How a Pantser Learned to Plot

I used to be a pantser.  Time was writing by the seat of my pants was the only way I could imagine getting any writing done. This particular approach to the writing process worked for me for a very long time. That changed, though, when a medical condition which seems to have affected the way my brain works, left me unable to focus or effortlessly string my ideas together.

I very quickly learned that to keep being a writer, I needed to change my whole approach to the art of writing stories. I needed a system.

At first, I was at a loss. For years, I had balked at the notion of planning and plotting my stories. Now my wherewithal to write them depended on my willingness and ability to do just that.

I searched online for clues. How did plotters approach the writing process? I needed to know. Right away, I realized that going to great lengths to meticulously plot my stories was never going to be my thing. Still, I needed to do something.

Luckily, I was able to arrive at a happy medium between pantsing and what I interpreted as the extremes of plotting. I developed a sort of hybrid approach to the story-planning process.

It took some time but I eventually ended up using the following form to plan my short stories:

Title:
Subject:
Genre:

Main Characters:
Themes:
Tone/Mood:
Summary:

Point of View:
Setting:
Hook:

Opening Scene:
Inciting Incident:
Plot Point:

Rising Action:
Climax:
Falling Action:

Epilogue:

The plot is merely something I start with and more often than not, my stories deviate from the plan but it’s still good to be able to refer back to my original idea and decide whether or not I want to keep or chuck the changes to the story.

With novels and novellas, things were a bit tricky at first but then realized that there was no need to go overboard. Using the same form that I utilize to plot my short stories as a guide, I create a synopsis. Then I split the synopsis up into segments (chapters). As I write each chapter, I flesh out separate scenes as needed.

The great thing about my current approach to plotting stories is that I’m now more inclined to stay on task, plus, I still have the flexibility to change things up as I go along.

I’m still a pantser at heart but I have that safety net for those times when I lose focus or have trouble stringing those ideas into a coherent whole.

Have you had a similar experience, found that you needed to change your approach to writing for one reason or another? How did you end up working it out? Is your solution still working for you?

What Genre is my NaNoWriMo Novel?

NaNoWriMo begins in three days and I’m all set to begin.

I think that my NaNoWriMo novel is something of a departure from my usual stuff but it promises to be loads of fun to write. There’s just one tiny problem.

I can’t decide whether this story is science fiction or horror.

Premise

nanocoverSea Witch Song

Tarah Jackson died at sea. Her secret lover, Uma Brown, attends the funeral with no choice but to bottle up her grief. At Tarah’s wake, a drunken fisherman claims that Tarah was killed by a monster from the deep.

Late that night, while the other fishermen who witnessed Tarah’s death drink and wrestle with memories of the monstrous encounter about which they dare not speak, Uma Brown takes a bottle of rum and her fiddle to the sea.

There she plays a song raw with grief. She lets the tears fall free. She drinks from the bottle, cries out the heavens, and curses the sea.

Along comes the monster from the deep.

Night after night, Uma seeks out the monster, her last connection to Tarah, until someone dangerous learns her secret. Then all hell breaks loose.

So, what do you think?

Be my NaNoWriMo buddy!

When to Ignore Negative Feedback

I think we call all agree that getting feedback on our writing is very important. Most of the time—whether it’s positive or negative, feedback serves to encourage or help us grow.

We can learn a lot from negative feedback but this isn’t always the case.

Sometimes it makes more sense to simply ignore negative feedback.

Here are three examples of instances in which we really need to just ignore negative feedback:

When it’s Not Constructive

Unfortunately, some people only know how to dole out destructive criticism.

Writers need to be able to accept feedback meant to help us improve and reject toxic remarks that are of no real value.

When it Doesn’t Educate You

Not all well-meaning criticism will benefit you. Perspectives vary and people will develop their own ideas of what the end result of your work should be.

I once had a short story dismissed by a reviewer who thought that six different kinds of aliens were too many, which made it difficult to keep up with the story. But it was a science fiction story that took place on a ship inhabited by hundreds of species, so were six really that unreasonable?

At the end of the day, if the negative feedback you’re receiving doesn’t actually help you to achieve the result you envisioned, sometimes it’s best to simply thank the person kindly and move on.

When it’s Not Relevant

Have you ever gotten negative feedback on a piece of work that wasn’t even relevant to the subject?

I once had a reviewer state that the “chapters” in a collection of short fiction that I published were disjointed and didn’t seem to be related to each other. Of course I was mystified because it was a collection of unrelated stories, not a novella or novelette.

Strange as it may sound, that sort of thing happens. Who knows why?

At those times, I ask myself one question: can I use this to become better at what I do?

If not, I simply move along.

What About You?

When do you choose to ignore negative feedback?

Curation for Productivity & Inspiration

One of my biggest challenges used to be keeping an organized digital listing of inspiring articles, pictures, and other media.

I recall I carting out a 13-gallon garbage bag filled to the brim with old, handwritten notes that I’d been hoarding for years. I didn’t feel even a twinge of regret. Gone are the days of scribbling in my trusty notebook, paper napkins, my hand or whatever else happened to be within reach whenever inspiration struck. Yes, gone are those days but I’ve gotta say, I don’t really miss them all that much.

I remember sitting in a sea of papers from time to time, frantically searching for that one note that I-don’t-remember-where-I-put. Now, my little mountain of notebooks and boxes full of scribbles notes have been replaced by digital alternatives.

