Tag Archives: outlines

The Slow Accumulation of Words

Notebook

There are many times I feel like I’m not getting anywhere with my writing. Or, to be more specific, that I’m not getting anywhere fast enough. Like writing a novel is some kind of race, and I’m forever having to stop to tie my shoe.

This feeling came over me a couple of days ago. I’ve been struggling lately. Three and a half weeks of school holidays meant I was exhausted by the end of the day, falling into bed with a grateful thought to the teachers who somehow manage to entertain and teach 21 six-year-olds every single day without, apparently, resorting to alcohol.

Then school started and I fell sick. For eight days.

Then six-year-old Big Brother developed a crazy high fever and was sick for four days.

And through all this, my writing suffered. I’d sit down at night, for my hour of creative time, and I’d have nothing. I was too drained to think, let alone create interesting and comical scenes for an increasingly complex story.

At the end of July, I missed my monthly writing goal by almost 10,000 words. And all those feelings of insecurity and guilt and why-do-I-do-this-anyway-ness crept over me like a thick, woolly blanket. Comfortable and familiar and stifling.

So I took a deep breath, and looked back over the my writing calendar.

You see, at the end of every day I feel in a calendar with how many words I wrote for the day, how many words I’ve written for the month so far, and my updated daily word count goal. It looks something like this:

Calendar

At first glance, it looks pretty dismal. The green highlights are the days I hit my target. There’s not a lot of them some months. 

But then I got to thinking. And to adding. And to working out some stats.

And suddenly, the world didn’t seem quite so bleak.

In the last six months, from the 1st of January to the 31st of July, I have written a total of 103,000 new words.

Over a hundred thousand words.

That astounds me.

And some more stats:

  • On average, I’ve written 5 out of every 7 days.
  • I’ve written an average of 670 words per writing day.
  • Those words have been written on a combination of two novel manuscripts (one finished, one >< close to being finished), and a short story.

Over the last six months, I’ve really developed my style and my voice, and I’ve turned writing from something I want to do, into something I do do. Plus, I’ve discovered a secret love of outlines. (Shhh!)

And do you know what the most amazing thing about all that is?

I’ve done it all in one hour a day.

 

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Pantsers Anonymous

Hi, my name is Jo and I’m a Pantser.

I’ve been a Pantser for as long as I can remember. When I have an idea for a new story, I just sit down and write. Sometimes I know a little about the world I’m creating or the main character or the plot. But not often. I just figure it out as I go.

By the time I’m finished the first chapter, I’ve usually got a handle on the main characters. By the time I’ve hit the first conflict, I’ve generally figured out how the book will end. By the time I’m a third of the way through, I need to stop and write a brief outline for the rest of the book.

I’ve tried outlining before I start. I’ve tried creating files on characters and settings and plot points. But it just doesn’t work for me. It robs me of inspiration and makes me feel empty inside. So I long ago resigned myself to being a Pantser.

There’s plenty of us around. All of us writing by the seat of our pants and discovering the plot twists and turns as they happen. It’s exciting, really.

Most of the time.

Usually.

But sometimes…

Sometimes it’s frustrating.

I recently had the opportunity to have the first three chapters of my WIP (Work in Progress) read by a published author whom I greatly respect. She offered to read my pages and send me some notes with her thoughts and feedback. Of course, I took her up on the offer. (Who wouldn’t?)

After a couple of weeks, I got her feedback. I read it several times. I went away and thought about it. Then I read it again.

I’m incredibly grateful to her for taking the time out of her schedule to read my still-in-its-early-stages draft and send me her thoughts. Incredibly grateful.

Especially because she complimented me on the scene I felt was strongest.

And also because she pointed out the flaws that I secretly feared (but knew) were on the page.

Her feedback went something like this:

  • I like the world you’ve created.
  • The sidekick character is terrific.
  • The protagonist is too bland.
  • It’s a very long run-up before it gets interesting. [Jo’s favourite scene]  is terrific and unusual. I don’t think the stuff up to then earns its place and it’s very explainy.

Now, I already pretty much knew that the first couple of chapters would be shortened and turned into a single chapter during revisions. So no problem there. As a pantser, the first couple of chapters of a first draft are really more about me getting into the story than anything else.

But the point about my protagonist being bland… Well.

Well, I really knew that already.

I started thinking more about him, and about how to bring his personality on to the page in a bigger way,. And I had a sudden realisation. An epiphany, if you will. I knew nothing about my protagonist.

Apparently he sprung into being, fully formed, at about the same time he developed magic powers. I had no clue who he was, deep down, what his values were, or what motivated him. So I’ve put my writing on pause to concentrate on developing my protagonist. And that, in turn, has led me to finally decide on the setting for my story.

