Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Confessions of a reformed pantser, Part 2

Part 2. You can read Part 1 of my reform here.

So if you've read Rachel Aaron's post here's how I managed to go from doing a 95,000 word manuscript in 9 months, to turning out an 85,000 word manuscript in 6 weeks. 

1. I had to begin with the end in mind. I needed to make a firm decision about whether my story was a romance or a coming-of-age story, because it would determine how it ended, and everything has to build to the end, to the pay off for the reader, to the reward they get for sticking out your story for hours. Dan Wells talks about how you have to begin with the end in mind, and I'm a big believer in this. (You can watch his great series on plotting in these You Tube videos here.)

2. Once I had my ending, I started thinking about major conflicts I knew would be in my story. These were little tidbits I'd saved up over a few months of thinking about the new story while I was finishing my previous manuscript. 

3. I wrote each of these on a 3x5 index card in ten words or less, just a quick jot of what the scene would be.

4. I started stringing them together. I figured if I was doing a 75,000 word story, and I averaged 3,000 words a scene (a lot of people average less than this), then I needed 25 cards. I ended up with 30. I rolled with it.

5. Once I had them all laid out, I figured out what order I wanted them in. Pro tip: NUMBER them. I didn't. I have toddlers. I was stupid. After reshuffling them due to a disastrous card-flinging courtesy of my littlest one, I numbered them and I'll never make that mistake again.

6. Each time I sat down to write a scene, I spent about ten minutes free writing what would happen in the scene that day. 100 words or less, typically. Then I would write. Oh, and another pro tip: I use Mac Freedom for PC. It locks you out of your Internet connection for the amount of time you tell it to. I do an hour, catch up on my social networks, and do another hour. I can easily get 2,000 words done that way. Anyway, the 5-10 minutes was super easy, and it made the scene that day SO fast to get down.

What I learned about writing: my scenes ended up being far shorter than 3000 words. I wasn't wandering through them, writing until I figured things out. The story still got away from me in the middle a little, because the spontaneous, surprising parts of writing don't go away. Some of the stuff that came out and surprised me (in a good way) needed wrapping up, but that's okay, because I'd saved a lot of space on earlier scenes that weren't overwritten while I meandered. And in the end, the final word count was only 84,000-ish. My shortest manuscript to date. It was over my goal, but well within the limits of the contemporary YA genre I was writing in this time.

What I learned about my process: Because of the no-nap situation in my house, I had to make a few other adjustments. I finally busted out and used the Alphasmart Neo my husband gave me for Christmas. Light, portable, runs on regular batteries forever, and is a small screen that shows text only with no Internet access. It easily came with me to gymnastics class or the park or wherever I was with my kids when my kids didn't really need me. I would type a few hundred words at a time in addition to the hour I carved out during the kids' TV time. And I flew. I knew exactly what I was writing each time I started and I never had to grope for words.

Something different I did this time too: a writing retreat for 2.5 days where I got 18,000 words done. It cut about two weeks off of my drafting time at least, and I will definitely do this whenever possible for every manuscript now.

And the biggest personal revolution of all: because I didn't fight so hard for the words, I didn't fight so hard to keep them. Revisions became fun. FUN! The impossible happened: I didn't mind them in the least. It was challenging the way puzzle-solving is. I liked it. WHAT?

So that's how I did it. That's how writing became fun again and I went from 9-month manuscripts to 3-month manuscripts. I'm a plotter now, and I'm not going back. Whoohoo!


  1. Thank you for this post. Between teenagers and toddlers, my writing time has evaporated. I am so going to try this!

  2. After reading both posts I can breathe a big sigh. This is almost exactly how I write. I start with the end and it's so much easier to figure out my plot points. I don't tend to lose my way in the middle. Not sure why I'm lucky like that. Probably because you're so good at dialogue and I don't feel that strong at it. I say what has to be said to move the story forward and then I move on. I have a theory that pretty much every word needs to move the plot forward. I'm glad you're using the 'end first' method. It makes everything so much easier.

  3. You are awesome, and so is Rachel! I use her method, too, and it blows me away.

  4. Oh baby, this is awesome news! I was a panster on my first two novels and I said, never again! I love writing from an outline, but my outlines are always evolving too so I feel like there is plenty of room for characters to still express themselves. :)

  5. I'm not even a writer and I loved these two posts. So informative! I've always wondered what authors do to put a story together. Thanks for investing time into writing this!

  6. Thanks Melanie, this is so what I needed to hear!



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