I’ve managed to develop my own haphazard system using the following tools/platforms:

Evernote

Evernote is the ultimate notebook. I can capture notes by snapping pictures, typing, handwriting on my tablet or phone, make notes via speech to text and record voice notes. These can be categorized into stacks of notebooks and tagged as I wish. Evernote supports annotation and capturing web articles and images. Most importantly, Evernote syncs across all of my devices, which makes it truly the notebook that goes everywhere with me.

Pocket

I use Pocket to save and categorize (tag) interesting articles and research links. This is perfect—as opposed to using Evernote for everything–because I like to keep my reference materials separate from my actual notes or content that needs to be followed upon.

Pinterest

I use Pinterest to build collections of inspiring images. I’ve noticed that a lot of my author friends are using it for the same purpose, so I know it’s a totally genius idea.

Flipboard

Flipboard’s magazine style lends itself to browsing interesting content in a beautiful format. You can create “magazines” from only the content you especially like or want to remember. Flipboard’s limitation—if you can call it that—is that it is designed for tablets and smartphones, so the experience isn’t quite to inspiring on a PC/laptop.

What do you use?

Are there any awesome resources that you use that aren’t mentioned above?

Please, do share!

 

How to Handle Rejection

Rejection bites. That’s the plain and simple truth.

You pour your heart into a story and revise the heck out of it. Then you submit/query and repeat until hopefully, someone finally thinks that you have something worth publishing.

Unless you’re some sort of literary genius whose work always gets accepted on the very first submission, it can become quite a discouraging process.

Rejections are a blow to the ego. They make us question whether we possess talent or not. Whether we should keep trying or not.

It takes persistence and gumption to achieve any meaningful goal. Gaining some measure of success as a writer is no different.

Sometimes, we have to change our way of thinking about things to see past them.

Here are 3 things to remember the next time you get a rejection email or letter:

  1. This doesn’t define you.

When our work is rejected, creatives often feel as if we’re the ones being rejected. When you pour so much of yourself into what you do, it’s only natural to think that way.

If you stop and think about it though, you realize that this isn’t true. The person evaluating your work isn’t thinking about you at all. They’re thinking about the piece of work before them and whether or not it suits their purposes.

Sometimes yours will. Sometimes it won’t.

  1. This Doesn’t Define Your Work

A rejection response send one simple message: Do Not Want.

Unfortunately, this message feeds into our fear of failure and rejection, so what we think we’re being told is: Not Good Enough.

What if instead of “not good enough” we thought “maybe next time?”

The tiniest shift of perspective  can make the difference between quitting and persisting.

  1. You Can Learn From This

Have you ever gotten a response from an editor that included notes about part of your story that either stood out or failed to grab them?

This is probably the most useful kind of feedback you can get.

I recently got such a thoughtful response from an editor who rejected one of my stories and I was immensely grateful for the time and effort that person took share his thoughts on my work.

Not only did I understand immediately why my story just wasn’t right for that particular publication, I learned a few things that will help me as I continue to write new stories.

Here’s one final thing to remember:

Rejection is nothing in the face of a human being’s ability to persevere and progress. It’s just a stepping stone that guides us along our way.

NaNoWriMo 2016

For some reason that I can’t quite explain, I’ve picked up the NaNoWriMo torch… again. I don’t know. Maybe I’ve lost my mind. I have no idea how I’m going to juggle school, work and a 50k word novel in 30 days. Some serious scheduling will be involved. My non-existent social life… will not be affected. Somehow this realization makes me wanna laugh-cry.

Be my NaNoWriMo buddy!

In any case, for those of you who don’t know—is there actually anyone out there who doesn’t know?

National Novel Writing Month is… well, say there’s this bunch of perfectly sane people. Let’s call them strange folk. Every year on the first of November, the strange folk all simultaneously lose their minds and decide to write a fifty-thousand-word novel. Not only will they write the heck out of this novel, they will do it in 30 days.

It usually starts out with nervous enthusiasm, followed by alternating bouts of tears, self-loathing, and anxiety along with a completely baseless and fleeting sense of triumph. The result of this roller coaster of emotions?

Three weeks later, some hapless passerby walks into a local Starbucks to find it over taken over by a bunch of these strange folk, each hunched over a cup of the strongest coffee and staring at his or her laptop screen like a deer staring down the barrel of a gun.

As the start of week four rolls around, sanity slaps the strange folk in their faces and each wakes up wondering WTF they’ve managed to get themselves into. Only it’s too late to stop, so they press on with a dogged kind of determination. Come December first, November slips away like a wild and frightening dream. The strange folk return to their normal lives, some completely oblivious to the fact that nothing about them will ever be “normal” again.

Well, that’s my take on NaNoWriMo in a nutshell. It’s a fun and crazy ride. I haven’t always reached my goal, to tell you the truth but no matter how many times I participate, I take something invaluable away from the experience.

My 2016 NaNoWriMo Project will be a novella. The working title is “Sea Witch Song.”

Those who might dare pick up the torch, please also note:

The Write Practice has outlined 4 Reasons NaNoWriMo Rocks plus they are offering up a NaNoWriMo Survival Kit to one lucky winner. You have until October 11th, 2016 to enter to win. Check it out!