Right now, I’m researching a setting, exploring the backstory of my main character, and immersing myself more fully into the world of my imagination. I’ve got notes galore on things I’ll have to change during revisions (which I’m really looking forward to). But first, I need to finish the research and write the remainder of my first draft.

Like I said, sometimes it’s frustrating to be a pantser. It’s crazy to write 60% of a novel without knowing where it’s set, or having any idea of the main character’s motivations.

But…

But on the other hand…

I kind of like this kind of crazy.

Do you plot your novels first, or are you a member of Pantsers Anonymous? Have you been in a similar situation?

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Outlining is for Sissys (and People Who Know How)

It’s quite a while since I’ve written about writing and even longer since I’ve written about my WIP (Work In Progress). In part, that’s because I’ve decided not to talk too  much about the writing process — there are a million blogs about writing and I don’t think I have too much different to offer — but it’s also partly because I’ve been stuck.

For the last four months I’ve been stuck. I’m 33,000 words into my novel. That’s 130 pages. Just over 40% done. In other words, I’m stuck in the muddy middle.

It’s not that I’d lost inspiration. Or passion. Or drive. It’s not that I’d fallen out of love with the story. Or the characters. Or the setting.

I just didn’t know what should happen next.

See, I’m what’s known by those in the business as a “pantser”. That means that, rather than preparing a full outline before I start, I write by the seat of my pants, with no idea what’s going to happen next until the words hit the paper.

I like writing that way. I like being surprised by my characters, and letting the plot develop as I give my characters free rein to act within their personalities, ambitions and abilities.  But sometimes…. sometimes it really sucks.

Like when I get stuck.

For four months I’ve been stuck. I love what I’d written so far. I’ve got a hero, a problem, and a desired outcome. I’ve had the hero attacked and almost killed, and assembled a team of allies around him. The story and characters are all set up and in perfect position for…. something.

I’d even worked out how the story was going to end — I knew what would happen in the final confrontation, who would live and who would die, who would get the girl and who would lose her, and even how the resolution would play out.

I just didn’t know how to get from point A to point B.

“I should outline it,” I said to myself. “That will help.”

Yeah.

No.

I tried various methods. I tried index cards, computer programs, posters, post-it notes, a whiteboard…. Nothing. I couldn’t even put down a decent outline of what I’d already written.

So for four months I’ve done nothing.

Actually, that’s a lie. I’ve done a lot of thinking. I’ve done a couple of “novel building exercises” where I’ve written about my characters from unusual perspectives. And I’ve done a lot of thinking. (Did I say that already?)

And then last Friday I had an awesome meeting with my critique partner and fellow writer, Claire. We were talking about a series of books that I’ve been reading and I said, “I loved them but at the same time, they’re the kind of books that left me feeling totally depressed.”

“Why?” she asked.

“Because they’re so amazing,” I said. “They’re easy to read, with realistic characters you can fall in love with, and stories that just… Wow. They’re not complicated, there’s no flowery language and not a lot of symbolism or anything, but they’re awesome. They’re good, honest, fun stories. And that’s what I want to write. And reading these books leaves me feeling a bit depressed because I feel like I’ll never be able to create something as awesome as this.”

And do you know what Claire said to me? She said, “Yes, you will.”

There was a whole bunch of reasons and a pep talk attached to that statement, but the overall message was one of absolute, total conviction. Yes, you will. You will create something that people love. You will create stories that people want to read and immerse themselves in and tell their friends about. You will create stories that make other writers feel overjoyed and, at the same time, slightly depressed.

Yes, you will.

I left that meeting with renewed enthusiasm and vigour. I had 45 minutes until I had to pick Big Brother up from school, so I sat down in a park nearby, pulled out a pen and a piece of paper, and started to write.

I didn’t write an outline. I just made a list.

I ignored romance sub-plots and emotional overtones and details about the magic system. I ignored character development and angst. I just focused on the plot. And I made a list.

I made a list of everything that had happened so far. Short sentences. One sentence per line.

Then I left a big gap and made a list of everything that I already knew had to happen for the build-up to the final confrontation and the resolution.

When I was finished, I looked at my sheet of paper. I had 22 sentences written down, with a gap between numbers 9 and 10.

Each of the early sentences described, in very basic terms, a chapter I’d already written.

Each of the later sentences described, in very basic terms, a chapter I’d already planned to write.

And I suddenly realised something.

I’d written an outline.

And the solution to my problem was so obvious, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen it before.

Apparently all I need to do to get my characters from point A to point B is to have one of the characters say, “Hey! Let’s go to point B! That would fix everything!”

Yep, after four months of being stuck, it turns out I can fix all my problems with the movie cliché, “Let’s get outta here.”

Thank you, accidental outline.

You’re a lifesaver.

 

 

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