Writing Method Experiment

20180507_093600The day before my husband and oldest son went on a caribou hunt, I bought a vacuum sealer from a second hand store. It did not work. Annoyed, I returned it, and my annoyance was compounded by the fact that I could only return it for in store credit, and that credit had to be used immediately. (This was after being told at the time of purchase that yes, of course I could return the item, and nothing more was said. I feel like something more should have been said.)

In the midst of my discontented wanderings through the store, I came across a most beautiful thing- a vintage turquoise Smith-Corona portable typewriter. Of course, it was irrevocably broken, as all things in this shop seem to be. But still, it was fun to plink away on and I’m sorry I didn’t buy it. It would have been just lovely on my book case and I could have spent many happy hours tinkering with it in the vague hope that I could resurrect it and name it Lazarus, but my husband would have caught me trying to sneak it in the house and given me that look and really, I don’t have any room on the book cases anyway. Alas. (In other news, I need more book cases. And a bigger house.)

But just touching that typewriter made me feel suddenly more creative, and I hustled home (with a bunch of new books I’m not sure where to put and some curtains I’ll never use, curse you, vacuum sealer) and knocked out another chapter in the Copper book I posted a chapter from last month (read here!).

The typewriter got me thinking. Some writing methods work better for me than others. And some that work for me might not work for as well for other writers. So I thought it might be fun to spend some time writing using several different recording methods and see if any patterns emerged. I came up with several styles of writing that I wanted to try, and went forth, hoping that a victor would emerge in each of these categories: best for brainstorming; best for drafting; best for editing. Each of the following writing methods was ranked according to these categories. Read on for my own personal results!

Method: Longhand, cursive

I know so many people who draft in longhand. (Sadly, I don’t know anybody who still uses shorthand to write anything more than short notes, and I was too lazy to learn stenography for this.) I don’t normally draft in longhand so it was fun to give it a try.

Pros: very good for inspiring creativity; excellent for working out outlines of books and individual scenes; very accessible;

Cons: difficult for later editing; in nearly all cases, must be transcribed to a digital format for sharing;

Method: Longhand, print

Everyone I know who uses longhand for writing does it exclusively in cursive. So I though, ‘Huh! What’s wrong with print?’ And once I start asking questions, I gotta find answers. All in the name of science. Sort of.

Pros: actually somewhat better WPM than cursive (Ms. Hardman lied to me); accessible;

Cons: doesn’t feel quite as inspiring as cursive; same cons as cursive;

Method: Typing, computer

This is my workhorse. A solid ninety percent, maybe more, of my writing uses this method.

Pros: very quick WPM; easy to keep files together and organized; easy to share materials with others;

Cons: computer isn’t always accessible; I am so very, very bad at technology; screens make my eyeballs sad; inspirationally meh;

Method: Typing, mechanical typewriter

Wow it took me half of forever to scrounge one up to type on. I’d never used one this old before and I was a little afraid to touch it, haha. It didn’t type very well, but honestly, the thing is like a hundred years old and I’m really impressed it worked at all.

Pros: mega super fun; creatively inspiring; that little ding at the end of the line; general coolness; that typing sound- something about the clickety-clack of a typewriter just feels all inspired and literary;

Cons: SO HARD TO FIND; keys jammed when typing too fast; had to push the keys really deep to get the typebars up to the page; machine was old and I didn’t know how to change the ribbon (let alone where to get one); difficult to edit;

Method: Typing, electronic typewriter

I actually managed to scrounge up not one, but two of these- each of them in dusty storage rooms of increasingly underfunded libraries. Go figure.

Pros: halfway between an old typewriter and a computer for coolness and inspiration; able to keep up with my typing speed;

Cons: relatively obscure- difficult to procure, and doubtless difficult to keep in repair; difficult to edit;

Method: Audio Recording

This method started out at a steep disadvantage, largely because I hate the sound of my voice. Not enough that I’d consider ever shutting up, but still. (It really didn’t help that I’ve been sick and sniffly for the entire duration of this experiment.)

Pros: can be done relatively hands free once you hit record; thoughts can be recorded quickly; very accessible if you have a phone that takes recordings; assuming recording was on a phone, sharing is very easy;

Cons: Very self-conscious of doing character voices; self-conscious of my just normal human voice; how does editing even happen like this; must be transcribed into another format for editing and sharing; while it worked well for taking notes, it was TERRIBLE for doing actual prose or, even worse, dialog;

Results

There are many, many ways to record stories out there. And while I was tempted to bust out some clay tablets or carve on some tree bark, I by no means exhausted the possibilities. These are just the methods that I thought a decent percent of people might actually regularly use. (Maybe not the typewriters these days. That was more for fun.)

