Creativity is a crushing chore and a glorious mystery. The work wants to be made, and it wants to be made through you. ~ Elizabeth Gilbert
Creativity is a crushing chore and a glorious mystery. The work wants to be made, and it wants to be made through you. ~ Elizabeth Gilbert
A person is a fool to become a writer. His only compensation is absolute freedom. He has no master except his own soul, and that, I am sure, is why he does it. ~ Roald Dahl
You’re the kind of writer that you are. You have a process. Maybe that process is slowly and painstakingly crafting a novel over many years—a dedication like that of a watchmaker’s artifice. Or maybe instead you prefer to write like a squirrel covered in fire ants…every book demands its own thing. It takes the time that it takes.
~ Chuck Wendig
Here’s a repost of my 2013 article from ThisNewMountain.com.
It’s been said, and much debated, that there are two kinds of writers—those who outline and plan before starting a writing project (plotters) and those who dive in and write “by the seat of their pants” (pantsers). Many writers, myself included, are hybrids who fall somewhere between the two, combining the traits or techniques of both to one degree or another.
…imagination is limitless. Do not, therefore, reduce your story to outlines and sketches, notes and 3×5 cards. You will make your story finite this way and it will suffer because it cannot grow beyond your outline. ~ David L. Robbins
Plotters have a lot of tools and techniques at their fingertips to help plan out their stories: outlines, scene cards, storyboards, character profiles and personality charts. Many plotters have folders filled with things like diagrams and photos, notes on history, culture, and languages. There are two possible problems in this type of approach. First, a writer could get so bogged down with accumulating information, building plot structure, and the need to plan, that he doesn’t write. And second, creativity could be sacrificed for structure, leaving the story as lifeless as a textbook. The positive side to being a plotter-type is a writer will always know what the next step is. He will probably not suffer from writer’s block. And by the time the first draft is complete, he won’t have to worry about things like plot holes and continuity issues.
A pantser needs to plot on the fly so she can stay enthralled with her story. Her creative psyche requires a challenge in order to operate optimally. ~ Kathleen Baldwin
Pantsers tend to throw themselves into a story and go for it, letting the characters reveal themselves and the plot unfold as they go. There are two main problems that can arise from using this approach. One, the story—though truly character-driven—often suffers from either too little or too much plot. The main plotline can become convoluted or there might be so many sub-plots it’s too hard to keep track of them all. And halfway into the project, the characters can easily drive the story into a corner. This leads to the second problem. The very nature of pantsing means the writer doesn’t know where the story is going, and that can translate into writer’s block and unfinished projects. Pantsing is a fun and creative way to write, but at the end of the first draft, much research still needs to be done, along with structuring, etc.
Chase your story, believe in your characters and follow them. Do not predetermine every step they take but record what they do, and do the recording breathlessly but with control, as if you just came inside to report…a marvel you have just witnessed. ~ David L. Robbins
So it seems that too much of a good thing is not so good a thing. Enter the hybrid writer. Not to say a plotter isn’t creative or a pantser can’t write a coherent story, but combining the techniques of both could make for a better story overall. But whether a writer tends to be a plotter-pantser or a pantser-plotter, story plot and structure still need to be addressed at some point in the process.
Author Janice Hardy takes a hybrid approach to crafting stories. She creates the framework first but keeps the story fresh in her mind by giving her characters free rein within the structure (see her excellent article “Going Both Ways: Outlines for Plot, Pantser for Character“).
In my own writing, I jump into a story without an outline but only characters and a vision of the story landscape as a guide. After a few chapters of writing this way, I usually know where the story will end up and I begin a loose outline. I continue to write and craft my outline, adding notes to aid in continuity and reminders for research. This process keeps me moving forward but leaves room to let the characters drive the story. I still have work to do after the first draft is finished but catering to the way my pantser-plotter brain works is worth the extra effort at the end.
In the article “Writers—Plotters or Pantsers” author Trish Jackson discusses the differences between the brains of a plotter and a pantser. She believes plotters predominately use the left side of their brain which controls logic and order. They’re more likely to create a detailed plan and write plot-driven stories. Pantsers tend to be more right-brained—creative but disorganized—and tend to write character-driven stories.
Jackson’s article also includes this graphic of a spinning woman. To see if you’re right- or left-brained, watch the woman. If she spins clockwise, you’re using your right brain. If she spins counter-clockwise, you’re using your left. And if you can change the direction of her spin, you’re a little of both—and probably have hybrid tendencies.
