Getting Lost Taking the Scenic Route

I have been caught off of the main highway of writing and slowed down by the tempting editing side roads along the way. As I have learned to write I keep hoping the editing will get shorter, but now I’m not sure. I thought the fix was in plotting. You see I am a natural pantser. In fifth grade when Mr. Brown was trying to teach us how to write a paper, he showed us how to research, write note cards and formulate an outline. Then and only then would he give permission for us to begin the writing process.

I, naturally, was resistant to this controlled way of writing. Already enamored with story writing I didn’t love the idea of non-fiction, but was willing to give it a try. Research, that was fun. Can’t remember the subject, but I’ve always loved finding out facts. Note cards, yes I liked those. Short sweet and able to shuffle in any order I pleased. Note cards could even be color-coded, that was even better. But the outline, ah yes, the outline. There I failed.

I tried writing an outline, but I didn’t know how things would go together. How could you write a map of where you were going when you hadn’t been there. I struggled with it. Then I gave up. I ended up writing the paper in secret and drawing the outline from that rough draft then turning in the outline. Mr. Brown approved, I waited a day or two and handed in my rough draft. Sneaky.

Already a closet pantser I stayed that way through college, whipping up decent papers the night before or sometimes, if they were short, the morning they were due. I could have been a better student. I could have written better papers had I taken more time, or known how to really do an outline that worked for me. But once again, I found ways around it. And muddled through.

So now I am an adult. No one is asking for the outline, no one is grading me on it. My desire for good grades is enormous. I want that A. I want that editor or that agent to hand it to me on a silver platter. And now I know writing a novel on the cusp of the due date isn’t going to get me there. No, to do that, I need to hand in my best work. But how is a life-long pantser supposed to change?

My perfectionism forces me to edit. And edit. And edit. I have heard, and I’m sure its true, that plotting saves time in the editing stage. And I badly want this. So I started my new story (working title Blood Were) by Snowflaking. Randy Ingermanson of Advanced Fiction Writing fame is the author of this method and when I heard him speak last October at the Heart of Denver mini-con a light bulb went on. This was structure without structure. This was like the note-card shuffle. At this, I could be successful.

I started out well, but soon petered out. I could write a small character sheet, get my main plot points down, but when it came to filling things out I was stuck. It turns out that I can come up with inciting incidents, major plot points and even black moments, but when it comes to anything in between I need to write.

I need to write to really understand my characters, and I need to write to know why my plot goes the way it does. I like having some structure. I now have a sort of a road map in the Snowflake method. Lets call it verbal directions. “Turn right at that drugstore, you know the one with the blue roof, take your third left and when you see the Dairy Queen you’re almost there.” (I always navigate by food, DQ and donuts are the best.) I truly don’t understand the nuances of my characters or how they will interact until those words start flowing.

So here I am. I was hoping to become a reformed pantser, but instead I am embracing it, with a little dip into the plotting pool. I still like the idea of plotting out the main points. I like to know the general idea of where my road trip will take me, but I’ve found out that what I really like is the journey. Even when it means my newest 1,000 plus words need to be cut and re-written from the heroine’s point of view and not the hero’s. What can I say? I’m a sucker for roadside attractions.

My Name my Blog Days Contest is still wide open, so come up with more ideas and post in the comment section. Prizes are waiting!

Contest closes July 18th with the premiere of the new re-vamped Jessica Aspen Writes, so be sure and leave your ideas before then and check back on the 18th to see my new look and who won!


Filed under Optimisim, writing craft

14 responses to “Getting Lost Taking the Scenic Route

  1. I have to say you hit a nerve with this one; in fact, I think I’ll make a blog post out of all my thoughts and experiences on this topic. Thanks for the shove. And I’ll link it to you, Jessica! Good post that hits home.

