How do you write? Do you plan every little detail in a well-organized outline, or do you sit at your keyboard and channel the spirit of a fourteenth-century minstrel? Okay, maybe that’s a little “out there,” but you know what I mean. Everybody has their own method, and there are pros and cons to both.
If you’re a planner, you know exactly where all your characters are from, what they are thinking, and where they are going. Your protagonist probably follows the perfect path of the hero’s journey. Your story arc peaks at precisely the right time. Your word count is impeccably perfect. There are no surprises. But that’s the down side, too. Everybody enjoys a surprise sometimes.
If you’re a pantser (a term designated for authors who write by the seat of their pants) your stories are filled with surprises. Your characters speak to you, and when they do, they say the craziest things. They make U-turns right in the middle of a scene, and you have no idea what they’ll do next. You sometimes wonder who is writing your story. The problem with pants-ing is that you may get to the end of your story and discover you have 50,000 more words than your editor wants or needs, and half a dozen too many characters to track.
So which method is best? Both, and neither. I think most really successful authors blend methods like a French chef creating the perfect sauce. He sets the precise temperature and uses all the best instruments at his disposal, but in the end, his taste-buds tell him when it’s done.
I like to make a rough outline on a story-board with sticky-notes. This gives me a goal and a sense of pace for the overall tale. I do, however, listen to what my characters say. Sometimes they rebel. I would never say that! How about this?
In the process, I’ve written some of my favorite scenes.
The secret is being open. Plan the bones, but let the characters have character. Give them voices and allow them to speak. Just remind them that you, and your editor, choose what makes the final cut.
Recently, I saw a great post on one of my favorite websites, Writer Unboxed, by Barbara O’Neal titled, The 20 Minute Win. In the article, O’Neal describes how she manages to stay on task with her writing. She focuses on her work each day as soon as she can possibly get to it by creating a 20-minute window to write. She got the idea from the late Ray Bradbury who said, “A writer should begin writing before he lets the world in.”
When O’Neal sits down for her 20-minute session, she sets the timer and writes whatever comes up. Sometimes, it’s a blog. Sometimes, it’s a scene that comes later in her book. Sometimes, she even writes in a journal. The point is, she writes uninterrupted for 20 minutes for the sole purpose of getting the juices flowing.
This accomplishes two major things. First, it warms up her writing muscles and gets her into her Writing Work Room. Second, it reminds her how little time it takes to actually put words on a page if she will just show up to do it.
I decided to try it for myself. The only modification I made was to shorten the sessions to 15 minutes. I wrote the first piece in the allotted time. I started with this sentence: “Am I the only one who thinks the term baby bump is obnoxious and unflattering?” When the timer sounded, I checked the word count. Three hundred twenty-nine words. About baby bumps. I agree with Barbara. It gets the writing juices flowing. Can I sustain the pace of 1,316 words per hour all day – every day – when working on my latest novel? Probably not, but that’s not the point. The point is if I will just show up to write and get to it, I can actually produce words on the page.
What then shall I do with this newfound way to exercise my writing muscles and get the juices flowing? Blog of course. In the very near future, I will post these 15-minute writing exercises on my new blog. After spending 15 minutes writing with no internal editing, I go back and spend a few minutes cleaning up the prose. Then, since I’m in the writing groove, I find it easier to get to work on my latest project. I have a short story with a February 1 deadline and then it’s back to revision hell with my first novel. It’s a good thing I have writing to occupy my time. Otherwise, I might end up watching reality TV. Oh, wait, if I watch reality TV, I’ll have something to blog about!
Try Barbara O’Neal’s 20 Minute Win http://writerunboxed.com/2012/10/24/the-20-minute-win/ and see if it doesn’t get your creative juices flowing.
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