Writing Advice

A Writing Prompt from Rob Burton

Dr. Rob Burton was a professional sociologist for over 25 years at the University of Exeter, the Open University and the University of Plymouth. Now semi-retired Rob works in Nanjing, China teaching English and writing novels.  He has authored many academic articles and recently published, with a Chinese co-author, a crammer for Chinese students who wish to succeed with their IELTS speaking test. His first novel ‘Meditations on Murder’ is available now on Amazon as an ebook or paperback.

His novels are firmly set in the Urban Fantasy genre where he brings his experiences of traveling the world and his academic interest in Cornwall, the Cornish and the Celtic world to the fore.

Rob has an 18-year-old daughter back in the UK. Snook Doggy Dog, a female Jack Russell that he took with him to China and features in his books.

Burton provided a fun writing prompt for those of you searching for your next project, looking to get in some writing exercise, or need to take a break from a project you are experiencing some writer’s block with. Off we go! Remember, give yourself at least 30 minutes to write after reading a prompt. If it goes longers, hooray! If not, you’ve at least given your brain a challenging break.

Is the Monkey King the world’s most popular superhero?

“Cloud-leaping, shape-shifting, demon-killing and magic staff-wielding, the Monkey King is perhaps the most enduring figure in Chinese literature and folklore. He is the ultimate bad-boy made good – he causes havoc in heaven, uproar under the sea, returns from the dead to continue his mischief, and even survives the fires of heaven. He is so powerful, only the Buddha can subdue him, but in the end, he finds redemption as the faithful servant and protector of the saintly monk Xuanzang, who is on a pilgrimage to collect scriptures.” (from the British Council Website courtesy of Rob Burton.)

 

Thank-you to Ink Smith Publishing for introducing us to this new author! You can check out an excerpt of Rob Burton’s work tomorrow. It will be posted on this blog!

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Well I Won’t Be Doing That Again

I am currently ignoring my work in progress (WIP) to bring you this blog post about my WIP. About a year ago, I started writing a new novel. And I, being a writer, often come up with short stories and poems on the way to writing a full-length novel. I like to use one paper notebook for all my writing to keep it all together. And I have since I was a child!

Part of the reason for doing that was so that I wouldn’t get distracted and start running off with a completely different story in the middle of writing a novel. I’d even do that as a child with writing short stories! So having one notebook was supposed to keep me organized and on task. But I asked myself one day “What would happen if I let myself get distracted and let myself wonder, and interrupt my own novels?”

So for about a year now I’ve let myself try it…

In my notebook, you’ll read a few chapters and abruptly here’s a new poem and a few short stories! And then it’s back on track with the next chapters. All’s I have to say is this: I won’t be doing that again! Child me was on to something! When I put down a project and start another I don’t always go back. So a year later, rather than having a full-length novel, or a beautiful rough draft, I have about a third of a very, very rough draft…

My writing process usually involves me studiously writing one book and editing another. And yes, I do realize at the moment I only have one book published. I, however, have written many, many, more! Since I am so muddled on the plot of my WIP, I have begun to edit it already. Because I have no idea where I am, except deep in the Gishlan woods.

So here is my unsolicited advice to other authors for the New Year, 2018: Don’t interrupt your own work. Keep your nose to the grindstone and your pen to the paper. Write your poems somewhere else, not in the middle of your novel.

 

 

About Helen

Helen M. PugsleyHelen Pugsley comes from a small town of twenty in eastern Wyoming. She has been passionate about writing since she was small. Helen enjoys traveling and is always thrilled to excite friends with tales of playing music on the streets for money, conversing with the drunks who frequent gutters, and the epic struggle of finding a decent bath when living in a car. Visit her on Facebook‘s War and Chess page!

Need help hitting 50,000 for Nano?

