Snow, Power Outages, and Pantsing

We’ve had some very typical weather for Washington, though most of it is waaaaayyy early.  We don’t get frigid weather until January or February.

It was in single digits on Thursday.  Saturday started the day with freezing rain.  The ground was pretty slick.  Maryland had a 67 car accident on the freeway (no, that is not a typo!), and we had a 23 car one in Virginia.  People drive like it’s normal day, and we have major accidents.

Then the freezing rain turned to snow, and it warmed up a bit.  Was kind of nice on Sunday until 1:00 when a very cold wind blew in.  My power went out about 10 times between 1:00 and 5:00.  I want to write, and I have to get off so I don’t fry the computer!

I’m about 27K into the story, which translates as 10K.  Yes, I’ve written about 15K that is going bye-bye.  It takes me a while to write my way through the story. Some of my process is kind of like throwing paint at the wall to see what sticks.

My learning point on this is working on a B-story.  I thought it would be X when I started and even have a scene for it.  But as I wrote, a new character introduced herself into the story, and she’s very clearly the B-story.  So I’m thinking on some additional scenes early on for her.

But also as I got further into the story and events unfolded, some in quite unexpected ways, I realized that my opening chapter isn’t the right thing.  It served its purpose–get me started. But I had to learn more about what else was going to happen in the story so I could figure out how to open the story.

Being a pantser always means being open to change as the story evolves.

Nano Day 14 & Pantsing 101

Unbelievably crazy day at work.  I was amazed I came home and didn’t just not want to deal with anything.  But I got some writing in anyway.  Did a little at lunchtime, too–I was thinking of grabbing more than that, but a friend joined me, and we had an interesting talk about the aftermath of the election.  Not on who won, but speculation on strategies we might see.  In DC, the new President always affects everything everyone does here.  Sort of like when I was in the military.  Get a new company commander and now we do things differently.  So we shall see what happens.

Downtown is already starting to build all the stands for the inauguration.  They started that the day before the election.   Might see if I can go downtown on the weekend and see what they’re doing, take a few pictures.

Pantsing 101

I had enough that I needed to rearrange the scenes for some semblance of order (we’ll see how that works out).  One of the pieces that popped into a much later scene is now something I’m also bringing in earlier in the book.  If I’d written “straight through” without stopping as “everyone” says is the correct way, that later scene would have come in, but I wouldn’t have been able to see the connection of where I could put it.

At one point during a past project, my creative brain got so tired of writing “straight through,” that when I put a book through Holly Lisle’s How to Revise Your Novel (which is for outliners, by the way), I was finding all these things that came in way, way out of order, but were stuck in the story where they were.  Rearranging during the creation process is a like play in itself, like having a big jigsaw puzzle and moving around all the pieces until the right piece fits.

Day 13 Word Count: Collision: 1000

Story Total: 10700

Nano Day 13 & Pantsing 101

It was a gorgeous fall day. The winds died down, so I did a walk at a local historical park that I discovered last year. The leaves are coming down, but a lot of the trees still have them, so another week or two year, I think.

Pantsing 101

I sort of wandered between the scenes I’d already done today, fleshing them out more. Absolutely nothing’s in any kind of order. I pretty much just created a new text file in the Scrivener binder and plopped it in right there. Probably have to rearrange it at some point.

When I’m flying like this, I often use placeholders for character names. There’s a character named XYZ because I couldn’t spare the interruption to come up with a name. I had another guy named SMITH as a placeholder, but he became a hyphenated name because I happened to run across a man who changed his name to a hyphenated name. Why not?

I don’t spend a lot of time coming up with character names. I used to at one point, prior to my Civil War Thriller. I’d laboriously go through my baby name book and pick a handful of names I liked, then go over the list and start crossing off ones for various reasons. But when I hit the Civil War book, that story required so many characters that taking that much time simply was out of the question. Sometimes I change the names in midstream. In The Crying Planet, I named one of the characters Reed, and that name became a problem because it was too similar to the other form of the word. In fact, when I did a search and replace of Reed, I had to weed out replacement typos like Breed for BSmith. Oops!

I usually keep a list of character names. But it doesn’t feel like I need to do that yet. I just do it when I start confusing the characters or having to hunt for a name.

Day 12 Word Count: An additional 500

Day 13 Word Count: Time Management in Chaos: 300 and Collision: 900

Story Total: 9700

Nano Day 12 and Pantsing 101

I’ve been somewhat off my game the last few days. I only got 2,000 words over the last few days for several reasons.  The first is DC weather.  This time of the year is always hard on the sinuses.  The winds kick up and knock the leaves off the trees, and all the dust flies around.  Having problems with sinuses can suck the energy right out.  Today was much better, though I had to stay inside most of the time to keep out of wind.

