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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Just write

There is no best way to produce a manuscript. Over the past year, I have heard a hundred different stories of “how I write” either in blogs, books, or in YouTube videos. They all tell you how to get from page one to the end of your novel if you just follow their advice.

I am not going to give you advice – well, not too much anyway.

I plot because I like to know what my characters are going to be doing during the story. This isn’t the right way or the only way, but it works for me. There are many different levels of plotters. I outline main mostly events – almost like an appointment book: day, mood, if there is food involved, the weather.  Other authors plot out much finer detail.

Since I write historical, I like to do my research before I start putting words on the page. Doing the research early prevents the internet and research books from becoming too big a distraction during my writing time. Seriously, I have to set limits on this because there is so much information waiting to lure me to a quiet reading corner. I also find plotting very helpful for goal setting: Write three chapters this week – glance at storyboard and I know what I have to do. Simple right?

I’m experimenting with writing without an outline for a current story. It is a test to see whether my preference for plotting is real or has simply developed because I’ve been reading plotting books to make my stories better. But writing without an outline has slowed my pace considerably and there are lots of [add detail] scattered throughout the draft. Those missing fiddly bits will unfortunately make editing a much longer process.

While I was optimistic at the beginning, the experience has also taken an odd turn. My heroine has shown a very dark and twisty side that isn’t particularly loveable and I’ve realised she wasn’t really my heroine after all - she was just the loudest female voice in my head. I have wondered whether I might have noticed my mistake if I had outlined the novel in the first place. But I don’t wish to stop and map out the rest or my story could grind to a halt. After spending a day reading and tweaking the beginning to add notes for a third POV, the story is moving forward again. Whew!

No matter what anyone tells you, how you write is your own choice. There is no right way to create your story except to get the words on the page. Seriously, you can plot down to the minute details of their childhood, but all that pre-work means nothing if you do not make a commitment to write the story down, not in an outline, but in a document another can read.

I can easily produce a 3,000 words chapter a day when I write with an outline. It sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? But, and here is the kicker, I really want to write those words. I ignore everything else until those scenes are out of my head and on the screen. They may not be perfect, but near perfection can come later in edits.

I know how lucky I am to be able to write full time and my family has adapted to ignore my ignoring them. They understand how important writing is to me. It’s hard work and often uncomfortable if you sit for too long a stretch. So, I scale back my writing to three days on new work (3000 words per day goal), two days of edits and critiques where I can leave my desk a bit more and not stiffen up. I’m striving to find a balance.

Adapting to suit your time, suit your goals, and suit your limits is your decision. You just have to want to stick with it. What sacrifices have you made, or are prepared to make to reach your goal?


  1. Great topic, Heather! I had no idea you were "pantsing" your new project. I would feel like a fish out of water if I had to suddenly plot. :)

    I used to have a pretty regular schedule of when I could write and that changed drastically when my child entered middle school. (Not junior high. I get yelled at when I call it that.) But you see, I'm a night person.

    I've always been the most creative when everyone else in the house is asleep, no one is calling on the phone, etc. But with this new school schedule, I have to wake up at 5am. So my writing schedule has been forced to change. I have to try to write in the morning now, when my creative juices don't flow as well. It's a struggle to get into the swing of things.

    Can I just say I hate middle school hours? I'm waiting impatiently for summer break. :)

  2. Oh, I know that feeling of just having to get those scenes out before doing anything else! So often I come up with dialogue while I'm walking the dogs. When I get home I wave off my son and husband and run to my computer to get it all written down before doing anything else! :)

  3. Great post, Heather!

    My life is going through so many changes right now, so writing has been a little slow for the last 9 months or so. But I'm finally getting back into it and discovering what I have to do to get the writing done with a baby in the house. I'm definitely a pantser, and I used to crank out books in a matter of 4-6 weeks, then spend a lot of time editing and re-writing. The new plan is similar to yours, only with a lower word count. Bella's not quite old enough to be ignored. LOL!

  4. I love this post Heather. Sometimes the best way to learn what works for you is to just try something new. That's what I'm doing atm, seeing what works best for me. I've been writing one scene a day but I am hoping to boost that to one chapter someday soon. I have my dest in my bedroom and I've learned to bring the little in with some toys on the floor so that I can write a little. Writing with children is always difficult Jerrica, but don't worry, you'll get your groove back.

  5. Lydia, I have no idea how you write your manuscripts so quickly. Me, I'm just bumbling along. The story could make for funny reading. You know, the kind where you smack your head to the table straight after. :o)

  6. Katherine,

    I do that too, think up dialogue while I'm doing other things. Unfortunately for me, I often remember all the great things I dreamed up. :o(

  7. Jerrica,

    I never wrote when I had little ones so hats off to you for whatever you can produce! My youngest is seven and I can steer him toward his TBR pile or his homework if I'm not quite finished for the day. :oD

  8. Melissa,

    When I write with an outline, I can write more than one scene a day. But this month I'm only managing one scene and then a really long break before I work out the next one. I'm missing my outlines. :o{

  9. Great post, Heather. As you know I'm a panster all the way. Its interesting that to plot a story, which I've tried, slows me down. Everyone's different as you said. It all comes down to what works for each of us. Good luck with the ms.

  10. The best thing for me has been decreasing my work days. I'm fortunate to have a supportive husband who was willing to take on more of the financial burden to allow me to write. My two days off a week are my biggest writing days. I operate by setting goals for myself each writing day and sticking to my plan as much as possible, which reminds me. I better get to it.

  11. Heather,

    I feel like every minute I write I sacrifice something else, but how can I not write? Writing is in my bones, flows through my veins, consumes many waking thoughts whether at the keyboard or not. I have given up time with my children, money, time with friends, time with my husband, a clean house. You name it writing has taken away from it but what it gives back to me is a sense of purpose and a fulfillment unlike anything I've ever known. I suppose I am willing to adjust my life a great deal for writing, but at the same time, I try to keep a good balance and not let the writing take over everything.

  12. Great post Heather, I'm trying something different this time, I'm plotting each scene before I write it for my latest two works, (yes I'm writing two at the same time) so far it is working well.


  13. Thanks for dropping by Tam. I have great fun when I plot, I write things down, walk away, do some more reseach, look at the outline upside down and backwards. When it comes time to write I just do it. BTW I am not going to meet that BIAW goal this week. I need to stop and think where Im going LOL.

  14. Sandie!

    Two books at once? You are giving me a headache, woman. Ladies this woman does way too much. She blogs everywhere, (secretly think its a growing addiction of hers) and does heaps for RWAustralia and other writers. Good luck with the two books.

  15. Samantha and Julie,

    I can see how much writing means to you and congrats on finding the time for your stories. You both write beautifully!