Tips and Tricks: Increasing The Word Flow

We NaNoWriMoers are a little more than halfway through the challenge, but if you are
like me in any way, this is about the time I start hitting the wall. The pressure of words is
becoming a bit more challenging as you work through the plot you are hastily creating.
And the deadline is looming closer and closer with each passing day.
The start of the 30-day challenge is always exciting, and if I daresay, easy as you
choose your story-line and begin meeting your characters. But after the first few days the
inspiration begins to dry up and the nerves begin setting in. By the halfway point, we
wonder if there’s enough time left, and then we dread the story itself: is it even worth all
this effort? The answer: YES!
Nano is just the challenge to get 50,000 words completed (which is approximately a
novel, give or take). But you aren’t supposed to have a finished, polished novel by
December 1 sitting on your desk. Having that kind of pressure is daunting, and can
cause writers to detach themselves from their project and drop out of the Nano race.
Let’s be honest, we aren’t James Patterson.

 

But never fear, there are some tried and true tricks to keep your word count mounting.

1. DO NOT SCRAP ANYTHING
As noted before, this piece is not going to be a publishable work by Day 30. Instead, this
is a first draft. As writers, you need to keep that in mind as you go along. If you don’t like
a scene, leave it be, write something new after it and keep going. The more you go back
and delete pieces of the novel the more time you spend recreating scenes, and the less
time you spend advancing your plot.

2. DO NOT EDIT
At least not yet! Editing, while a necessary tool for polished work is not the goal for
NaNo. Make editing your December goal, and focus on getting the words down. Do not
go back and rewrite sections, instead, write more sections and keep the flow going.
Spending time each day going back to re-read entire chapters (heck, even the entire
book!) takes precious writing time away from you. In order to meet the deadline of
50,000 words in 30 days, writers have to average at least 1,700 words per day. That
doesn’t sound like a lot, but as you get into the nitty-gritty of the novel, there’s the
chance that some days you might not hit that mark, maybe one day you only hit 300
words, that puts you 1,400 words behind.

3. SCHEDULE SOME TIME
We all work, cook, have commitments, and need time to unwind. Make sure to set aside
a block of time to write. This block of time can be anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours,
whatever your schedule allows. But making yourself sit and write for that set time period
can get the juices flowing! Environment is also key. Make sure to select your writing
space based on your ability to block out noise. If you can’t stop yourself from looking up
at the T.V., getting involved in a conversation, or getting distracted by the pile of laundry
that needs folding, make sure you choose a location that is free of those distractions.

4. WRITING SPRINTS
These are a fun way to get the word count out in a certain amount of time. And you can
get other writers involved in them too! Pick a number of words you want to write and
then give yourself a time limit to get those words written. Or give yourself a time limit and
challenge your friends to write as many words as you can. The winner earns a free cup
of coffee! Post it to social media, text your writer buddies, or get your friends/family to
hold you accountable for these sprints!

5. REMOVE YOURSELF
Sometimes you place too much pressure on yourself to actually write the number of
words you need each day. The pressure builds and it squashes the inspiration. In these
cases, get up and get out. Head to a park, a mall, or some other public place and spend
time people watching. Give yourself an hour and write about where you are, what you
see, what you hear, about the people walking around, the smells…just jot it down, keep
your focus off your work in progress until something sparks you. This break allows your
mind to wander outside of the confines of your story line.

6. GET OFF THE COMPUTER
Sometimes working your magic with the basics are the best way to reinvigorate your
output. While typing allows you to get more words down in a shorter amount of time,
writing by hand allows your mind to work a bit slower. Use this time to develop a new
scene or character, or to give yourself a quick chapter outline.

7. OUTLINE
While passion gets you started on the Nano journey, you have to be dedicated to
finishing the job. Writing up a short, general outline can help keep you on track. This
provides you with the bare bones of the story and you can spend the rest of the writing
time filling in the organs!

8. STOP WRITING WHEN YOU KNOW WHAT IS COMING NEXT
Getting started each day can be a challenge if you aren’t sure what direction your
character is going to take later in the story. By ending your writing session at a point in
which you know exactly what your character is going to do next, you allow yourself to get
started immediately the next time you sit down and begin writing again. Jot down a few
notes before you finish writing for the day about what is going to happen in the next
chapter and stop writing. When you go back, your notes and your last few paragraphs
will be all you need to review before you can jump into the action of your WIP (work in
progress).