If you find yourself struggling with a writing project, keeping a tight grip on your writing approach could be the problem. A consistent struggle with writer’s block or finishing a project might be helped by stepping over into plotter territory. And if your story seems a bit on the lifeless side or you’re not enjoying the process, letting your pantser-self loose for a while could be the answer.
Are you a plotter, a pantser, or a hybrid of both? According to the spinning woman, are you left-brained or right?
History is the present. That’s why every generation writes it anew. But what most people think of as history is its end product, myth.
~ E.L. Doctorow
2015 will mark the 17th year thousands of writers from around the world begin National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) on November 1st. Few would argue this is a crazy journey—attempting to write a 50K-word draft of a novel in thirty days. Some might say it’s an impossible feat, but in 2014 over 58,000 participants completed their novel drafts (out of the 325,000+ who signed up). Most of those who didn’t “win” still made progress, still wrote more words than if they hadn’t stepped onto that road to give it a try.
Whether you’re planning to participate in NaNoWriMo or committing to your own writing schedule, finding the time to meet your daily word count is essential to success. For NaNo, that means writing 1667 words every day (or however you want to break it down). Here are a few things I’ve done to make the time to write and cross the NaNo finish line three years in a row.
1. Make friends with your calendar
♦ Mark off whole days or partial days in November that you know you absolutely won’t be able to write (like birthdays or Thanksgiving).
♦ Block off daily/weekly time for writing—before/after work or school, during commute time, lunch hours, your child’s naps. Get up earlier or go to bed later than usual. Even finding 15 minutes here and there will add up.
♦ Plan catch-up or get-ahead days. Make up for the days you know you can’t write and build in time for unexpected, but inevitable, glitches in your perfect plan. Weekly writing marathons can push you ahead after a setback. Local NaNo chapters often schedule write-ins.
♦ Reschedule and/or avoid setting appointments that can wait until a more convenient time.
2. Plan meals for the month
♦ Make slow-cooker meals, sandwiches, breakfast-for-dinner. Pick one night a week (or more) for fast food.
♦ Don’t forget Thanksgiving or other celebrations. Delegate to family/friends, if possible.
♦ Cook extra servings in October and freeze for November meals.
♦ Stock up on favorite snacks (for NaNoWriMo, popcorn and your favorite caffeinated beverage is considered a meal).
3. Get your writing space ready
♦ If you’re writing at home, de-clutter your writing space and prep for
battle victory. Remove distractions, except for favorite writing quotes tacked to the wall.
♦ If you can’t write at home, scope out one or more places that will work for you. Local libraries are great if you like quiet or a coffee shop if you don’t mind the noise. I used to write in my car on my lunch hour.
4. Enlist help
Letting family and friends know how important this commitment is to you should elicit help with daily/weekly chores, like laundry and dishes, and vital responsibilities such as childcare.
5. Restrict television viewing and social media
Reward yourself with these when you meet your word count. Record your favorite shows to view later or build in time on your calendar.
6. Restrict socializing
Again, reward yourself after meeting word counts or build in this time. Or just say “no” and schedule a post-NaNo celebration with friends/family to make up for your transgressions.
Plan to do those things that are necessary and let the rest slide. This can be a difficult thing to do, especially if you’re a perfectionist, but doing so will make a huge difference in how much time you have to write.
8. Embrace your OCD tendencies
Be relentless in pursuit of the time to write those 1667 words per day.
If finding the time to write has been a stumbling block in the past, being fanatical for 30 days can get you into a routine and make a difference in your writing career. At the end of the month you’ll know how important your writing is to you, how committed you are to it, and what you’re willing to do to succeed. And if you keep on track, you’ll have a rough draft of a 50K-word novel as a result of your sacrifice and hard work.
Need more convincing? Check this list of WriMos who have gone on to publish their NaNo manuscripts including Jason M. Hough (The Darwin Elevator), Hugh Howey (Wool), and Sara Gruen (Water for Elephants). Read about the history of National Novel Writing Month and sign up to take the journey that begins November 1st.
Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? What’s your favorite trick for finding time to write?
Publishers want to take chances on books that will draw a clamor and some legitimate publicity. They want to publish controversial books. That their reasons are mercenary and yours may be lofty should not deter you. ~ Harlan Ellison
Don’t tell me the sky’s the limit when there are footprints on the moon. ~ Brad Foster (from a pen and ink drawing, 2012)
My first Worldcon [sigh].