But anyway, here is some data because data is delicious.

  Words/2 min WPM Accessible Editing Sharing Inspiring
Longhand, cursive 48; 54 25.5 Easy Medium Difficult ****
Longhand, print 51; 57 27 Easy Medium Difficult ***
Typing, digital 142; 150 73 Easy Easy Easy ***
Typing, electronic typewriter 82; 83; 79; 77; 77; 78.8 Difficult Medium Difficult ****
Typing, mechanical typewriter Didn’t record Slooow WHYYY Medium Difficult *****
Audio recording 373 in 4 min 93.25 Easy Difficult Easy *

So the results are in and I think we have our winners! For brainstorming, I definitely did best with longhand cursive.  For drafting, digital typing (on my laptop) was hands down the winner, as it was for editing. Typing on a computer isn’t the most inspiring way for me to write, but it is the quickest and the easiest, and it’s way easier to edit and share than its counterparts.

But that’s just me! Seriously guys, this was great fun running this experiment. You should consider doing it yourselves. Just spend a few hours working away using each method and see if any patterns emerge. You never know when you might stumble across your next big breakthrough on putting out your best work.

Until next week, happy writing!

(PS- Warning: in a couple more weeks, I’ll be skipping the country again and I’ve slated about a month of not putting up blog posts, depending on how quickly I recover, etc. But I promise I’ll bring you back some cool pictures and new sample settings. More details to come.)

Advertisements

Of Productivity and Patience

patience-is-a-virtueEvery Tuesday morning and Thursday evening, I put my kids to bed and get on my computer and curse my internet connection and open Scrivener. I write every day, usually at night after having put my kids down to sleep, but Tuesday morning and Thursday evening are special because those are the times when I write with friends.

Mary has been my number one writer friend for years and years and is pretty much my soulmate. My number two is Anna- who shares with me an almighty kitchen quirk and who gave me a questionable bag of flour that I can’t get rid of because it was Anna’s questionable bag of flour and I’ll be darned if I throw it out before I figure out what it is- and, even though both of them have moved away from me, we still carve this time out to write together. I love this writing time, and it feeds my soul in a different way than just writing by myself does.

In our little group dynamic, I am and always have been The Nag. I’m constantly blowing up their phones if they forget what day it is, or talking smack when their word counts are low, or coming up with new and improved ways to extort their stories out of them. My latest scheme is our Chapter Pact of Doom. (I am the only one who calls it that.)

Every other Friday, we are each supposed to post a chapter of our current WIP to a Google doc that the others have access to. This is kind of new and terrifying for me because I once-shy-of-never show first draft material to people, and here I am posting it to the internet to peruse at their leisure. *faints* But this just goes to show you how far I will go to try and shoehorn forward writing progress out of myself and everyone around me, especially when it comes to first drafts.

I write rapidly. Feverishly. I squeeze first drafts out with the hurried frenzy of Peter Rabbit popping through Mr. McGregor’s fence.

But there is another end to this spectrum. As important as it is to get stories quickly to market, there is a Zen to writing as well that cannot be rushed.

No matter how quickly you can put words down, writing requires phenomenal patience. A book that takes me two months to write can also take me two years to edit. I’ve been querying literary agents with only glacial progress for years. Even if I signed tomorrow, it would in all likelihood be years longer before a book of mine ever hit a bookstore shelf.

So here are a few things that I’ve learned to be patient about over the years.

Editing As quickly as I draft, I am at least that slow in editing. Everything about this process is super slow and thoughtful. A passage that took me minutes to jot down can take months to tweak into its polished final state. Drafting is all about just getting ideas onto the page. Editing is a hundred things more- checking for spelling and grammar; clarifying; refining the voice; making sure the scene and each part of it move the story forward; putting emotion on the page; grounding the scene in sensory detail; ALL THE THINGS. And that takes time!