9. LEAVE BLANKS
Choosing a character name can take days, deciding on the correct phrasing to describe
the castle gates can be a challenge you spend hours creating, even attempting to vary
your descriptive language can take up more time than you’d like. Here’s the key when it
comes to Nano: leave it blank. The old adage, “collect the sand, build the castle later,”
applies here more than you an imagine. Who cares if you used the word SMILE thirty
times in the last twenty pages. That is a problem for you to address when you get to the
editing phase. That minor character that only appears once in the story for a few pages
doesn’t have a good name? So what, make one up, leave it blank, call him Minor
Character 4, and move on. Names can be decided upon at a later date. Not sure how to
describe the scar on the hero’s face? Write SCAR, DESCRIPTION, and keep writing the
action. This is a first draft, it isn’t supposed to be gold, it’s supposed to be raw. All the
boo-boos can be tended at a later date.

10. DO NOT GIVE UP
Even if you know you aren’t going to hit 50,000 by the end of November, keep writing.
Keep pushing yourself to write as much as you can. Then, use that success as a
challenge for yourself the following year. You might surprise yourself. You may sit down
one day, feel overly inspired, and write 8,000-10,000 words and put yourself back on
track to hit your goal. You can do it, you have the skills and the passion – you just need
the determination. (And a few good tips to stimulate those creative juices!)

 

11. EXTRA TIP
There are plenty of places to submit your work to when you’re done! Keep Junto Magazine in mind for your shorter pieces, and Ink Smith Publishing & Native Ink Press for your longer novels!

 

About Corinne

CA Bio Image

Connect with me
on Twitter!
@AndersonCorinne

Corinne has her MFA in Writing from Lindenwood University and her MPS in Publishing from George Washington University. She has been an editor at Ink Smith Publishing and Native Ink Press since 2013. Since her first trip to the library when she was a toddler, Corinne has been collecting books, recommending her favorites and providing commentary on the less-than-stellar. Her belief is that if you have a problem, it’s nothing that a good book can’t solve. Currently, she is editing for Ink Smith PublishingJunto Magazine and hoping that her blog posts here will help writers improve and publish their work.

Tips to Beat Writer’s Block

I’ve been struggling with writer’s block for the past few weeks, and it is very frustrating. I go to write and I have nothing, but once I am busy and cannot write, all of my ideas starting coming in. It’s a difficult cycle, but here are a few things that helped me along the way.

1. Give Yourself a Break…Literally!

Unfortunately, the more you try, the harder it is going to be to find the inspiration. Just like when you’re working on a puzzle (jigsaw or crossword) and you’re stuck, taking a break and going back to it with a clear mind helps immensely! Taking 15-20 minutes to regroup and come back has helped me so much. Whether I go for a walk, watch one episode of something on Netflix (The Office or Parks and Rec are my favorites!), take a nap, or even just scroll through my phone—not thinking about the article/post/whatever I’m trying to get done actually helps me more after a rest.

2. Read through old material.

Sometimes, when I’m trying to write a blog post on my personal blog, I don’t feel motivated. I feel like I’m just writing into the abyss of the internet and it’s just a waste of time. And then, (because I’m trying to prove myself right), I read through old posts. Seeing what I’ve already done inspires me to write more because I’m perfecting my craft, and even through this short comparison between older pieces and newer, I see how much I’ve improved. So even if you’re trying to write a sports piece and you’re reading through an old screenplay you wrote five years ago, it still gets the gears turning in your head and helps bring the motivation back.

