Pantster or Plotter? Maybe Both

How I feel when inspiration strikes!

I’ve started a new writing project! It has been a long time since I thought I had a viable idea, but now I think I do. At least I hope so. I’ve spent the morning researching my idea and can’t find anything that remotely addresses my topic!

My trouble is that when I get an idea that I really like, I tend to start writing before I really know where I’m going. That isn’t bad in and of itself, but I could save myself a lot of backtracking and changing if I planned just a bit, which is what I am trying to do this time–at least to begin. 🙂

My Plan:

1. Research my topic (which I’ve started already) and the related titles. This is not something I did before I started writing my first book, The Scent of Jessamine. I would have saved myself some time, but I also would have had a better idea who was writing books similar to mine.

2. Do a preliminary Hero’s Journey to flesh out the idea. Christine DeSmet introduced me to Christopher Vogler’s book The Writer’s Journey five years ago. Here’s a link for The Writer’s Journey that gives explanations and examples to follow. I used Vogler’s template for my last book (changed my life!) but not until I had written about 60-70 pages. The previous book contains perhaps 100 words from my original pages, but that may be a stretch.

3. Create a character sketch for each of the characters. This is not something I did when I wrote my first book. Since then I realize how important knowing my characters is, their motivations and quirks, what they think is important. The trouble is that bits and pieces come to me. That’s how my muse works. All I know is the name of my main character so far! I am of two minds on character sketches too. I love the act of discovery, of seeing what my characters will do when they are under pressure, but perhaps that happens anyway?

4. Decide where to set the novel. For this book I’m really not sure. Jessamine was so oriented toward setting that all I had to do was inhabit that place in the book. This time I think the setting will be in the South somewhere, but I think the subject matter may determine setting and character to a certain extent. I have learned a lot about setting and how important it is from workshops I’ve attended such as Weekend with Your Novel and Writer’s Institute, both in Madison Wisconsin. So I know I will spend a lot of time on setting and may have to go there to get a good idea what the place feels like as I did with Jessamine. Field trips are a perk I like!

5. Write when inspiration strikes as I proceed. I still plan to do this. I can’t contain myself when inspiration strikes me. I have to to record that initial “lightning strike before it’s gone. It seldom reappears if I let it slip away.

6. Create an outline of scenes. Doing this will be new for me. My writer friend, Geri Gibbons, put together a beautiful outline of a book she is working on. I remember seeing it at a class I took with her and was impressed with how much detail was depicted. I envied her knowing exactly what she would write about. I’m going to try this (she says doubtfully). I’ll see how far I get. I’m notoriously poor at planning.

7. Put my butt in my chair and write! Treat writing like my job, which it is in the summer and, one day, may be year-round!

When I started The Scent of Jessamine, I had no plan to speak of. I knew where I wanted to end up, but no idea how to get there. However, I don’t want to spend another five years on this book, so I am planning before I write. I will not be a complete pantster this time! When I started Jessamine, I had no idea what I was doing! Although I don’t profess to know what I’m doing now, I do have a better idea now, thanks to the tutelage of Christine DeSmet, Kristin Oakley, Laurie Scheer and many others who’ve taught me so much about writing and the business of writing.

I’m not giving up on The Scent of Jessamine. I still believe in Faith and Josiah and their story. I will still try to find a home for them with an agent and a publisher, but I miss the creative process.

Revising is an entirely different beast from writing; a whole other part of the brain is required, and it doesn’t leave me fulfilled afterwards the way that the act of creating does. I need to connect with my creative side, and I’ve missed that lately. I won’t give up my pantster ways entirely, but plotting will make my life easier so I can spend more time writing and less time revising! Is there anything you think I should add to my list? I’m so excited about this new project!

The Change I’m Choosing

How many of us would choose some of the changes we have undergone in our lives? I know if I could choose my path I would not be unemployed right now, and neither would my husband. The past four years have been a long, sometimes hard four years, not knowing how we would survive or pay for our kids’ college tuition. We’ve spent many sleepless nights and many prayer-filled mornings asking for the courage to keep going and for something to happen to turn our fortunes.

My husband is a talented man, a great leader, and wonderful provider. He was a Marine helicopter pilot for nearly twelve years when he and I decided we wanted our boys to have a more stable life than the military gave us. He left that profession to wade into the uncharted waters of pharmaceutical sales. We left our friends in the Marines and moved to a small town in Wisconsin to raise our sons. Being out of the military took some getting used to for both of us, but Bruce got the hang of his new job and worked for  Warner Lambert before it became Pfizer. Then he worked for Pfizer after they bought out Warner Lambert. About four years ago, Bruce—along with about half the Pfizer sales force—lost his job. The following year I lost my teaching job due to declining enrollment. Neither of us has been able to find a permanent position since then, so we must change.  Neither of us is sure what we will do, but we must do something different.

Change is hard, however, even painful. It’s full of unknowns, full of challenges, some we can see and will handle well, but others we will only be able to work through as they happen. But the pain of a life in transition often leads to joys that we can’t see while we’re in the midst of the change. Change can lead to growth in our talents and in our perspective if we allow it. If we follow our passions and our interests, perhaps the change will be something we never expected, but which will change us and those around us for the better. That is what I hope for at this stage of my life.  I plan to focus on the positives wherever I find them, what I have rather than what I don’t have.

Back in April I went to a conference in Madison, Wisconsin, called the Writers Institute. I met a number of talented writers, both published and unpublished like me. At one of the sessions one writer, Laurie Buchanan, who is also a Ph.D., a motivational speaker, and a Life Coach, said something that resonated with me. It must resonate for a lot of people. She said, “What you are not changing, you are choosing.” That was, as Oprah puts it, an “ah hah” moment for me.

So here is my change. I am going to be a writer, a goal I’ve had for years. From now on when people ask me what I do for a living, I will answer, “I’m a writer.” I may be unpublished as yet, but I am a writer.  I believe we are what we do every day. I write every day, so I’m a writer. Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” I am establishing the habit of writing. One day I will be excellent at it, but in the meantime, I am going to work my butt off to make my dreams a reality. My students have known my secret dream, and so have a few of my friends, but for a long time I haven’t believed I could be a writer despite what I have said. I believe it now because I am choosing it. I am a writer. What change will you choose? Do you have the courage to live your dream?