But the other reason is that I started a–diet is the wrong word–a way of eating that’s different.  It had a detox effect for the first few days, and I was really tired by early evening, as in struggling to stay awake at 6:00.  I’m trying it actually because I don’t want to spend from November to April struggling with my sinuses, and I don’t want to go the drug route.  The plan is in a book called Eat Fat, Get Thin, which I ran across in the Washington Post (in the context of the election of all things!).  I eliminated dairy last year because I’m lactose intolerant and was much improved.  This plan includes eliminating dairy, wheat, and sugar–and eating more fatty items.  It was kind of scary at first because I was eating so much food.  I did a trial run for one day, and the next I went a last time IHOP for pancakes.  For the first time, those pancakes did not taste good!

After only one day.

Pantsing 101

I’m all over the place today.  I’ve always needed to write in order because that’s how my character development progresses.  Because this is a series and I already know the characters from the last book, I’m putting scenes into Scrivener in no particular order and writing them.  My creative side is driving this.

Most of the scenes are not complete, and my critical side is trying to nose its way in by telling me that I should fill out more details.  I’m having to trust that it’s okay not to describe something yet because I’m still processing what the story needs.

Scrivener for Windows is a really good program for this type of writing.  You just put your documents in the binder and move them around as the story realigns.  I remember working in Word and trying to shuffle a chapter.  It was cut the chapter, scroll to the point where it needed to go (hoping the power didn’t go out), and then paste it in.  Okay with a handful of chapters, but clumsy if the book’s over 100 pages.

I worked both on Collision, and a second project called Time Management in Chaos, a non-fiction book.  I’m not an expert on time management, but I have a job that’s chaos.  It’s the one that doesn’t fit any of the molds of time management experts.  Those books often tell me to create systems (theirs, of course) to manage time and email, and I’m so overloaded that I wouldn’t be able to create any of their systems or maintain it.  So, the book, which I will work with on and off.

I might have more words later this evening, but in case my sinuses go on the fritz, I’m posting this early.

Day 7-11 Word count: 2000

Day 12 Word Count: 1000 (Collision) and 600 (Time Management Chaos)

Story Total: 8000


Nano Day 6 & Pantsing 101

I definitely didn’t feel like doing anything today.  I woke up, and did all the usual stuff.  Then I walked down to the farmer’s market to buy my vegetables—and they were still setting up.  Very strange. A couple of us were wandering around trying to figure out what was going on, and we finally realized it was the time change.


So I got up earlier than I needed, and I’ve been running tired.  It was a gorgeous fall day, though windy and cold—normal for this month.  Tree colors aren’t very good.  I think most of the leaves will turn brown and drop off without changing.

Only two days now until the election!

Pantsing 101

I stepped out of time in the story for this day.  I was a little stuck, which is expected.  The opening of the story is tough for a while, because I’m still feeling out where the story is going.  I don’t always know everything I need until it suddenly pops in and announces itself.  And sometimes the ideas for new things don’t occur in order.  So I jumped ahead to some scenes that will be later and started writing them.

Day 6 Word count: 1250

Story Total: 4400

Nano Day 2 & Pantsing 101

I wasn’t sure what I would be able to get done today.  I woke up a Sinus Zombie—the weather’s all over the place right now, and it’s hard on everyone’s sinuses. We were rather warm today, tomorrow will have rain, and then we’ll probably drop to the normal November weather.  Leaves don’t have much color, and they’re now at their peak.

The Writing

First thing I did was set the timer for 30 minutes and run a quick spell check on Scene 1.  Then a quick read through.  Mostly, I fixed a few typos (always!), added a sentence.  Probably not a lot of cycling here yet, not until the story evolves more.  I jumped into Scene 2, wrote until the timer went off, and then did that a second time.  All the while, my head kept saying that I wasn’t getting much done (it lies!), and I wound up with 1,400 words.

Pantsing 101

I’m messy when I write.  Sometimes I type something out, and for whatever reason, it evolves itself out as I develop the scene.  Like I might think of a line of dialogue, put it in, and then the scene evolves so fast that it leaves that line behind.

When I get these, I Ctrl X them and drop them into a file called Scene # Extras.  I’ve heard of writers saving the words in case they can reuse them, but mine’s not like this.  I know from experience that if it goes in the extras file, it’s never getting used.  It’s something that I needed to write, but wasn’t meant to be in the story.  The words still count, because I wrote them and made the effort.  Tomorrow, I’ll move them into my Extras folder and start a new file for the next scene.

Day 2 Word count: 1400

Story Total: 2600

Nanowrimo Day 1 & Pantsing 101

I decided to do Nano this year, for the first time, though informally.  I’m not registering on any of the sites or participating in the social parts of it.  Rather, I’m just using it as a goal to write a completed book in 30 days.