3. Meditate.

About a solid 65% of my writer’s block is pure anxiety. “I can’t write now, I have laundry and dishes and FILL IN THE BLANK”…and then I never actually get to writing. Or the dreaded procrastination bug: “Ah, this isn’t due for awhile, I still have time,” and then it’s the night before (or the day of) and I haven’t even opened up Word yet. Since I deal with anxiety about most things (thanks to a generalized anxiety disorder), I’ve learned to combat these thoughts. I take a few deep breaths, and I tell myself that I’m too frazzled to do anything right now, so I might as well meditate. I like TheHonestGuys channel, and I just do one of their shorter ones to refresh my mind. After doing so, I feel relaxed and don’t feel the pressure from earlier to get everything done right now, and it’s easier to write because I don’t feel as rushed or pressured.

4. Try Not to Psyche Yourself Out…or Should You?

Whenever I’m writing for myself and don’t care about my audience, I’m more comfortable and therefore it’s easier to write. I don’t worry about format or grammar. I just write. However, whenever I have to write for a purpose like a school assignment or something for work, etc.,  I find myself so caught up with everything being perfect that I forget that I am good at this. What I have found is if I tell myself that this is just for fun and only content matters, my thoughts and ideas flow more freely. I then take a break (more often than not I get a snack!) and then go back and edit. This helps keep me at ease and keep my mind thinking outside the box, not just what I think my audience will want to hear. And then once I edit, I can always make sure it meets the expectation.

5. Read Other Authors.

There are a few authors I follow on Instagram, and seeing their pieces throughout the day keeps me motivated to always be ready to write. And sometimes, when I feel particularly unmotivated, I read chapters from my favorite books or a few of my favorite poems.

These are just a few of my tricks to help me beat my writer’s block. And sometimes they don’t work, but that’s okay. As long as there is a will, and ink, there’s a way.

 

Meet Jenna LaBollita!

Jenna’s passion for writing started very young, even winning her a Young Author Award in elementary school. Since then, she has written for The Odyssey and Puckermob, and has read countless books in many genres.

Her love for writing is unmatched, and she hopes to become a published author herself one day. Jenna holds an associate degree in Liberal Arts from Ocean County College in Toms River, New Jersey.

Author Writing Prompt!

Dawn Napier, the author of Star Pack, has an assignment for you writers! Check out this fun writing prompt to get you started on your next great novel!

 

Prompt: 

You’re in a boat over a deep, dark lake. Something scrapes the length of your boat, and you hear someone whisper your name.

 

Now, grab your pen and paper, or open up a new Word document, and get writing. I like to add some mood music to my writing. Here are a few “creepy” songs to use while you write. Feel free to share your creepy song suggestions, or even a bit of your writing, in the comments!

  1. Dock Boggs, “Pretty Polly”
  2. Snakefinger – “Sawny Beane/Sawny Beane’s Death Dance”
  3. Radiohead, “We Suck Young Blood”
  4. Misfits, “Wolf’s Blood”

Rolling Stone has a great list on their website, too. You can find the list here!

Why Writing is Important!

In this day and age of technology, many real-life experiences have seemed to fade in importance. Hanging out among friends is now just relaxing in the same room on their cell phones. In fact, any social event is made up of cell phones taking up a majority of people’s attention. Social media platforms are more important to people than real friendships in person. The internet, in all of its glory and accomplishments, has taken over a lot of people’s lives and priorities.

<I’m not bashing social media or the Internet–I’m all for innovation and taking advantage of new things that come arise as time changes. This is just my opinion on where priorities should lie, and why some things (writing) should not be overlooked.> 

I’ve noticed this in myself, actually. At one point in time, my presence on social media was more important than my off-screen life. I was more caught up with Twitter retweets and Snapchat views than real conversations, and it wasn’t until I missed an event in a close friend’s life that I realized I had to check myself. I also realized it was a long time since I had written. I’ve written Facebook posts, Twitter threads, etc, but nothing for myself. Not like I used to.

I’ve kept a personal journal for years, and it has helped me immensely. Whether it be getting things off my chest, or working through life decisions, writing has grown to be a part of me. Inspiration for stories or poems come to me at the most random times, and I see writing opportunities everywhere. Surprisingly, writing is not a common hobby for the majority of the population anymore. And a percentage of those who do write prefer to have followers/subscribers; so anything they do without viewers doesn’t seem worth doing.