Submitting Even after all these years, it still burns us. Crafting submission materials (blurbs, queries, bios, etc) is only half the battle. Then you have to research the heck out of who you’re going to send all this material to- and then tailor each submission for just that person. This does not happen overnight. (Or if it does, you’re doing it wrong.) And even after you’ve finally gotten your materials perfect and sent them to the perfect people, you still have to wait for…

Responses So, waiting for responses is actually one of the things I’ve gotten decent at being patient for. When I first started submitting stuff (to anyone, really- friends, beta readers, agents, etc), I felt like I was sitting in a boiler room on a bed of broken glass. There were even a few times where anxiety got the better of me and I thought I was going to die of a heart attack or something before the whole ordeal was over. But these days, I’ve learned how to keep myself busy while waiting for responses. I have other projects I work on. I send things out in batches timed so that there’s always a few out and a few more to send. I read exciting books. I occasionally skip the country on vacations. You know, things like that.

Fame, Riches, and Glory I’m, uh… I’m still waiting on this one. Completely. And frankly, this is probably a thing I’ll be patiently waiting for until I die.

Writing is a lot of work- the kind of work that happens quickly, and the kind that happens slowly. If I worked very slowly at all of it, I would never have the body of prose that I’ve accumulated, nor gotten through the literal millions of words of practice that I have. But if I was a slave to speed in its every aspect, sure, maybe I’d have a lot of work, but none of it would have the kind of polished refine that it requires to garner any critical notice, whether that’s from agents or publishers or readers. A writer requires both. And that is something that took me a long time to learn.

So whether you’re pouring on the heat to try and muscle through a first draft in three weeks flat, or reining in the horses to make sure you really get this one line just right, take pride in knowing that you’re giving your work just what it needs- a push of productivity, and a pinch of patience, each in due course.

Happy writing!

Pants, Plans, and In Between

pantsLong time readers may have noticed this about me, but I like to experiment from time to time with my writing strategies. Sometimes I try a bunch of creativity inducing activities to see which ones I like best. Sometimes I try out several writing programs to see if there’s a better system out there. I know what’s working for me now, but I don’t always know what will work better.

To that end, I’ve been experimenting this last year with various degrees of plotting preparation. When I first started out this writing gig, I was pretty deep in Pants territory, writing whatever the heck I wanted as the whimsy took me. I planned absolutely nothing. In recent years, I’ve been taking an increasingly structured stance for starting out new projects. I even sometimes use wonky little character sheets that might have details about their dietary preferences in childhood and how their first pet died. Real who-cares sorts of details, but it helps me get into the characters’ lives a little more.

The last three books I’ve written, current project inclusive, I’ve taken pains to plan them to different degrees. In the first book, I did no planning whatsoever; I went into it with a very brief premise idea, and just wrote whatever little rabbit trails came to mind. For the second book, I did just a little bit less than my usual degree of preparation, falling about midway between no plan and front-to-finish omniplan. And for my current project, I planned and planned until I felt like I had everything down and if I did any more planning, I would puke.

Here are my thoughts!

The Plans-Are-For-Sissies Approach: This one was a little painful. The words seemed to come alright, and I never really lacked for inspiration, but story wandered quite a bit before I found the track I wanted to take, and this poor baby will require gobs of editing to clean up all the foreshadowing that never went anywhere, the events that came out of nowhere, the sudden and significant eye color change of the secondary main character midway through the book, et cetera ad infinitum. (Heck, I never even nailed down which title I want to use.) Not only was the story all over the place, but writing the thing out took kind of forever. I never really lacked for things to write, but not having a plan meant moving forward at a snail’s pace. It took nearly six months to write this meandering draft, while first drafts of a similar size usually take me about two or three. I like the story, and I enjoyed the totally-free-to-explore feeling of writing, but it came at a huge time cost.

The Moderate’s Approach: This one was even more painful, but for different reasons that are probably not the method’s fault at all. I planned out the story just a smidgeon past the midway point in moderate detail, leaving myself a bit of wiggle room for exactly how things would take place, and a whole lot of wiggle room for how things would wrap up. The story progressed pretty easily at first, following my nice little plan. But the closer I got to the end, the more I realized I was in deep water. As things came onto the paper, all the little gaps and giant holes became painfully apparent. When I got past the outline’s reaches, I was swimming blind but, unlike the Plans-Are-For-Sissies story, nothing was coming. I tried to force it and things just got more and more lame, until finally I quit a couple chapters before the anticlimactic final battle. Blehhhhh… But as I said, this is probably more due to the story idea’s weakness than the method’s invalidity. The Moderate’s Approach is probably closer to my regular degree of plannedness (which is totally a word, shhh) than either of the others. I think I just picked a bum story idea for the experiment. 😦