The tool I’m using to write is Scrivener for Windows.  The story has a working title of “Collision,” and is science fiction.  I’m not setting a daily word count goal, and I’m sure I will have days I don’t write (usually Friday).  The last time I tried a novel in 30 days, I was focused solely on getting that word count.  I didn’t get all the way to the end, because I was trying to write straight through (without cycling).  The story warped out of alignment, way out of alignment, and there was a point where I was typing to make word count, but not producing good story.

This is about producing a good story.

Pantsing 101

I came up with this idea while working on the novella I just finished on October 31 (my subconscious clearly knew the story was almost done though my head kept thinking there must be another 10K).

The idea started with an exciting action scene (since the working title is Collision, you can guess what that action scene is).  I spent the last two weeks playing around with it in my head.  Outliners would say that I was outlining in my head, but it’s nothing like that.  It was more like being in a bank and imagining what would happen if it was held up while I was there.

My first instinct was to plop this scene right in the beginning of the story.  But I think that was my critical brain trying to jump right in and muck things up.  It always wants to rush through everything, sort of like a child who races downstairs before everyone is up to open all the Christmas presents.  So I think it’ll be a later in the story.

That’s a change from the last story.  An action scene popped in there, too, in the first third, and I ended up taking it out because it was too soon.  Elements of it ended up in the last third.  Sometimes ideas don’t come in the proper order, and sometimes that order isn’t always obvious. 🙂

Day 1 Word count: 1200

Pantsing 101: 3 Things to Avoid

We had three secrets that would be helpful for the pantser writing a book without an outline, so we have to have 3 things to avoid.

Avoid asking for permission

This is common on writing message boards.  Writer comes on, posts a question, and it’s along the lines of “Am I allowed to do this?”

Unfortunately, this is usually asked from writers at the same skill level, and they often don’t know any more than the person asking the question.  If the question is about pantsing, invariably, you’re going to get “You have to outline.”  On one of the Facebook pages I’m on, one of the writers was shocked that you didn’t have to outline.  She’d heard everywhere that it was “required.”

Avoid “fake experts”

There’s a shocking number of fake experts out there.  These are people who either no credentials or little credentials but claim expertise on how to write books.  Because of NANO, I keep seeing ads for this business, trying to sell me on how to write.  Extensive site, but generic writing advice.  The About page didn’t tell me if the owner had any writing experience, which means he doesn’t.  A writer with experience isn’t going to hide that.

The problem with the fake experts and pantsers is that outlining is easy to teach.  They can pound their fists and declare “All pantsers books are a mess!” or “Pantsers need structure!” and make you feel like the way you write isn’t the correct way—and they have no idea what they’re talking about!

Yet, they can sound very credible, so you must learn to watch for them.  One of the most telling ways to discover fake experts is from Forbes:

Real experts have no trouble saying:  “I don’t know.”

An example of this happened several years ago.  A writer posted on Dean Wesley Smith’s blog that he/she was struggling with writing a memoir.  Being a fiction writer, Dean admitted he didn’t know.

Soldier, Storyteller: A Woman Soldier Goes to War(For the record, I did provide my experience writing Soldier, Storyteller.  The writer’s experience sounded similar to mine.)

Don’t switch to outlining because you run into trouble on the story

Every time I read a writer saying, “I’m a reformed pantser,” I cringe.  I wonder if that writer tried the outlining and then gave up writing entirely in frustration, figuring they couldn’t write.

If the story is a mess, or you painted yourself into a corner—assuming it isn’t your head talking and saying the story is garbage—stop.

Start reading back to where the story felt right.  Pantsers tend to go down rabbit holes.  Sometimes those yield great rewards, and sometimes it isn’t the right direction.  It might be that you just need to take out some scenes to get back on track.

By the way, this is also another reason why “writing straight through to the end” isn’t a good idea for pantsers.  You have to be able to back out of the rabbit hole and steer away from it.  Can’t do that if you go straight through.

But also, if you stop and work out the problem, you’ll learn a lot about how you write and about things that you need to do so your process works.

Pantsing 101: 3 Secrets that make pantsing easier

No one talks about it, but there are a lot of secrets that make pantsing a novel easier.  In fact, some of the secrets are dismissed by outliners (go figure)

Turn off spell check

That wavy red line identifying when you’ve spelled a word wrong or one it doesn’t recognize is quite disruptive.  In a business writing class, the instructor said it was like a bell going off, telling you to do something.  It triggers the need to stop and fix the spelling error—and interrupts the creative flow.  Turn it and the grammar checker off, and then run it after you’re done writing your scenes.  Or run it when you’re don’t feel much like writing.  We’ve had up and down weather changes and my sinuses have not been happy.  Good time to run spell check.

