 words, sometimes even 10,000. The problem was, I’d always reach a point where I came up blank. I didn’t know where my story was headed or I’d get overwhelmed because I couldn’t figure out the perfect plotline. It was usually the former. In other words, I was a total pantser, and when it came time to plot, I’d freeze.

A friend helped me realize that I could write the worst thing ever, and it wouldn’t matter. I am an editor by trade. I can fix almost anything. What I can’t do, as they say, is fix a blank page. Another friend helped me realize that fear was holding me back, keeping me from coming up with those stellar endings. Funny how that revelation lifted the very fear that was stopping me.

I decided then that I would finish my novel, Strange Bedfellows, no matter how bad it was. With my new friends from the Twitter monthly writing challenge to keep me accountable, I started writing at least 500 words a day. At first, I would skip days when things were too crazy. But before long, I was writing every single day.

By the the time three months has passed, I had finished the first draft of Strange Bedfellows, a lesbian paranormal romance. It was a fantastic day!

What Next?

Of course, I really wanted to jump right into editing, but I knew better. Author blindness is nothing to trifle with. I needed time away from my manuscript, and it was October 31. Everyone on social media was posting about National Novel Writing Month, which starts every November 1. Honestly, I had always thought NaNoWriMo was crazy. Fifty thousand words in one month? That was 1667 words a day! But when I looked at my writing log from the month before, there were plenty of days when I had capped a thousand words. Maybe I could do it, but I had only the barest idea for a story, the vision of one character in my mind. I didn’t even know if it was epic fantasy or urban fantasy, and I had one day to begin writing.

The Beginning of My Plotting Journey—Well, Sort Of

By that time, I had learned more and more about writing structure, among other things. Self-education is important in my line of work, especially since I work for indie authors in an industry that is constantly changing. I knew enough about the whole pantsing and plotting debate that I knew I wanted to try more plotting.

However, I didn’t have time to outline an entire book, but I decided to take a structure that already had the major plot points mapped out for me: the Hero’s Journey. I printed out a road map to that famous story structure and made each plot point (ordinary world, call to adventure, refusal of the call, etc.) a scene in my new novel’s Scrivener file. It was the barest of structures, yes, but it got me through NaNoWriMo. Every once in a while, I’d stop and write notes for a few days ahead using The Hero’s Journey. It worked! I won NaNoWriMo, reaching 52,359 words by November 30! With a little bit more plotting, in December, I finished the first draft of Flight of the Ceo San, a heroic fantasy, which was closer to 80,000 words.

So with mostly pantsing and some plotting, I had finished two first drafts.

I Really Need to Plot More

When it came time to revise that original first draft, I was tentative. By then, I’d had an alpha reader tell me that it had no plot and that he didn’t care for the characters. While I was trying to take the feedback with a grain of salt, I knew my story had problems. I couldn’t ever quite get a handle on my main character’s motivation. I had just kept pushing her forward in the story because I just needed to finish it.

To be honest, I never even started to edit it. Instead, with the characters in my head, I decided to go full-on plotter for the revision.

Plotting Is Hard

Over the course of six weeks or so, this is what happened. At first, I filled half of a Moleskine notebook with the answers to the character interviews in K. M. Weiland’s Crafting Unforgettable Characters: A Hands-On Introduction to Bringing Your Characters to Life. I ran out of steam after finishing my two protagonists but still managed to fill another ten pages or so with my antagonist and a side character.

Then, it was time to figure out motive, conflict, and effect. Here, I turned to Rachael Stephen’s How to Build a Novel. I also used K. M. Weiland’s Outlining Your Novel, and a favorite of mine, The Fantasy Fiction Formula by Deborah Chester. I wrote down lots of ideas but couldn’t get to the point where I could map out scenes containing the magic Goal/Conflict/Disaster (Motive/Conflict/Effect) trifecta. Sequels, I could handle, but scenes? My brain felt like a pile of mush. I couldn’t quite get to the bottom of the story. It changed from one day to the next. It seemed like maybe I just wasn’t cut out to be a plotter after all.

Part of my problem was that I wasn’t able to kill my darlings—those scenes and ideas that weren’t fitting but that I couldn’t let go of—yet.

I got so desperate that I considered taking off my pants.

Continued in Part 2.

 

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An Indie Author Guide to Saving Money on Editing—Part 1: The Value of Patience

Welcome to the first part of my new weekly series on methods that indie authors can use to save money on editing.