Hopefully today, I’ll let you in on the secret as to why writing is important and why it’s a life-changer for many of us.

Writing is therapeutic, and I’m not the only one to say so. Personally, I’ve used my journal(s) to help me through many issues, like what major I wanted to study in college, whether or not I wanted to move from NJ to PA (and back again!), through my struggles with anxiety and depression, my goals and dreams, etc. Writing helped me through so much in life and has been meditation-like. After writing, without worrying about neat penmanship or getting all the details perfect, I feel calm and collected. (For more information about how writing can be meditative, check out this article on How Life Unfolds!)

Writing for social media and for yourself are two different things. When you write for any sort of audience, there’s a filter and also a purpose. When you write for yourself, for the most part, there’s no purpose or target other than self-fulfillment. Easing that burden of meeting an audience’s expectations helps the creativity flow, at least for me!

The society we live in seems to dictate success by the measurement of how many people see your work and respond to it. Whether your choice of platform is YouTube, Twitter/Instagram, Facebook, or some other shareable network, the driving factor of this “success” relies heavily on followers, subscribers, the number of views/likes, etc. The act of writing shouldn’t need gratification from social media.

For those of us who have a Twitter (or any other platform obsession), it is too easy to get caught up in thinking personal reflection needs to be in the form of a [INSERT PREFERRED PLATFORM HERE] thread. It seems that if there’s something you want to say, it has to be done online so it can go viral.

I disagree.

When it comes to writing, something that seems obsolete in this day and age, this art form should be taken seriously. When I write, I try to have silence or at least soft music on in the background. If I’m writing in my journal, I don’t really care about where I am; but if I’m writing for something (like school or Ink Smith), I write at my desk to help keep me focused. I don’t care if anyone sees my writing.

I’m not saying that no writing should ever be done online. Me writing this article would be hypocritical if that was the claim I was making. I’m just saying that, as amazing as social media is, it should not replace true writing. It should not replace the soft, gentle reflection, or ferocious scribbling as a thought consumes you. It should not be peppered with SEO keywords just because you want it to show up first in a search. It should not only be written with the sole purpose of many people reading it. Writers who write for the enjoyment of it, for the catharsis of it, even for the utter need to write – those are the writers who will find their writing most relatable to others.

In short, as long as your purpose for writing is to achieve some form of Internet Fame, then wanting to post your work online to share doesn’t have a damaging effect on your writing. Just because your work doesn’t go viral doesn’t mean it isn’t a message that people want to hear or a work of art that people wouldn’t appreciate.

I am all for innovation. I’m 100% in support of social media, and I think it’s a great thing. It helps people reconnect, celebrities seem more like regular people, and it brings a lot of people together. I just think that it’s important people remember how useful things offline can be, whether in functionality or whatever else. Writing is a great tool and is most definitely worth doing in any way.

 

 

Meet Jenna LaBollita!

Jenna’s passion for writing started very young, even winning her a Young Author Award in elementary school. Since then, she has written for The Odyssey and Puckermob, and has read countless books in many genres.

Her love for writing is unmatched, and she hopes to become a published author herself one day. Jenna holds an associate degree in Liberal Arts from Ocean County College in Toms River, New Jersey.

Inspiration from Iceland

Inspiration comes from a lot of different places. Each place you visit, live or pass through has quite a bit of history. History is a great place to start a story.

Think about every book you have ever read. Every non-fiction piece: history. Every fiction piece has history. It’s the path in which the story took to arrive at the end of the journey.

Reykjavík, Iceland

Reykjavík, Iceland

This week I’ve been in Iceland. I had never really thought about Iceland’s “story” other than the fact that there were Vikings involved, they have a cold, relatively dark winter, and 24-hours of daylight during the summer months.

During our excursion one night to find the Northern Lights, the guide told us a story. It was Búkolla the Magic Cow. Our guide sat at the front, her Icelandic accent transporting us to a farm where a boy and his family lived.

