Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Day in the Writer Life - New Approaches

Hello and welcome to my very first Pub Hub post. I think it best if I start with a confession—I’ve never been very good at blogging regularly.  Oh, I’ve had plenty of good intentions, but very poor follow-through. Can any of you relate? I’m sure you can. Writing is tough, in all its forms.

That said, in order to overcome my past failures, I’ve decided on “A Day in the Writer Life” as my theme for these bi-monthly postings. I find that one of the reasons why I struggle with blogging is lack of specific inspiration. Often when I sit down to write a post my mind goes blank and I suddenly remember all the really important house cleaning that needs to be done, or the mail that needs to be sorted, or a hundred other things. Normally, the only time I feel inspired to write a blog post is when I’m in the middle of working on a story. So often when I’m writing I have mini- epiphanies about the writing process. Unfortunately, when this happens I’m usually too busy trying to meet a deadline to take the time to write the blog post. Go figure, right?

Well, that changes now.

Since I’ve made a regular commitment to this blogging endeavor, I’m going to capture these epiphanies and share them with you here. I quite literally intend this feature to give you an inside view of a working writer.

At the moment, the focus of my writing life is on getting a new proposal ready to send to my agent and then to my editor. This is the first time I’ve submitted something on proposal, and it’s utterly terrifying. Not to mention one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced so far. Mostly because, you know, the book is not actually written, just the first four chapters (as of right now—this will change soon).

Along with these sample chapters, I have to create an outline—a real, verifiable outline, no mere one page blurb of what-ifs, such as I’ve produced several times before. No. This is a real outline, one of length and details, and—did I mention I’m terrified?

Why, you ask? Because I’m a die-hard pantser, or as I like to call myself, “A pantser who likes to stop and ask for directions.” What this means is that I normally write the first draft slowly and spend a lot of time answering questions about what’s happening. Whenever I can’t answer a question about why something is happening—be it concerning character motivation, plot twist, or what have you—I stop and think about it until I do understand. This helps me keep from getting off-track during the drafting process.

But it’s still pantsing, no matter how thorough and (relatively) effective it might be. The problem is that if I want to get a new book under contract (read: yes, yes, yes I do!) then I don’t have time to write a full draft. Or more correctly, I don’t want to take the time beforehand.

And so I must outline. But you know what? I’m beginning to think this might be the best thing that’s happened to my writing process in a long time. The reason why is very simple. In fact, it’s one of my fundamental beliefs about writing success—you must try new approaches.

Often when people ask me for advice on what it takes to be a writer, I tell them, “Don’t be a crazy person.” And I really mean it. The definition of crazy here is the Albert Einstein one:

Insanity—doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results

So often writers (myself included) are guilty of doing this. When I was still an “aspiring” writer, I wrote story after story and then novel after novel in my attempt to break into publishing. But up until my debut novel, I wrote all of these stories using the same approach—total and utter pantsing with little concern about character motivation or coherency or anything else.

It wasn’t until after multiple failures that I decided to change my approach and become a pantser who likes to stop for directions. The moment made this change, magic happened. I’m serious.  Everything that followed felt pre-ordained, from completely the book, to query agents, to selling to a publisher. But the key was the change, the one I made on purpose. Basically, if you want change, you must do change first. Right? Makes sense?

Well, now I’m facing change once again with this whole outlining business. But guess what? I already feel like it’s going to have an impact in the stories I write next. To accomplish this outline I’ve been reading and studying Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller by John Truby. This book is all about planning the story ahead of time. It’s quite literally the pantser nightmare. But I sort of love it. Instead of being scary, it’s been completely enlightening. A lot of the techniques in the book are things I’ve been doing unconsciously from the start completely by instinct. But now I’m having my eyes-opened, and in the end that’s going to change my writing for the better. There’s no way that it can’t.

But will it work? you might ask. Will I be able to create a successful proposal? Well, time will tell. But no matter what, this new approach is a good thing. Change is always good. Change is magic.

Happy writing!



  1. Hmmm, I'm going to have to go look at that book. I pantsed my first story (and it sucked. Major, major structural problems I tried to ignore) and then went and did the outline on index cards which helped me see the problem and fix it. With a complete and total rewrite, but still. I've been doing the scene sequel thing here.

    1. Oh, I've seen the scene sequel thing before, very helpful. And I totally feel you on the disaster first draft. My first 4 novels were an absolute disaster. Good luck with trying something new.

  2. I never outline. But I'm thinking I should. Maybe it will help my stories. I'm going to look up Anatomy of a Story. Maybe if I sit and plan instead of writing away I'll get somewhere!