The first question that you might have is why would an editor want to tell an author how to save money on her services. The reasons are many, but here are just a few:

1. I am an author myself. I plan to self-publish the two novels that I am currently working on as well as those that come after. I understand how big that number can look when you get an estimate from an editor to polish up your manuscript (”Be nice to my baby!”). I have no desire to bankrupt writers just so they can publish books that won’t send readers away screaming about errors. (But I also know that most professional editors, myself included, charge reasonable fees with the goal of earning a comfortable, living wage.)

2. It’s more enjoyable for me. As an editor, I enjoy editing books that start out in better shape. If I’m not fixing things that it would have been easy for the author to fix, I get to really enjoy the story and concentrate on using those professional skills that I have spent years developing, unique skills that authors hire me for.

“But, hey, doesn’t that mean you’re charging me the same amount to do less work?!”

No, actually. Like many editors, I have a range of rates that I charge for each of my services. I charge per word. For manuscripts that are already well polished, I charge the lower end of the range. For manuscripts that are messy and will take me more time to clean up or analyze, I charge the upper rate of the range. Currently, there is a 1.5 cent per word difference between my lower and upper rates for copyediting. For an author, that could mean the difference between paying $750 for a clean 50,000 word manuscript and paying $1500 for a messy one.

3. It won’t take me as long to finish. If your manuscript is clean, I will spend less time on it. You will get it back faster, and I can accept another job during that time. So, instead of spending four weeks copyediting one messy manuscript, I can spend those same four weeks copyediting two clean ones, so I get to read more great books and interact with more wonderful authors. It’s a win–win, if you ask me.

The Value of Patience

So how, you might ask, will patience save me money on editing? When a manuscript is accepted by a publisher, it goes through a series of tried and true steps, only one of which is editing. If publishers skipped those steps, they might soon be out of business.

Take the same care with your own book. Make yourself a checklist of the steps that you think or know are necessary to create a great product. Yes, your book is a creation and a work of art, but if you want to sell it, you must also see it as a product. The makers of car seats and packaged foods pay dearly for skipping quality-assurance steps, and so do independent authors.

Almost everything that I will suggest to you in this series to save money on editing will require patience, but here are a couple that you can start with. I will cover more steps in future posts.

1. Don’t send your first draft to an editor. Let it sit for two to three months and then self-edit it. Trust me, after you haven’t laid eyes on your precious baby for a while, it won’t seem as precious, and you’ll be able to catch a lot of mistakes. Why pay an editor to do this part if you can do it yourself with just a little patience and space away from your manuscript?

Does this mean that I won’t take your money if you send me your first draft? Of course not. When we’re under contract, you are paying me to apply my skills to your book. I can do that anytime. If you want me to start earlier on in the process, I will, but I don’t recommend it.

“But, Janell, what am I supposed to do? I want to publish. I can’t just twiddle my thumbs for two or three months. I’ve got to get this baby on Amazon now!

If you only plan to publish one book, you’ve probably been working on this book for a while. Two to three months in the long run will only make it better. For those of you who want to publish more than one novel, see point 2.

2. Establish a cycle. While manuscript one is “stewing,” start writing manuscript two. Getting all caught up in a new book is great for putting distance between you and the project that’s been consuming all of your energy for weeks (if you’re a NaNoWriMo style writer), months, or years. As an indie author, you also have other things you can take care of while your brain takes a much needed vacation from your first manuscript, especially once you have more than one book in the pipeline. You could be doing any of the following and still stay productive as a writer:

• Self-editing another manuscript.
• Preparing an edited and formatted manuscript for launch.
• Building your author platform (the dreaded marketing!).
• Writing a new book or short story.

Basically, you need to build up a cycle of Write–Revise*–Publish–Promote for all of your titles and overlap them something like this:

1. Write first draft of Title 1.
2. Write first draft of Title 2.
3. Self-edit Title 1.
4. Send Title 1 out to alpha readers.
5. Self-edit Title 2.
6. Send Title 2 out to alpha readers.
7. Review alpha reader feedback on Title 1 and self-edit again.
8. … and on and on, working in a third or fourth title as you wish.

*Revise is not a single step. It includes self-editing, getting the help of alpha/beta readers and/or critique partners, and hiring a professional editor and proofreader along with lots and lots of revision on your part. I didn’t say this was going to be easy.

As with any worthwhile endeavor, you won’t reach your goal overnight. You don’t earn a black belt in a month, and you certainly don’t become a successful, established, selling author that quickly either, so take your time and do it right.

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SUNDAY REBLOG: Why You Should Do NaNoWriMo… And Why You Shouldn’t « terribleminds: Chuck Wendig

Should you do NanoWriMo or not? Chuck Wendig over at terribleminds has some thoughts on the matter.

Source: Why You Should Do NaNoWriMo… And Why You Shouldn’t « terribleminds: chuck wendig

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