Last week Bree talked about how plotting can help organize your thoughts into something you can run with, something that won’t leave you stuck with writer’s block as often as writing by the seat of your pants. I definitely think that’s true, but as a plotter I still get stuck an awful lot. I get stuck so often that when I went to LTUE last month and saw a class called “Obsessive Outlining” taught by M. A. Nichols in the program, I jumped at the chance to see what I could learn there.
I’m so glad I went.
Maybe it’s just because I’m an obsessive person when it comes to finding the right way to do things, but this class made so much sense to me! Before, I would plot as much as I thought I could, coming up with a basic outline and saying what had to happen where. I tried hard to get my thoughts in order before I started writing, but it never got me very far. I would write a story out to the end, wonder what was wrong, finally identify the problems, rewrite, make new problems, and start all over again, keeping only a little of what I had from the previous draft. So many words down the drain! But since Nichols started using this process, she says she’s had to cut out fewer and fewer words from her manuscripts, which sounds like a dream come true.
Laundry is pretty much the bane of every mother's existence. Doesn't seem to matter how many kids you have, clothes multiply like rabbits and pretty soon you're buried. The trick for laundry, I've found, is two-fold: minimize how many clothes you and your kids have (so you can't go much longer than a week without washing), and have a process or routine for getting it done.
You didn't come here for laundry tips, though. You came for writing tips! Lucky for you, laundry and writing have something in common: both are more efficient and a lot less painful when you get more organized! And one way to get more organized with your writing is to try plotting.
I used to be a hardcore pantser. A pantser is a writer that follows the whimsy of their muse to finish a story. Instead of planning everything out, they barrel (or wander) ahead, writing “by the seat of their pants.” Hence the term, “pantser.”
Pantsing was fun. I thought it was the best way to write, waiting for the muse to strike and writing in a fit of passion and emotion. I only wrote when conditions were perfect. When I scheduled writing time for myself, I often found my muse elusive and blamed the infamous condition known as writer's block for my lack of words.
Later, when I revised, I couldn't really tell the difference between times when I'd written full of passion and times when I had forced the words. Progress was slow. My plot meandered. My characters seemed unmotivated and disjointed. I became convinced there had to be a more efficient way to write without sacrificing quality or enjoyment, but I wasn't sure where to look.
Enter plotting. Plotters create an outline before they start writing. This often includes character arcs, the plot, world building, setting, etc. They name characters and do as much research as possible before diving in.
My realization of the magic of plotting was gradual. I heard about plotting at writing conferences I attended, but thought it would suck the joy from writing, so I avoided it as much as I could. Until I decided to use NaNoWriMo to write the sequel to Woven and realized I needed to try something different to succeed in writing 50,000+ words in a month.
As a homeschooling mom with five kids under seven and two businesses, my writing time is limited. I fight for most of the time I get. Those minutes are precious. I can't afford to spend them writing a sentence, thinking what I want to have happen next, and writing the next sentence, or being subject to my unreliable muse from day to day. I love it when a passage flies out of my fingers, but writing nirvana is rare. I needed to try something different: I needed a plan.
You see, Woven took me 3.5 years to write, edit, and publish. I had no outline until close to the end when things got really confusing and I had a deadline to finish by. I had an outline for maybe a third of the book. The book prior to that took me seven years, and I never had an outline.
I started the sequel to Woven during NaNoWriMo 2017. The two months prior I outlined the entire book. The first draft of Bound was finished by January 2018. Only three months! I revised, edited, and released Bound by September. Less than one year.
I'm currently writing a paranormal/urban fantasy trilogy, preparing to rapid release the entire trilogy later this year. I wrote the first book in two and a half months. Then I had a baby and got derailed, understandably. Still, the second book is halfway done. I'm well on my way to taking less than a year to finish THREE entire books. I had a full outline for the first book, a partial outline for the second, and I'm still working out the third. Writing the first book took far less time and went so much easier than writing the second has been, but I've learned my lesson and finally finished plotting the second book.
Do you ever sit down to write, only to find you can’t concentrate when there’s clutter around you? Do you then spend your writing time either cleaning that clutter or avoiding the problem entirely by retreating to social media or “research”?
Cleaning is the bane of my existence, so I’ve never been very good at keeping up with mess. In one of our first apartments, my husband and I basically lived out of our dryer, nearly every flat surface was considered fair game to put junk that didn’t have a spot, and there was a room that was filled with unorganized papers I would toss in when I passed by (don’t worry, I cringe thinking about it, too). And that was BEFORE I had kids. Now, even though I’ve gotten some of my bad cleaning habits under control, even when I get something put away it doesn’t stay put away for long.