Reykjavík, Iceland

Reykjavík, Iceland

“Once upon a time,” she began. The story was short and sweet, detailing the trials of a young boy and his cow against the might of trolls.

Everyone associates Ireland with the fae folk, the little people, fairy tales. At least, everyone I know. But I never thought to think of Iceland having stories riddled with creatures, trolls particularly. It was a new experience for me, and immediately my head was spinning with new tales that I could weave based upon the stories from Iceland.

Blue Lagoon, Iceland

Blue Lagoon, Iceland

Aside from the stories we heard, the land is fickle and beautiful. Snowstorms can crop up out of nowhere, rage for a few moments and disappear as if they were never there. The mountains are breathtaking, the Northern Lights sought after by every tourist, the Blue Lagoon a warm-water paradise, waterfalls, geysers, glaciers, even the snow sprinkled streets.

Statue of Leif Erikson, Reykjavík, Iceland

Statue of Leif Erikson, Reykjavík, Iceland

 

And let’s not forget the real history! Vikings settled this land and statues of these settlers and other famed people dot the city. There are tales here, both already told and asking to be written—a story in every aspect of the land.

This goes for any location. But I know, that after my visit here (even during) I will be writing stories and poems with Iceland at their hearts.

 

 

About Corinne

CA Bio Image

Connect with me
on Twitter!
@AndersonCorinne

Corinne has her MFA in Writing from Lindenwood University. She has been an editor at Ink Smith Publishing and Native Ink Press since 2013. Since her first trip to the library when she was a toddler, Corinne has been collecting books, recommending her favorites and providing commentary on the less-than-stellar. Her belief is that if you have a problem, it’s nothing that a good book can’t solve. Currently, she is pursuing her MPS in Publishing at George Washington University, editing for Ink Smith Publishing and hoping that her blog posts here will help writers improve and publish their work.

Habitualized Writing Spaces:

Writers are creative creatures. Whether they are writing fiction or non-fiction, they are building worlds from images inside their heads. This world building takes a lot of fuel, and for those writers who have done multiple worlds recently, it can be hard to develop something new. Authors and writers, in general, can be creatures of habit. I’ve met many authors who have said that they have a specific place they write. They create the same environment each time they sit at their desk, by the window, or in a local coffee shop. The pad of paper for notes goes on the right side of the computer, two pens, a highlighter (to really mark an important idea to flesh out later), a cup of tea, a thesaurus – you name it. They have a system.

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Authors and writers, in general, can be creatures of habit. I’ve met many authors who have said that they have a specific place they write. They create the same environment each time they sit at their desk, by the window, or in a local coffee shop. The pad of paper for notes goes on the right side of the computer, two pens, a highlighter (to really mark an important idea to flesh out later), a cup of tea, a thesaurus – you name it. They have a system.

But this system can fail us. Particularly, if we are not “experienced” individuals. That is not to say that everyone needs experience before they write (at least not actual experience). What I mean by that is that when we habitualize a creative process, we can get bogged down in writing the same dialogue, scene, character—even the same story.

Inspiration comes in many different forms, so you don’t have to go and change your writing habits. The easiest things to are: look out your window, listen to people talk, Google a picture, or even listen to a new song.

But don’t limit your inspiration.

But I encourage writers, heck I encourage everyone, to expose themselves to new adventures, new people, and new places so that you can bring those experiences with you to your perfectly set writing space.

 

About Corinne

CA Bio Image

Connect with me on Twitter! @AndersonCorinne

Corinne has her MFA in Writing from Lindenwood University. She has been an editor at Ink Smith Publishing and Native Ink Press since 2013. Since her first trip to the library when she was a toddler, Corinne has been collecting books, recommending her favorites and providing commentary on the less-than-stellar. Her belief is that if you have a problem, it’s nothing that a good book can’t solve. Currently, she is pursuing her MPS in Publishing at George Washington University, editing for Ink Smith Publishing and hoping that her blog posts here will help writers improve and publish their work.

