Thursday, February 4, 2010

Miss Baby Bear

I don't like my porridge too hot or too cold. I like it jusssst right.

To follow Scott and Davin's trend for this week, I'm going to talk about my writing process. How do I get my stories rolling, and what do I do once they are moving? I'm not a pantster. I'm not a hard-core outliner. I'm really just somewhere in the middle. Which, I think if most people look at how they write, are like this. Somewhere in the middle.

My process goes something like this:

Pantster Me
Oh, look, a shiny idea! Let's do something with that. Okay. Let's start with the scenes and locations and all the fun we can do with that. Butterflies. I've always wanted to do a story in the mountains with those Monarch butterflies that migrate to Mexico.

Who are we going to throw in there? How about a spy? A spy sounds super-cool and fun! I can put guns and explosions and a really bad terrorist guy out to get him. That'll create great conflict. Yeah. Now, where would that likely happen? The jungle? Cool. Okay, let's throw Brazil in there. Figure out where the butterflies would most likely be. West Virginia.

Research the heck out of my locations and chosen characters.

Write the book. (This takes forever, mind you, because I haven't really planned A THING. I've just got ideas of cool places and things that happen. Exciting things.)

Organized Me
What the heck are you doing? You've got this book written, these characters established, and you have NO idea what they want or how it's going to end. What is going on here? This is a freaking TRAIN WRECK! Back up! Back up!

Let's make a plan. Let's make charts and maps and models and character sketches. Let's MAKE A PLAN!

What do your characters want? Why? What's standing in their way? Is it logical to have him do that? That makes no sense. Map some stuff out, will ya?

Write the book again. Or heavily revise. Figure out the 3 Act Structure, mold the plot to a spine, give my characters some life, figure out role models and line of antagonism, plot out the climax, smooth out holes.

The KEY is that I already had most everything laid out in a full, completed manuscript. Even if it was a train wreck. I had clay to work with. I can't organize and plan something from nothing. I just can't. Not if it's only ideas floating around in my head. When I write a first draft it's charging full force down the train tracks, live or die, see what happens. Just go. And I deal with making it all pretty later. Which is what I'm doing now.

No matter how anybody writes a book, it's hard work. Even for a baby bear.

So, now that the three of us have shared our writing process, what's yours if you haven't already shared that? If you have, what do you think about writing process? Is it different for you with every project? Do you think there's a better way than another? Something all writers shouldn't overlook?


  1. My writing process is sort of evolutionary! It's been changing lately, though I'm pretty much still a pantster, though I have started to do some mini-outlines that give me a general idea of where I'm going.

    I think the neat thing about writig is that nobody, not nobody, does it the same way as other writers. Some write every day, others every three days. Some outline, some don't, and yet, in the end, we all write, complete projects, and near, or pass, the point of querying. We (well, at least me) adapt our writing process over time (thus, the mini outlines I've begun, though I don't think I'll ever get to the detialed point of Miss Ivana!) as we figure out what works and doesn't work for us as individual writers. : )


  2. I'm generally a panster, starting with a dialogue. From there I get my characters together, and then comes the plot. Generally half-way through I start to outline, more or less, to help finish. (I tend to get lost in the middle, I always have two plots floating around and by the middle I try and determine which I want to become the major focus.) By
    2/3rds I start my synopsis, and come up with another outline to further define my climax and resolution.

    I really think the synopsis helps to define the plot and story arc for me. I can see the ending in sight, then it's only a matter of time to write it.

  3. My early novels were all Panster-style writing. And they flopped. Now I usually come up with an idea and let it lurk at the bottom of my brain for several months.

    I'll think about it, plot it out, play with it all in my head. By the time I sit down to write I usually know what major things I need to hit and what the characters are up to.

    I never get everything right in the first draft. I tend to leave out detail. But, with every draft I write, I get better at writing coherent first drafts.

  4. Scott: Okay, I agree that it's always changing and evolving. I haven't written that many books, so I don't know if my baby bear method is going to change in the future. It probably will, and I hope it gets more efficient. Train wrecks are no fun.

    Anne: I like your method! I like to start little pieces of outlining here and there about the middle of my writing train-wreck rampage. I always know that major planning is ahead, and it's a bit nerve wracking.

    Synopses are a good idea. I need to do more of those!