But what does my hatred of cleaning have to do with writing? I’ve always known that the pressure to clean never eases up, and that taking care of the worst messes either comes before writing or gets worse. These two priorities clash in my life every single day. I’m constantly trying to come up with a way to keep a clean house and write, but it always feels impossible. Then I bought a book called “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.”
In every book marketing article I've ever read, they discuss social media platforms. The number one suggestion is to avoid getting overwhelmed by trying to run your book marketing on ALL the platforms. Pick two or three that come most naturally to you and use those. For me, Facebook is number one. I like words, and Facebook lets me use lots of words. Pinterest is second. I technically have a Twitter and Instagram, but if you want to hear from me those aren't the platforms to follow me on.
Facebook and Pinterest are relatively easy for me to use, I enjoy using them as part of my every day life, and there wasn't a big learning curve for me. I'm still getting used to some of the features for advertising, something you can utilize on both Facebook and Pinterest platforms. In this blog post I'm focusing on using Pinterest to generate ideas, to outline and plot your story, to develop characters, and even to edit and publish books.
Having a Pinterest Board or Section for different stories, characters, and/or topics related to writing helps keep me organized and gives me the perfect place to browse when I'm in need of inspiration specific to my story. It also gives me great images to use (with credit given where known, of course) for promotion, marketing, or just random tid-bits for my biggest fans. It's fun for fans to see what images or bits of lore inspire the stories they love, so definitely take the time to pin things that help you write your novel. You may end up needing it some day!
A Crash-Course on using Pinterest
I'm from the generation of computer-users who learned on a big, clunky box that didn't even have the internet. The very first story I ever wrote was painstakingly typed out in an ancient version of Word and saved to a floppy disk, as there were no such things as USBs or "the cloud". So I get it if social media doesn't come naturally to you as breathing, like it seems to be for the generations that are cutting teeth on Ipads and Smartphones. For those who consider themselves tech-challenged or just like having things explained to them in language a five-year-old could understand, these step-by--steps to using Pinterest are for you:
There is also a search function at the top of the page. Use keywords for topics or images that come to your mind when you think of your story and see what comes up. Pin what you like, scroll past what you don't.
Have you ever wondered what exactly defines the audience of a story? I had never thought about it much before, and it didn’t really matter to me where a book fit, or where my stories fit, so long as people want to read them. But after attending J. Scott Savage’s “YA vs Middle Grade” class, which was my favorite at Life, the Universe, and Everything (LTUE) this year, I decided that it IS important to know these things, especially while your’e working on a story of your own. There are a lot of publishers who will take a manuscript that needs tweaking in order to fit the audience they’re looking for, but so much time and effort can be saved for both publisher and author by knowing what you’re writing in order to have your story easily categorized right from the beginning.
How can you identify who the intended audience is? You may be thinking that it has something to do with the content of the book — perhaps with violent content, the age of the main characters, the depth of the romance, or the reading level of the vocabulary in the writing. But violence can be glossed over, as well as romance, ages can be changed or omitted, and the words an author uses can be made more complicated or simplistic through editing. These things are definitely considered by publishers, but they are things that aren’t essential to the story; these are things that are more easily changed before publication, and aren’t what really defines intended audience.
For some of us, writing is a breeze. Our plots practically create themselves, and our characters come to us with clear motivations all on their own. Then after that, the story flows effortlessly onto the page. Frankly, I’m not in that category of writers, and I think it’s safe to say that most of us aren’t. Writing is a hobby, a job, or a passion for each of us, and at some point it’s going to be a struggle.
There are so many ways to get stuck while writing. What can you do if it happens to you? It can be so hard to push through these points, when our ideas stagnate and we can start to feel a loss of our original infatuation with the project. Too often we try to solve our story problems by staring them in the face, hoping if we push against the wall long enough it will eventually turn into a door. But sometimes, it’s better to try a more roundabout approach, looking for solutions in places that aren’t so direct. One of the places we can find those solutions is in our characters. The stronger our characters are, the more they can help us get unstuck in our writing and move forward.
It might not make sense at first to think that having stronger characters can mend a myriad of issues, but let’s look into it a bit: If your character is too flat, they won’t do much for your story, and they might end up being the reason you get stuck a lot of the time. On the other hand, the more you learn and know about your character, they can push many parts of the story forward and give you a solid plot, as well as illuminate information you may not have known you were missing, like setting details or realistic interactions.
So, now that we’re thinking about how knowing our characters better can improve even things that don’t seem to have anything to do with them, how can we get to know them well enough for them to help us out? You can always start by taking personality tests for them on Facebook, but those will only get you so far. You have to dig deeper!
We're all writers, we're all moms, writing our way through the "brambles" of life and our stories.