The Doomsday-Prepper Approach: I can’t totally write this experiment off as done, since I’m still working my way through the book, but I have been so far most comfortable with this one. This story- and the historical timeline, the magic system, and each character and location- was planned out in detail, start to finish, before I even created the new Scrivener file. Honestly, the planning stage is usually the most fun part of the whole process for me, and I was a little worried I would use up all the funness (also a word, sh) before I got to the drafting phase. But I’ve been working on it for about a month now and things are still fun! I will say, though, progress is being made, but the words aren’t flying onto the page the way I assume they would with the way ahead so clear from the start. But this could also be a product of my writing habits; when doing the meandering no plan book, I got into the habit of just sort of picking at it- about five hundred words a day- and that habit has so far stuck. But as I write this, I am resolving anew to pick up the pace. Ask me how I’m doing in another month!

So this little experiment is inconclusive. Turns out each story (like each pregnancy?) is different. Go figure. But still, I had fun playing around with the degree to which I plan a story, and I now have a firmer awareness of exactly what my most comfortable planning style is. Not quite a pantser, and not quite a full on planner, but a plans-oriented plantser, which is kind of what I had figured I was before. Turns out I found the spot just by wandering there all on my own over the last twenty years of writing.

How about you readers? What’s your planning style? Why do you like it that way? Let me know in the comments! Happy writing!

Reblog: 5 Ways to Save Your Character From A Drowning Story

Hey, gang! I’m down south visiting family in Anchorage Alaska, and getting very little writing done while I instead plan vacations, bake all the things, and hold the tiniest of humans far more than is necessary.  Fortunately, I’ve got the word count buffer to sustain this kind of lifestyle for another few days during this NaNoWriMo adventure. Any of you fellow wrimos- how go the literary hijinks?

This is our last reblog of the month, and then I have to start being thoughtful again. This one comes from Nicole Blades via Writers Digest, and stuck out to me probably because my story kind of stinks this month, haha. It’s nice to know that if the ship sinks, I might at least be able to launch a lifeboat and get my MC to dry land again.

5 Ways to Save Your Character From a Drowning Story

NBladeby Nicole Blades

As writers, we’ve all experienced that moment when it becomes painfully clear that the story we’re working on just isn’t. We’ve tried to twist and bend it this way and that, but then it’s time to finally admit that we’ve come to the end of the rope with the manuscript and will have to let go. It’s next-level kill your darlings, and it’s rarely pleasant or easy. But what if the protagonist or a key character in that sinking story won’t let go of you? What if the character continues to haunt you and you simply cannot give up on them? Is there a way to valiantly rescue a great protagonist from a less than great story? Short answer: Yes! So, move over, Rose; there’s definitely room for Jack on that floating piece of wood.

I’ve lived through this with my latest novel, Have You Met Nora? (Kensington). My main character, Nora Mackenzie, is a young woman with an incredible secret and a heartbreaking but complicated backstory. She is flawed and layered and fascinating to me. However, the initial setting of the book—an all-girls’ Catholic boarding school in Vermont, where a 17-year-old Nora reigned as the queen of Mean Girls—wasn’t connecting. As Dawn Brooks, a character in the revised book would say, “it didn’t curl all the way over.” I had received feedback from agents, writers, and early readers that kind of all said the same thing: she’s too mean. As compelling as Nora’s story was in my eyes, having readers say that they couldn’t relate to her, that they couldn’t find the connection site with the character, meant that they would never care about what happens to her. And that spells The End for the story. Who’s going to want to keep reading when they don’t care about the protagonist? Exactly.

The thing is, this character captivated me, and the heart of the story I was trying to tell was still beating strong. I just needed to strip away everything else around Nora’s foundation and rebuild it using sturdier, more developed bricks. I went about it by first growing Nora up, moving the character out of school and into full-blown adulthood. I had to construct a fresh world around her that included new relationships, experiences, and weighty conflict that served the character and the story. This kind of revise wasn’t a walk in the park; it took years to pull it off, but I did it. (After all, the book is going to released into the wilds come October 31, right?)

I wanted to share what I learned through this experience with others who may be trying to save a character from a burning book before just hitting DELETE on the whole thing. I asked some other author friends to loan me their two cents on the topic, too. So, here are five actionable tips on how to keep the baby when it’s time to dash the bathwater.