For years I dreamed of attending the largest convention gathering of speculative fiction fans held annually in different cities around the world. I couldn’t swing the time or expense when Worldcon came to San Antonio, Texas in 2013 (LoneStarCon 3) or London, England in 2014 (Loncon 3). When I heard the 2015 convention would return to the U.S. in Spokane, Washington (Sasquan), I decided this would be the year.
I knew it would be somewhat of a lonely drive for the 3000+ mile solo round trip, four days north and east from New Mexico to Spokane and three days back. But the two-week adventure also included visits with family members in three cities along the route.
What I didn’t expect were the overwhelming choices once I got to the convention and the mad scurrying to and from meeting rooms. I stayed up late each night trying to decide which panel or workshop to attend the next day. But the madness was my own fault—since this was my first (and maybe last) Worldcon, I didn’t want to miss out.
On Thursday alone, the first full day of the convention, the program listed over 175 events between 1:00 am and 10:30 pm. It would have been fun to watch some anime, a fan film or two, or to make a pair of fairy wings. But, doggone it, I wasn’t attending Sasquan to have fun. I was there to glean knowledge about writing and publishing from the experts. I passed up discussions about Discworld, steampunk, and the Klingon language for talks I thought would serve me better on my writing journey. I made some hard choices, such as sitting in on workshops about worldbuilding, ambushes and counter-ambushes, and how to develop a realistic economy, instead of learning about the future of government, the future of military SF, and medieval science and engineering. That was just the first day.
On other days I learned about the effects of low gravity on the human body, how the experts edit anthologies, and the future of short fiction (from the editors of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons, Galaxies Edge, and Lightspeed/Nightmare magazines). I took pages of notes on two of my favorite workshops that dealt with how to build an empire (double workshop) and the craft of short fiction, both of which I’ll cover in future blog posts.
But my convention experience wasn’t all a frenzy of learning. I allowed myself a Stroll with the Stars along Spokane’s Centennial Trail behind the convention center, a reading with one of my favorite authors, and the experience of a lifetime at the Hugo Awards. Here are a few more highlights:
Mr. Scalzi read from two of his manuscripts (one a work in progress), then entertained the audience with a song on an attendee’s ukulele and a fun question and answer period. At one point, he referred to his list of twelve “Standard Responses to Online Stupidity” posted as a resource on his website. Everyone who surfs the internet has probably read this list, but it was new to me. He compiled it because “from time to time, in your ordinary exercise of the delights of the online world, you may find yourself accosted by clods.” The list begins with, “I don’t care what you think” and ends with “My attention is a privilege, not a right. This is all you get.” I like #4: “You’ve attempted logic. Not all attempts succeed.” But according to Mr. Scalzi, his favorite is #8: “It appears an ***hole has hacked your account and is posting in your name.”
I took home two small pieces of artwork by Brad Foster who was one of the convention’s guests of honor. Copyright prevents me from posting my favorite of the two—an original 6×8, black and white pen & ink drawing of a cute alien looking up at a crescent moon. The quote penned as part of the artwork is great: Don’t tell me the sky’s the limit when there are footprints on the moon. (After Worldcon 2015 ended, I learned that Mr. Foster draws robot portraits, caricatures he calls “inner robots,” for a reasonable price at the conventions he attends. He also takes orders anytime through his website.)
Despite the controversy surrounding the voting process for the Hugo Awards, hosts David Gerrold and Tananarive Due did an awesome job of keeping the audience entertained. I went to the ceremony expecting to be bored at some point but ended up enjoying the entire three hours. Lots of laughter, some tension due to the possibility of No Awards in many of the categories, and a touching moment when Mr. Gerrold was overcome with emotion at the number of his friends on the in memoriam roll. A list of winners is available at the Hugo Awards website, as well as statistics that include the No Awards. And if you weren’t as lucky as I was to be in the audience, you can watch a replay of the ceremony on Livestream.com.
One final takeaway: If I decide to attend another Worldcon, I will (a) take a plane or share the drive, and (b) make sure to have some fun.
Have you attended a Worldcon? What was your favorite part of the experience?
“Worldcon,” “Hugo Award,” and The Hugo Award Logo are service marks of the World Science Fiction Society, an unincorporated literary society.