    Liana: I see that you've evolved, hehe. I have a feeling that the more books I write them better I'll get a first drafts. You'd be surprised to read Monarch now. It's a different book. The same feel is there, I hope. :)

  5. I'm the mixture. Let the cool ideas swirl. Craft the scenes that need to happen to get from A to end. Hope to God it works out. I'll let you know how it went once I finish this first novel!

  6. I'm with you in not being able to plan from nothing. I also find it easier to have some clay to work with first.

    Typically I spend a lot of time developing the characters, thinking through the opening and where the story will eventually go. But I usually have no idea how it will get there. Middles are the bane of my existence! However, I'm learning to embrace the "pants-it on through" and revise later. Then I revise. And after that? Revise a whole lot more.

  7. I’m definitely more of a pantser than an organizer, but with the hindsight of 3 novels, the thought of number 4 feels way too overwhelming without at least some sort of outline.
    And I do so like a timeline.

  8. This is an awesome post, Lady Bear. I just love this:

    Who are we going to throw in there? How about a spy? A spy sounds super-cool and fun! I can put guns and explosions and a really bad terrorist guy out to get him.

    Rather than put my process here though, I think I'll put up a post on my own blog about this very subject. I'm so glad you shared yours. Nice way to round out the discussion here at Da Lab.

  9. I'm still evolving a process, and I am fascinated to read how others do it. So far, I'm a pantser. You guys always have the most interesting posts and discussions.

  10. I've noticed that I don't really even have a process that I usually take...that may put me in the extreme pantster category, although I do make plans and charts for some of my writing. So I don't know.

    Even though I test very high on the "J" side of things in Meyer Briggs, a huge part of me is very "P" as if I get very excited by new ideas--they all look shiny--and can see great futures in every one of the ideas. Then the J kicks in and tries to be reasonable.

  11. Should have read "as in" not "as if"

  12. Depends if it's for NaNoWriMo or not. ;)

    Actually this year I did some major outlining for the first time ever. So far it's worked out great, and I don't see not outlining for novel-length pieces again. It makes the whole writing process a lot easier.

    The other thing I did was to set word count limits for my story so I didn't wind up with a 150K word behemoth. This forced me to make keep-or-cut choices while writing and I wound up with a reasonable MS size.

  13. After reading Andrew's comment, I realized that one reason I'm comfortable with my pantser style is because my genre is middle grade novels. Trying to turn a first-draft into a cohesive story (i.e., outlining after the fact) is much easier with a 30k manuscript than with a 80k YA or adult ms.

    I hope your arm is improving. If you typed this post with one hand, I'm impressed!

  14. My WIP was inspired by a single scene that flashed into my head four years ago. I spent about two years coming up with characters, a plot, a world (because it is fantasy)and a bunch of ideas for scenes and dialogue on a million scraps of paper. I've spent the last two years trying to actually write the thing, but then I am new at this whole writer-business and have spent more time learning about writing than actually writing.

    I have outlines for my chapters and backstories for my characters. I guess I am less of a panster than I thought. I like the creative part, getting to imagine the story in my head. I have a harder time trying to find the words that fully capture what I see.

    Ah, discipline, my arch-nemesis. Were you in charge, my novel would be written by now!

  15. I am going to go further than MG Higgins and say that if you typed all of this with just one hand, you're not only my hero, you're also barking mad. Get some rest, Ivana.

    I am also going to announce that--and Big D at least should be sitting for this--in the coming revision of the book now in my agent's hands, I am going to ignore the current MS and just sit down to write a bunch of scenes. I'll have no plan at all and no real idea of how the new scenes will work with the material I currently have. Then I'm going to cut the current MS up into scenes and throw out anything that's not a scene and then I'm going to throw out half of my current scenes. Next I will shuffle all the new scenes into what's left of the original, and then I'm going to see what doesn't fit and why. See if I don't. Predicted results: GENIUSPULITZERBESTSELLER! Really.

  16. You've pretty much hit the nail on the proverbial head for my writing style too there, Baby Bear-Lady Glamis-Ivana-Michelle.

    My first drafts are almost always not planned at all. They start with an idea, get lots of stuff swirled in there, and then get ironed into something approaching cohesion.

    I like having the clay to work with rather than making the sculpture full-form the first time. It strikes me as easier to do it that way.