Ready to read some more? Head on over to Writers Digest for the full article. And until next week, happy writing!

Getting Publication Ready with Jane Friedman

Jane-Friedman-1First off, this woman looks eerily like my sister-in-law. I had to get that off my chest. It’s like future Annie has come back to the past to tell me about books.

Second, Jane Friedman is a publishing beast. Co-founder of the Hot Sheet, former editor of Writer’s Digest, Ms. Friedman has a bio that makes me want to curl up under a blankie and weep at all the majesty. She managed to pack one metric tonne of information into the three hour class. There’s no way I’m going to be able to fit it all into a single blog post, so I’m only going to talk this week about just getting your book ready for publication. I will come back to address the other topics- the five categories of publishing and how to go about them- in more detail in later posts, so fear not. Start looking for those toward the beginning of next year, maaaybe a little sooner if I get an unexpected hole in my schedule.

But if that’s too long a wait, I came across this class, How to Publish Your Book, with Jane Friedman, while perusing a catalog for The Great Courses. It looks like it might cover some of the same information, and is massively on sale until 26 October. You know, if you’re the impatient type.

However! being the impatient type is not the best way to be when hoping to publish a book. Slow down, cowboy! Let’s talk about the steps you must go through to successfully get your book ready for publication, whether that’s traditional, indie, or somewhere in between.

The first step is to make sure that your book is its best possible self. This includes drafting, self-editing, beta editing, rewriting, maybe even professional editing, the works. This is a very long process, and it can be hard to tell when you’re really done here. The yardstick I’ve been using is that I am a) stupidly proud of the work, and b) feel like my eyeballs are going to fall out of my head every time I open the file again. It’s a strange balance. But after your manuscript is the absolute prettiest it can be, then you can turn your mind to preparing for publication, and that means market research.

The earliest parts of research can be done from within the comfortable confines of your very own story- you have to know what you’re selling. Know whether you’ve written fiction or nonfiction, know what your intended age group is, and know your category.  For fiction, have you written mainstream, literary, or genre? For nonfiction, is the MS narrative, prescriptive, or inspirational? Each of these groupings will point toward a different target audience and, if you’re traditionally publishing, a different submission target.

Be aware of the different age categories and try not to straddle them. (I am so bad about straddling age categories, ugggggh.) Also, never claim that your project is “hard to categorize”. Nobody likes that and it doesn’t give potential readers any information. Instead, say that it’s “multi-genre” or has “crossover appeal” and mention just two specific categories.

Once you have your book all neatly categorized, do some market research. Your goal here is to understand the commercial viability of a project, which is important whether you plan to enlist the help of traditional publishers or to go it alone. But just for general reference, I’m going to list some of the positive and negative signs a publisher will look for when deciding whether a book is marketable or not.

Positive Signs (do this stuff) Negative Signs (avoid this stuff)
  • Uses standard lengths (wordcount)
  • Written in a commercial genre
  • Author has a solid platform (for nonfiction)
  • Wordcounts that are way outside of norms (<50k, >120k, etc)
  • Tough sell categories (cookbooks, picture books, travel books, short story complication, etc)
  • Memoirs without a high concept or publicity angle

If you find that your book has some of those negative signs, maybe give it a closer squint before moving past this point. (Huge books by unknown authors are a hard sell, no matter which publication route you choose. Most cookbooks are sold by celebrity chefs. Keep these things in mind when figuring out your own market viability.)

For traditional publishing, this is where you start getting your submission packet ready, which probably includes something like a query, sample pages, and a synopsis; know ahead of time whether you want to query agents or publishing houses directly, because you’re not supposed to do both at the same time, and follow submission guidelines exactly. Novels and memoirs must be finished, edited, and polished before beginning the submission process. For nonfiction, write the book proposal first, including a business plan; since publishers don’t have the finished materials, you have to convince them that this book will sell.

If you’re going the indie route, you don’t need a proposal or query, but you still need a lot of the bits and pieces that would go into them, including a business plan, sales copy, and a finely polished project. In addition, you’ll also need to work out your book design, including formatting, cover design, blurbs, etc. If you’re not a professional [editor/book designer/artist/etc], pay for one like any other book publisher would.