  2. Ah, Jessica, dipping into the plotting pool. I’ve attempted the same, with Karen Wiesner’s First Draft in Thirty Days.
    My conclusions?
    1.) Most pansters don’t become plotters overnight (some never become plotters-never ever ever, and some, sadly, never try). Little by little I dip the toe in deeper, adjust to the water temperature, splash about. After ripping 2 novels apart to sort through the quagmire, I see the benefits of plotting, both for my sanity and the calendar.
    2.) There is no absolute either/or, black or white, right or wrong, plotter or panster. There are many shades of grey, and as we grow in our craft, we work to find our place on the colour wheel.
    Once again, a relevant post. Thanks!

    • You are so right Sherry! While there may be on one right way, I’m hoping there is an easier way than editing the same ms, ten times!(okay, each new ms hopefully requires less and less edting, but still!) I’m hoping to cling to sanity myself. I am trying the same book, but there is no way I’ll get a rough draft banged out in 30 days, I can’t even figure out my characgers motivation till I write them in a scene. But I’ll keep trying! You, I’m sure, are doing fantastic!

  3. Gloria Richard

    Great post, Jessica!

    Inner editor Gracie (You remember her, right? From IMC?) probably won’t stay in the closet because I am a panster with a plodder (er…plotter) looking over my shoulder all the time.

    I have a clear memory of my first plunge into Panster Pond. Fifth grade. We had a writing assignment to read aloud in front of the class. As fellow classmates read their stories, I kept looking at mine and thinking, “Gee. I wish I’d written about [insert topic I can no longer remember] instead of about this.” So, when it was my turn, I took my story to the front of the room and pretended I was reading it. I made up the new story as I went along. I got an “A”, even though the teacher asked to see my paper after I read.

    For me, the technique that finally brought my story to the plot level that works for me is basic. I have a wonky, tattered piece of paper with a circle a local CP drew for me as we talked about the four “acts” and turning points, inciting incidents, black moments, and all that writerly jazz. I used that to do a macro level scene sketch for what happened in each of the four segments. That’s it. Poor CP is a left-brainer. I won’t show her my scene sketch b/c I fear her left brain will fritz like a mosquito hitting a bug light.

    Inner editor Gracie itches to edit this post, tighten it, play with sentence structure. If I cut her loose, I’ll get one sentence written today. But, it will be dang pretty sentence!

    Thanks for the reminder that I’m not alone in the quagmire of panster v plotter.

    • Oh Gloria! You are not alone! I knew we had a lot in common! I start off with such good intentions, but find I just can’t get much down on the paper. And then when those words start flying, watch out good intentions! I’m so far off plot in my my new WIP, it isn’t even funny!
      Say hello to Gracie!

  4. I so agree with you, Jessica, and Sherry and Elaine (looking forward to your thoughts). I could have written this post. I did the exact same panster thing with 2 books then realized I needed more structure, so I’ve used Karen Weisner’s book to outline my third book. Her book does have you detailing every scene. But like you, Jessica, I need to write to get to know my characters, so now that I’m getting close to the middle, I am starting to get a feel for them and will eventually go back and inject their personality. I did follow the outline. It has given me that focus I needed, although I’ve just decided I need more in the middle. It will be interesting to see which method works better when I finally reach the end.

    • Nice to know I’m not the only one taking the scenic route, instead of staying strictly on the main highway. That 30 Days book sure gets around! I have almos 10,000 words written on my new ms, I did snowflake it, at least a little, but the 30 days thing seems more difficult. I know I have a long way to go. Can’t wait to hear where you end up with your writer’s journe. Or maybe it will simply be one of those things that changes our whole lives.

  5. I blogged today about something similar – and why it works for me.

  6. That’s great, Jessica! I’m all about finding the best way for you. If you do it in your own way, it becomes fun, not work. And shouldn’t the thing we love most be a blast?!

    • I’m with you Mallory! Ever since I realized this was not just what I enjoyed doing, but what I truly want to do, it is all a blast. Takes away from everything else, but hey, that’s okay!

  7. Pingback: The Best Way to Write Your Novel « On Becoming a Wordsmith

  8. Don’t forget, I’m still taking names for my contest. Leave a comment with your ideas on “Rescue Me” and help me name my two new blogging days. Win a prize if I use your idea!

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