The NaNo Rebel

I don’t like NaNoWriMo much. I go through this same cycle every year! I promise myself every year I’m going to write a novel in a month. Maybe not 50,000 words, but a novel!

After the success of my debut novel, War and Chess, and quitting my job to become a full time author the pressure was on! This November 1st, once again, I fired up my NaNoWriMo account. (I’ve been playing this game since 2013)

Nano RebelI wasn’t sure what I was going to do but I was working on two projects. One, I am writing the first draft. If I weren’t a NaNoWriMo rebel that would have been the novel I worked on. But I like writing first drafts with pen and paper. Drafts that you can take to the mountains without worrying about it dying, as electronics are bound to do.

My second project was typing up some old stories I think might be promising as a new publication. That second project is what I chose to report to NaNoWriMo’s website. It was a lot easier than counting the words I write on paper by hand. Really, I just needed some accountability. Someone to email me when I’m making whimpy excuses about how long hours typing makes my back SCREAM. But yet, somehow, I was just fine spending most of the morning on Facebook drinking coffee…

So I was already being a rebel by not creating something new. Just making sure something great was backed up, which is my least favorite job. I wound up getting 2/3rds of the way finished with this project! I was at an awe inspiring 10,000 words by December 1st. Yeah, I didn’t join my brethren in sleep deprivation, stress, or trying to remember that when great Aunt Bessy asks you, “Have you found a man yet?” you keep your decorum and smile.

I stayed true to my nature and stayed a rebel for yet another NaNo year. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be prancing around downtown in my leather jacket Christmas shopping.

 

 

About Helen

Helen M. PugsleyHelen comes from a small town of twenty in eastern Wyoming. She has been passionate about writing since she was small. Helen enjoys traveling and is always thrilled to excite friends with tales of playing music on the streets for money, conversing with the drunks who frequent gutters, and the epic struggle of finding a decent bath when living in a car. Visit her on Facebook‘s War and Chess page!

Plotting vs Pantsing: You Can Have It Both Ways

Writers have a way of turning the nuts and bolts of creation into a heated political debate. I don’t know if this is the result of increased exposure in the form of social media or if we’ve always been this way, but it’s interesting to watch. One of my favorite hot-button debates is the issue of plotting vs pantsing.

Plotting is exactly what it sounds like. You map out the course of the story and figure out how it’s going to end before you start writing. Some plotters map out every twist and turn, while others create a rough outline that they know their characters will escape by the end of the book. Plotting is like architecture; the writer designs and measures and sketches before he begins to build.

Author Jan Ropers puts it thusly: “For me the fun moved from figuring out how it would end to how they were going to get there.” Rather than plan out every step, Ms. Ropers figures out how it’s going to end and then “pantses” her way to that ending. Different authors have different methods for plotting, depending on their literary needs.

Pantsing is more like planting a seed and watching to see what comes up. The pantser sits down with only the vaguest idea of what she’s doing and makes everything up as she goes. Sometimes the pantser starts with an image, or a character type, or an odd combination of thoughts that come together and make the writer say, “Hey I wonder what would happen if…”

The plotter writes to tell what happens; the pantser writes to see what happens.

In my earliest attempts to write a novel, I tried to plot. But I realized that if I planned the story out in advance, I got bored and lost interest in the story. Planning made me not care about writing the ending, because I already knew what would happen. This discouraged me, because at the time I thought I had to know how the story would end in order to write it.

As he often did in the course of my angst-riddled adolescence, Stephen King came to my rescue. In his brilliant memoir On Writing, he says, “Why be a stickler about the ending? Every story comes out somewhere.” So I said what the hell and gave it a shot. I sat down and started writing about a dragon kidnapping a unicorn. That was all I had—just that one image—but it was enough to get me started. I forced myself to write at least a few words every day, and six months later I had completed my first novel. It was absolutely terrible, one of the worst books I’d ever read in my life. But by golly I had finally finished something. I was on my way.