When putting together back cover blurbs/pitches, business plans, and author bios, feel free to pick the brains of your friends, family, and neighbors on the bus to work. This stuff is hard to write, but having extra eyes on it can help you pick out the pieces that aren’t clear, or that sound strange, or whatever the problem may be. Just as you wouldn’t try to publish a work that hadn’t been beta read and closely edited, don’t try to do that with this stuff either. These things make up the sales pitch of your book, whether you’re addressing it to agents, editors, or readers. Give it the same care that you have given the rest of your book.

After you have all these scores of little duckies in a row, it’s time to get your rhinoceros-thick skin on. You’re ready to step into the publishing ring! Good luck!

Reedsy Broadcast Recap: Revising and Querying

EditingSome months ago, I listened to a broadcast hosted by Reedsy called Revising Your Manuscript and Query Letter; it was moderated by Ricardo Fayat, the founder and CMO at Reedsy, and presented by five editors and literary agents from their network. I’ve since signed up for several of Reedsy’s free 10-email courses through Reedsy Learning, which you can learn more about here. Reedsy is a self-publishing service based out of London and, although I haven’t quite hopped on the self-publishing bandwagon just yet, I’m always down with further educating myself.

Anyway, I took a bunch of notes from the broadcast and quickly forgot about them. But recently, in preparation for an upcoming writer’s conference, blew off the dust and thumbed through it to help me get ready for a manuscript review. So here’s the quick version of the broadcast.

Revising Your Manuscript

For your opening, make sure that you start with action- something visual, intense, and unexpected. (‘Action’ doesn’t necessarily mean a gunfight or crossing swords. Action can be much quieter so long as it’s clear and powerful, drawing readers in.) Whatever your opening scene entails, be original and above all else, don’t be boring.

Some of the most common manuscript mistakes the broadcast’s presenters see are:

  • Telling instead of showing
  • Unbelievable conflict (forcing the plot, character out of character, etc)
  • Confusing viewpoint
  • Unnecessary Wordiness
  • Disruptive dialog tags (usually, just stick to ‘said’)
  • Misuse of tense

Once you’ve revised your manuscript as much as you can (read: several drafts), it’s time to get other eyes on it. (The broadcast didn’t specifically mention beta readers at this point, but in my opinion, they should have. Beta readers are great!) Professional editors are spendy, but they can also be transformative.

Because it can be such a costly investment, take care to make sure you have the right agent for your project. Start by searching reputable websites, such as Reedsy. 😉  Once you have a few potentials, take the time to do some background checking. Ask for testimonials or recommendations from previous patrons.

When you have an editor you trust, send the following information: kind of editing wanted; genre, synopsis, and target market; and a sample of the book. When deciding what kind of editing you want done, keep in mind that different types of editing usually cannot happen in the same sweep. (If you’re specifically getting ready for submissions, the broadcast folks recommend focusing on developmental editing.) Also keep in mind that good editors are often booked out months in advance. Don’t expect a rush job.

When your manuscript is all edited up and ready to go, shift your focus over to preparing your submission materials.

Sending Out Your Query

Well known agencies receive between one to two hundred queries every day, so it’s hard to stand out from all that.

The first hurdle to jump is avoiding these common querying mistakes:

  • Rudeness, arrogance, and a lack of professionalism
  • Not following guidelines
  • Too much plot and not enough hook
  • Submitting work that isn’t fully edited
  • Lack of research (both within genre and in querying specific agents)

As far as researching agents and publishers goes, there are a lot of resources out there, such as Writers Digest, Poets & Writers, Authors Publish, Submittable, and Publishers Weekly. You can search through genre specific blogs for agent interviews with more specific information. Most agents these days also have a public blog you can comb through. If you’re on Twitter, you can run a search for publishing pundits’ manuscript wish lists.

This kind of specific information is perfect for a query letter’s personalization; personalization isn’t necessary, but does make you stand out a bit more, flatters the editor/agent, and at the very least shows that you did your homework. If nothing else, a more personal query encourages a more personal rejection, feedback which can then be used for later revisions.

While querying, it’s important to keep yourself organized, especially if you’re doing multiple submissions (which you absolutely should). Nothing screams amateur quite like accidentally querying the same place with the same piece twice. (Intentionality is different. If it’s been six months and you’ve completed heavy revision, it’s usually okay to resubmit- just be sure to mention it in the query.) Keep all your information in one place with a spreadsheet, keeping track of names, dates, etc. Prioritize your top agents and send out batches of queries (they suggest about six at a time), giving each batch about six weeks before moving on to the next group. As you learn from the process and (hopefully) feedback, make tweaks as needful. If you get feedback but feel strongly that it’s not appropriate for you or your project, don’t feel like you have to implement it. The agents and editors of this broadcast also suggest that, if you don’t get feedback, it’s okay to politely ask for it; you might still be ignored, but you also might get some insights otherwise left unsaid.

