Must Read Monday: Finally, a Writing Book for Pantsers!


*I put a sticky tab on any page with a point I wanted to type into my notes. Look at that rainbow, people.

I know I usually tackle fiction when doing a Must Read Monday, but I read a writing craft book this weekend that was just so fabulous that I wanted to pass it along to those of you who are writers.

As most of you know, I'm a bit addicted to reading books about the craft of writing. (Yes, I'm an unrepentant nerd.) But most of the time, those books are all about different ways to plot your book. And I like learning those techniques because I'm a pantser with plotter envy. Writing without an outline can be an anxiety-ridden process, writer's block can pop up often, and the unknown is freaking scary (especially when you're writing under a deadline.) But no matter how hard I've tried to alter my process, I can't seem to get away from my pantsing (writing by the seat of my pants) ways.

And a little part of me has always been afraid that if I was successful at plotting ahead and outlining that I would lose some of the "magic" of my writing process. Like two weeks ago, this happened when I was happily writing a story. I had a general direction in mind and then got hit with a big twist that I had never ever considered or planned. It changes what the rest of the book will look like, but I think it's the correct (and much more interesting) way to go. If I had been writing to an outline, would that had ever come to me? And if it had, would I have been willing to ditch the whole second half of the outline to go in this new direction?

That kind of "a-ha" discovery happens with every book. The big twist in Crash Into You that most people have told me they never saw coming? That was because *I* didn't know it was coming until I was 70% of the way through writing the book. The big thing that happens in Kade's backstory in Need You Tonight that explains so much about who he is now? I didn't know about it until I was halfway through the book and it hit me--wait, THAT'S what happened!

So let me tell you, it was hella refreshing to finally come across a book that doesn't just tolerate pantsing as a way for people to write but actually recommends it. AND gives tips on how to overcome some of the struggles, anxieties and pitfalls of writing without an outline. Because, Lord, I would love to be less neurotic during my writing process.

So here's the book and my review from Goodreads. Pantsers, go forth and enjoy!

Story Trumps Structure: How to Write Unforgettable Fiction by Breaking the Rules by Steven James


My Review from Goodreads:

Finally, a book for pantsers! And not just one that mentions pantsing but validates the process as a legitimate (he even ventures to say superior) process of writing. I have long been a pantser with plotter envy because it seems like every book on writing I read talks about "organic" writing as the immature/impatient process and plotting as the panacea, the "professional" way. Of course, that always makes plotting sound like this lovely method that is going to take away the constant anxiety of working in the unknown and the pitfalls that come along with that (writer's block, chasing bunny trails, rereading your previous pages constantly to get back into the mindset, etc.). But after reading this, I feel like I can take a deep breath and find a place of acceptance with my pantsing ways. Yes, my method causes me anxiety, but it's also been a successful one for me, so why am I always trying to change it?

And with this book, there are methods that may even help with the anxiety involved in "flying into the mist" when writing. There are questions to ask when you get stuck or come across a plot problem. There are guidelines on what needs to be clear in each scene and how to keep the tension up. There are pointers on how to include twists. And some of the character stuff--questions to ask about their secrets, shame, fears, etc--was brilliant.

I have five pages of notes from the book and put sticky flags on way too many pages because there was too much great stuff to hold in my head all at once. I'm kind of a junkie when it comes to book on writing and can be hard to please, but I have no qualms giving this one five stars. I know I'll be referencing it often.

*I was not asked to give this review. I bought this book on my own.

The Uncomfortable Pantser: When Your Method Doesn't Fit Your Personality

Photo by Dennis Crowley (CC)I've blogged a lot over the years about my pantsing ways (meaning I write by the seat of my pants and don't plan a lot ahead). And I've also admitted that I'm a pantser with plotter envy. I'm constantly reading structure and plotting books so that I can learn new methods and maybe find something that clicks with me.

And I have had some things really help. Here's my current writing method when developing a story:

1. Fill out the Save the Cat beat sheet to give me an overarching structure.

2. Filling out the inner journey stages (from Michael Hauge's method) for both my hero and heroine. (To see more about that check out Janice Hardy's and Jami Gold's posts about Hauge's workshops.)

3. I write a one page synopsis to send to my editor. This reads more like back cover copy but does include the end.

4. Then I start writing.

5. After drafting, I go back and lay the Save the Cat structure over my manuscript to make sure I'm hitting the turning points at the right percentages (or at least close) to make sure my pacing is on point.

6. Then I check to make sure my characters have made a full arc.

7. Last, I fine tune edit things using a lot of Margie Lawson Deep-Editing techniques--though I haven't had time to do the full highlighter method yet.

All right, so that seems like a pretty thorough process, right? It's gotten me through three books and two novellas (well I probably shouldn't count CRASH because I just pantsed my ass off with that one.)

But here's the thing, I kind of hate pantsing. It goes completely against my personality. I'm the girl who doesn't like surprises, who wants to know what the plan is, and who wants a method for everything. I always want to be prepared. I'm the girl who enjoys following recipes and not effing around with extra pinches of this and that. And if I go to the grocery store without a list, I'm lost and completely uninspired on what to cook. I like to plan out what I'm cooking for dinner every night, earmark those recipes, and then go to the store with a grocery list divided by sections of the store. I'm the person who actually reads the instructions (or tries to) when building IKEA furniture.

But then I have these weird quirks outside of that box--like I HATE planning vacations. I don't want to know every single thing I'm going to do or every place I'm going to eat. My husband loves that so I leave it to him. And as much as I like routine, I hardly ever cook the same thing twice. That's why I have a bazillion cookbooks and subscribe to three different cooking magazines. I want something new every night. And I don't reread books--even the ones I love--because I've already been there done that.

So I have this strange combination of plotter and panster tendencies in my life and it leaves me with some screwed up hybrid of a process.

And that wouldn't be a problem; a hybrid process can be fine. But not when it makes me anxious and on edge. Most pantsers I know are those writers that can bust out a book in a few weeks. They don't stop and edit as they go. They just freewheel and the words pour out of them. But then they know that at the end, they'll be left with a big editing and rewriting process. And they're okay with that.

Then the plotters I know are more the perfectionist type. They may edit as they go. They have a nice outline they are following and note cards stacked up on what happens next. They may take a lot longer to write a book but at the end, the edits are more minor because they've been tweaking the whole time.

Then there's me. I'm a slow writer who edits as I go AND writes by the seat of my pants. This results in a neurotic, perfectionistic author who is constantly stressed over the book not working and not knowing where to go next. It's insanity. (Can you tell I'm in the middle of drafting a book under a tight deadline?)

I have tried to be more plotter-oriented but haven't had much success with that so far. But I am not giving up. I feel like I need to learn to play on one side of the fence or the other. I either need to learn to let go of the perfectionist side of myself and just dump a first draft on the page. OR I need to pick some method and really commit to trying to plot a book. Maybe not some crazy scene by scene outline but something to fluff out the broad beat sheet I'm currently using.

My inclination is to try the plotting way again first because I've attempted to just "write without looking back" but haven't been able to do that thus far. Perfectionists die hard.

So what's your method? Does yours feel comfortable to you? Does your method match your personality or are you like me?