Every book I wrote for the next ten years was a complete ad-lib. Sometimes the starting point was a young woman avenging her mother’s death. Sometimes it was a party my husband had formed in his favorite role-playing game. But each time I went in with no idea where I was going. Sometimes I didn’t even know if the story would be a short story or a novel until I’d written ten thousand words and the characters were still doing things. I did what I did and loved every minute of it. I decided that plotting was an acceptable method for control freaks, but not for the free-and-easy creative likes of me.

Until the fateful day a serendipitous conversation on Twitter changed my whole outlook on the writing process. Never let it be said that the Internet is anti-creative; I’ve gotten some of my best ideas from random conversations with strangers on the other side of the globe.

I don’t remember the exact course of the discussion, but it included this question: “Why are werewolves never depicted with weapons? They never have knives or guns, even when they’re wearing clothes.”

My companion responded, “Because they don’t need weapons. They’re super strong and have razor teeth. A weapon would be pointless.”

That was a good point, but I said that nevertheless I would read the hell out of a story about werewolves with ray guns. Then I flashed on the image of a wolf-headed man in a 50’s style space suit, complete with fish bowl helmet, holding a bright silver ray gun. Werewolves in space. Why the hell not?

It seemed like a simple enough idea, so I took of writing the way I always do: I picked a scene, picked up a pen, and went to town. I finished two or three chapters in high spirits. And then the Doubts started creeping in. And then I sputtered and stalled.

Part of my trouble was my overwhelming awe of science fiction as a whole. I grew up watching Star Trek and Doctor Who; I cut my literary teeth on Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov. I felt instinctively that sci-fi was this vast empire of wisdom that I, a simple horror writer, could never hope to enter.

This feeling was exacerbated by the realization that writing this book was actually hard. It genuinely felt like work. My werewolves were from another planet, with alien technology and alien ecosystems, and I had to create and maintain this vast structure all by myself. My daily word count went from a thousand words to five hundred, then to zero. It was just too much.

My husband, bless his heart, wouldn’t let me give up. He insisted that Star Pack was one of my best stories yet, and if I gave up I’d never get to the next level as an artist. So I dragged my butt through it, and three years later I finally had a finished manuscript. (As a point of reference, my usual timeline is between six and nine months.) I’ll always be grateful to him and my writer friends who insisted that my story was good and that alien invasion was going to be the Next Big Thing in publishing. I have no idea if that’s actually true or they were just blowing smoke to get me to stop talking and start writing, but it worked either way.

I learned a lot from this experience, more than I’ve ever learned from my “easier” books. The first and most important is try never to give up on a work in progress. Sometimes it can feel like you’re handcuffed to a corpse, but you have to drag that sucker across the finish line. Secondly, don’t underestimate the power of people telling you what you want to hear. Sometimes a little candy-coated baloney is just what the doctor ordered.

Finally, when you try out a new genre, be prepared to find out a new way of writing it. Pantsing is fine for genres like horror and fantasy, where if you get stuck you can just change the rules to make it work. But it turns out you can’t create an entire planet, culture, and ecosystem by the seat of your pants. Not without a lot of cursing, despair, and moaning, “This isn’t going to WORK!” to your significant other. Geography, even on an alien planet, needs to make sense. If you have predators living on your alien planet, they need prey to feed on. And the prey needs to eat, too. Worldbuilding as you go along is like building a flight of stairs in the dark with a flashlight.

When I realized that I had it in me to write a sequel, I took a deep breath, broke out my trusty notebook, and set to work on an outline. I spent about a week describing the land my new characters would hail from, then another week on the planet my explorers would discover. Finally I composed a rough outline of the events of the book. I still don’t know how it’s going to end, but I know where the people are going and how they’re going to get there.

And I still haven’t lost interest in the story. Even though I have a good idea of what’s going to happen, I still want to write it out. So plotting did not, as I have long feared, ruin my enthusiasm for writing the book.

I’m still a pantser at heart and probably always will be. But I feel great knowing that I’ve found a new way to do what I love. It’s like a new restaurant with an old love. You’ll always have your traditional date spot, but making new discoveries can bring a fresh outlook to a long-term relationship.