The thing that was stressed over and over throughout is to not give up. The submissions process is grueling. If you’ve been at it a while and still aren’t making much headway, don’t give up. Keep polishing, keep researching, and keep querying.

Happy writing!

Pantsing v. Planning

blueprintWhen I was first getting serious about writing, somewhere between the ages of eleven and twenty-one (who can really pin down when they became serious about writing?), I was a definite pantster. I had one project and I flung myself into it with the careless abandon of a finger painting kindergartner. I let the story take me where it would. Characters sprang up out of nowhere. Story lines I never would have imagined branched off and grew. My one book grew into two, then three, and then four, finally fleshing out into a hefty five book series, each book clocking in at between 120- and 130k.

It. Was. Glorious.

And sloppy. And exhausting. And required so many drafts that I eventually stopped counting them after eleven or so. I mean, there’s no shame in taking 10+ years to draft a single project, but it’s hard to move other projects forward as well. And as a writer, I definitely hope to be more than a one-hit wonder.

These days, now that I’m an old lady and I’ve got things like jobs and kids to suck up my time, I tend to plan things out quite a bit more. I typically don’t start writing until I know the full cast, an unholy amount of setting, and at least eighty percent of the entire outline in detail. My books and characters still surprise me sometimes, leaving the path and running whooping and laughing down a flower-bedecked hillside instead. But generally, I know where things are going before I even type Chapter One.

I have sequentially planted my butt firmly on both sides of this fence, but I still can’t tell you which is better, pantsing or planning. (Hint: The better one is whichever one works best for you just then.) But just for the fun of it, let’s break these babies down a bit more.

Pantsing is typically a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants free-for-all where all you start with is an interesting premise and the determination to see it through to its unknown end. Planning is more in the vein of spreadsheets, flowcharts, and index cards; however they get it down, planners like to know what beast they’re working with and how to wrangle it- all before they step in the arena.

So what are the merits and demerits of these two schools of thought? I asked a bunch of my writing buddies on Twitter and Facebook their thoughts on this, and here’s what our think-tank was able to come up with:

  Advantages Disadvantages
Pantsing Room for surprises

Get right to the fun of writing

More organic characters and relationships

Allows for more exploration of a theme or topic without plot restrictions

Requires extra time in editing and cleanup

Wonky flow, pacing, and direction

Chaotic storylines

Bloated first drafts

More prone to ‘getting stuck’ mid-draft

Planning Gives sense of the story’s direction

Enough organization to remember what I’m doing

Less prone to writers block

Cleaner first drafts

Faster first drafts

Allows higher degree of story complexity without getting messy

Requires extra time spent in prep work

Can sap some of the fun and enthusiasm from a project

Sometimes creates rigid situations that serve the plot rather than agree with the character development

These are, of course, generalities. And like most things in life, these two poles rest on either end of a continuum, rather than being either a 1 or a 0. To reflect the murky middle ground, the term “plantster” has started cropping up around the internet as well, to represent those of us who like to hang out in the mix.

continuum

I mentioned earlier that I like to start a project with a mere eighty percent of my plot planned out. Because of this, and quite a few other gaps I leave open at a project’s advent, I don’t really think of myself as a true planner. I’m more of a preparation-leaning plantster. I like to have a really strong structure in place at the start of a project, and most of the major plot points planned out. But I also like to leave myself a little wiggle room for exploration, and an unscripted ending. I like leaving the ending unplanned because it usually takes me up until that point in the story to come up with an ending that a) fits the story naturally and b) isn’t coming at the reader with all the subtle surprise of a regularly scheduled freight train. Because of this, I do tend to have to go back and rework a bit of the earlier story (adding foreshadowing, tweaking storylines that end up being important, dropping the ones that aren’t, etc), but I’m fine with an extra draft or two.

Just so long as it doesn’t end up being closer to twenty drafts.

So whether you plan, pants, or something in between, keep doing what works best for you! The best routines are the ones that work, and don’t let anyone (or any table) tell you otherwise. Happy writing!

(And a special thank you to the dozen or so folks on social media who pitched in to help me articulate all the plusses and minuses of planning and pantsing- you guys are awesome!)