Last Wednesday a few of us PacNWYA authors gave two talks at a middle school in Portland. Lisa Nowak spoke about writing rules, left brain vs. right brain and how to turn off your internal editor and let creativity come through. (Expect a lot more 8th graders to be participating in NaNoWriMo next year.) Then Angela Carlie and I led a writing exercise that involved writing dialogue and coming up with ideas on the fly. Finally, we did a Q & A.
It’s been my experience that the first question people ask is, “How long did it take for you to get published?” This is when we all share that our first books took years. We explain that most of us went the traditional route at first, why we got fed up with it and how we made the decision to self-publish.
The second question we get is, “Do you outline?” Some of us do and some of us don’t and we each speak a little bit about our writing process.
What I find most interesting about these two questions – that have been asked of us by kids, teens, teachers, other writers and book bloggers – is that they don’t hear what we say past “My first book took five years to finish and another two to publish” and “Yes, I meticulously outline before I write.”
I feel like the general consensus is that folks want authors to have suffered for their art. That the books we outlined for a year and took five years to write are somehow better because we worked harder on them.
So, as you can imagine, people stop listening to me when I tell them that after I published Glimpse, Glimmer was out eight months later and Glow was out eight months after that. They definitely stop hearing me when I explain that I have no use for outlines because I won’t follow them.
Now, there are a ton of writers and readers to defend the self-published, to rally behind those that put books out on their own schedule.
But who, I ask you, stands for the pantser?
Uh, I guess it will be me.
No one wants to admit to being a pantser, they will say they’re “reformed” or a “hybrid.” I’ve used the hybrid term to describe myself, but I’ll come clean and admit that scribbling a page full of half sentences and characters names is not an outline. Writing down Epic Battle or Showdown or Then they get it on are not decisive plot points. I’ve been known to say that I “know what’s going to happen next” or “I have a solid beginning and ending.”
Nope. I don’t.
In fact, if I write down a plan I can almost guarantee that none of the things listed in the plan will end up in the manuscript.
The only thing that works for my pantserin’ self is to write a sentence, read it, and write another sentence. As far as I can tell, this method still requires creativity and perseverance. I am still, a really real writer.
This method may be your writerly version of hell. I can respect that. Everyone works differently. My method isn’t better than yours and yours isn’t better than mine. We’re all in the business of making stuff up for a living; we’ve all had our characters “speak” to us. We’ve all had those weird moments of inspiration that derailed and then bettered our books.
Those things happen because we’re writers, not because we’re pantsers or plotters. If the end product is awesome, who cares how we got there or who properly suffered more?
One final thought: Pantser is a weird name, but I think we should own it. Let’s not be embarrassed anymore. It’s like the whole indie/self-published thing. Yeah, indie sounds cooler and it will make for a better tattoo, but there’s nothing wrong with saying you’re self-published either. I’m kind of over being embarrassed about how I write and publish.
#ROW80 update: My 300 words a day plan fell apart after the first day. Go figure. I wrote 306 words on Monday and 1,628 words on Friday – both days on the DBC anthology story.
This post is cross-posted to the Death By Chocolate blog.