  17. Mr. Bailey, I've decided I will sit down before I receive any communication from you in the future.

  18. Simon: Yay for being the mixture! It's certainly a flexible spot to be.

    Laurel: I spend a lot of time thinking, too, and then it just all comes out a mess, but a focused mess at least. Revision. That's what writing is!

    Bridget: Timelines are great! Perfectly loose and fluid for me to start with. Wow, #4!

    Eric: Thanks for the little nudge yesterday to do a post following the others. :)

    I like the line you picked out. That line made me laugh, hah! Can't wait to read your post!

    Tricia: I think most people starting out are pantsters. Not saying you're starting out, but it's something that I think can evolve over time.

    Yat-Yee: Cool that you're all over! I think that's good to mold yourself to whatever your work needs at the time.

    Andrew: Hah! Yes, I wrote Monarch for NaNo and look where that got me. Oy. I won't be doing NaNo ever again, I'm afraid. It was good to rush through the train wreck like that, but I'd rather not rush that fast again. I like to at least control the train wreck, which is kind of crazy.

    I like your word count idea. That's a great way to go!

    MG: My arm is improving, thanks. I didn't have to write this post one-handed. And that explains why I'm answering all the comments, too. :)

    Yes, I think the shorter the book the more manageable. That is a great point!

  19. Morgan: Wow, talk about planning! I think that's great! But be careful of overplanning because like you imply, it can sometimes take over the writing. :)

    Scott: I didn't type it one-handed. Promise. I'm using my injury to make other people do stuff for me, too. It's great.

    Scott, I'm afraid that some people really write that way, AND get published and do well. Doesn't mean the book is good. Or maybe it could be amazing. Who knows. With you, anything's possible. I'm glad I was sitting down.

    Matthew:I have a weird name, huh? I need to draw the line somewhere. Huh.

    Glad we write the same! At least I know I'm not alone and crazy!

  20. My process is something like:

    - write a draft. Decide it sucks.
    - do something else for awhile
    - rewrite the draft from scratch, doing much more planning and figuring out things like plot and logic and character arcs
    - decide this second is half-way decent.
    - revise it.

    (No matter how much or little I plan, I really do have to write a draft of the story and toss it, before I can rewrite it from scratch into something resembling a novel I will be able to work with and like. Guess my brain just needs a way to dump all the weird and bad and unworkable ideas and clear space for the proper novel.)

  21. Merc: Somebody else writes that way, and I can't remember who it is. Somebody published. They write a first draft, throw it away, and rewrite the book. That's what I did with Monarch. So far it's worked, but it has also been a pain in my little baby bear butt.

  22. I write a lot like you! I have this great pantsy idea and I just go for it. The whole time I have this voice in the back of my head screaming at me to stop already!

    But I don't. I just keep going. And yes, then I heavily rewrite/revise. It's a painful process. And I wish I was more organized to begin with. But alas, I am not. It's what works for me.

  23. Ivana and Big D: You two think I'm joking, don't you? But I'm not. That's really how I intend to do my next revision. I am turning my back on plot, but even so I am paying more attention to causality. No, really.

  24. Scott: Yes, I thought you were kidding. You crazy man. But like I said, you can make anything work, and I have faith that you'll pull it off beautifully. Can't wait for your post tomorrow. :)

  25. Elana: I know, sadly, if it works it works. Too bad it takes forever and we go crazy eating those straw fry things in he meantime. ;)

  26. I identify most with your process;I need to have something to mold. However, I'm sure I'd be less of a nervous wreck if I outlined first.

  27. That's a pretty cute bear, I won't lie.

    I'm an outliner but I think that everyone has their way and the most important thing about all of it? Getting it out. Does it matter how a baby ended up with your dad's nose when all that really matters is that it has one? My hard time? Making sure i don't cut off baby's nose to spite its face. ;P

  28. Cardiff: I would be a wreck, too! I'd feel like I'd have to stick to it - and then nix the creativity!

    Laura: You're right! It's all about the finished product in the end. But the process is oh so fun. :)

  29. My process is like this, and sort of like yours to start with:

    Shiny things!
    People talking!
    Going places!

    And around 10-15,000 words in

    Disaster! (for me, not the characters)
    This stinks!
    I quit!

    So I guess the goal is to get past the 10-15k mark. I liken it to putting on a pair of wading boots and slogging through the mud.

    Thanks for the insights.


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