Don’t make more work for yourself.

Get the grammar and the punctuation reasonably right and fix the typos when you run the spell check.

Being sloppy means that you are making more work for yourself.

But especially, never ever utter the words, “I’ll leave that to the revision.”  Because a pantser’s story evolves out of what’s already been done in the story, that decision can affect everything after that point.  I said “I’ll leave that to the revision” on a thriller I was working on.  That single decision caused multiple things that needed to be fixed to bring everything in line.  Once I did that, those changes created more things that needed to fixed, and those in turn required more things to be fixed.

If you’re stuck, stop and figure out why and what you need to do while you’re still in the first draft, while you’re still creating.  Much easier taking care of it in creative mode than trying to fix a completed story.

Move around in the story

A lot of writers approach the first draft as something distasteful that needs to be knocked out of the way in the most expedient process (also how “I’ll leave it to the revision” ends up creating problems).  The result is a piece of advice that is not good for pantsers: Write straight through to the end and don’t touch anything.

But as a pantser, the story is evolving as you discover new things about it.  You may have to go back to Chapter 2 and add a sentence or a paragraph for something later in the story.  All of that builds up subconsciously in your head, so that missing something might knock the story out of alignment.

This is NOT revision.  Don’t tweak sentences to make them sound better.  Resist the urge!

Instead, fix story related issues that result from the way you’re pantsing and the way the story evolved.  There might be a character you introduced and thought he was going to be more important and then he never showed up again.  Or maybe you said here that this event happened 25 years ago, and later, it’s 20 years ago.  Get those things settled so they can be settled in your head by the time you wrap up the story.   It does make a big difference!

I generally do a lot of moving around early on, but mostly catching typos and adding more setting and five senses, since I tend to write thin.  But as I get near the end—I’m at about 8K from the end on The Crying Planet—I have to move through the entire novel.  It’s looking for continuity errors, things that I put in that sounded like a good idea at the time but didn’t pan out, characterization changes, and anything that’s unclear or inconsistent.  I don’t change any of the sentences unless it’s unclear, and I do run into some where I’m scratching my head and wondered what I meant to say.

An outliner might say this is a waste of time, but it isn’t.  Taking a little time here can help you also reconnect with parts of the story that you forgot about.  I’ve been having trouble figuring out how to end the story, and moving back to review everything reminded me that I had three scenes early in the book that I had to connect to the ending.  All of it helps your creativity as a pantser.

There’s a lot of advice out there that says “don’t do.”  Trust your instincts as to what works for you.  It’s not wrong just because someone else says it is.

Pantsing 101: Story as a Direction

Not understanding story is one of the biggest reasons that a pantsed book can look terrible to a developmental editor or other writers or a publisher.  You throw everything in but the kitchen sink, including a 20-page scene that sounded cool, but fizzles out at some point.

Not having a story is like being out in the middle of the desert (having had way too much experience with the desert part!).  It’s flat.  There’s miles and miles of miles and miles.  Maybe there’s a cactus here and there, or an oil barrel someone’s dumped.   You wander over, have a look, but there’s nothing guiding you generally.

Story is like being a road.  On either side, you have curbs, or at least the edge of the asphalt and those bumpy things to tell you if you stray off the road.  You can still turn down that coolly named Aqua Ter (sounds like an underwater station) to see what’s there or check out what the heck the Stonewall Jackson Memorial is (not much, by the way).

You always have a direction, even if you aren’t sure where it’s going or ends up yet.

When you don’t have that direction, the story can turn into a mess and make you all that outlining advice be a siren’s call from across the sea.

But story is also a difficult concept to understand, and worse, it’s easy think you know what it is and have no idea once you make first contact.  I read just about every craft book out there and thought I understood story.  I did two novels, but during critiques of the second book, and other writers’ books, I realized how little I knew.

I’d like to say there was a craft book that could be read with a definition that gives you the lightbulb.  But it’s a surprisingly complex aspect of writing.  I think it’s something you have to come to your own understanding about.

So try taking a book that has been published, preferably a best seller, and read it cover to cover. Enjoy it.  Don’t nitpick the sentences for flaws.   If you want a book recommendation, try Michael Connelly’s The Lincoln Lawyer.  He’s a pantser, and he talks about the writing of the book at the end, so you get an extra surprise there.

Then go back to the first chapter and reread it.

After that, go to an online critique group and read the first chapters of those writers and mentally compare it to what you read in Michael Connelly’s book.  It’s not about having the inciting incident (a term that comes out of outlining) or a plot point (another term out of outlining).

It’s that you are going somewhere, even though you don’t know where.


Bonus tip: Type the first thousand words of Michael Connelly’s book.  This is amazing way to learn something new about craft.