Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Ramblings from a Writer-Editor-Publisher

by Nann Dunne

I’m always searching for ways to improve my writing. Not only to make my stories stronger, but also to help the writers whose stories I edit. To me, that’s a double-barreled profit.

In this search for improvement, I got caught up in the Outlining versus Pantsing ongoing discussion, which sometimes sounds like a feud. I have to say that some outliners get my vote as being downright supercilious people who can’t see past their own experiences. They make it sound ridiculous to be a pantser. Well, let me tell you, I am a pantser, and their disdain disturbs me. At one point, the idea that outlining was so superior challenged me. I thought, I can do a story outline; I just choose not to. What’s the big deal?

So on my current Work-In-Progress (WIP), for which I had 18,000 words written, I stopped and wrote an outline. That took me about three days of thinking my story through to the end and getting the outline down on my computer. And I wound up with this perfect outline. But guess what? When I tried to finish writing my story, I couldn’t generate any enthusiasm for it. As a pantser, I was used to making story decisions on the fly, and I was often surprised and thrilled when an idea came out of nowhere that fit in with the story and added depth to it.

Doing an outline ahead of time circumvented that exhilaration. So my story sat for weeks, and weeks, and weeks—literally—while I tried to forget the outline! I thought of writing something else, but my mind doesn’t work that way. Although I can attend to other projects, I’m a focuser, and I rarely can work on more than one story at a time.

For the first time in years, no one in the family was having a Labor Day party, so I sat at home and took three days off from my usual full-day of five hours of editing and several hours of working on other projects I have in-house. (One of my projects is publishing Black Fury, the Wonder Horse, comic books for the Kindle. My pen name is Marti Nenza, if you want to look them up.)

I sat in my lounge chair with my laptop glued to my thighs and asked myself what I most wanted to do that wasn’t work. The answer? Write! So I opened my WIP, dusted off the cobwebs, reread it, and began writing. Over the weekend, I got more than 1,000 new words written! That doesn’t sound like a lot, but after so long with zero words, that was stupendous.

I didn’t look even once at the outline. In fact, I deleted it. J

I think it’s wonderful that outliners can figure out their complete stories ahead of time and have a virtual roadmap of which way they’re traveling. It just doesn’t work for me. I always have notes of events I want to happen in my story, and about halfway through, the end comes to me and I steer all the threads in that direction. The events I’ve noted don’t always show up, but at least I have an idea of where I’m headed for the moment. And I know from past experience that some surprising ideas will pop up as I go along that add spice to my writing life.

It’s so much fun that I’m pretty sure I’ll be a pantser forever.

Time to write my next 1,000 words and find out where they take me. – My Fiction – My Editing Book - Black Fury, Issue #1

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  1. I have the same general experience with outlining, Nann. In my teaching experience, about 2/3s of the fiction writers are organic/fly by the seat of their pants writers. But that other 1/2 - well, they swear by their outlines, and since so many of them are writing successful books, it must be working for them.

    Whatever works for a writer is what matters. That's all there is to it. If outlining is your ticket to success, so be it. If you write on the fly, make it happen. And if you do some combination of the two, more power to you!

    1. Good lord! I hate numeric typos! I was referring to 2/3's and 1/3 (not 2/3s and 1/2!!)

  2. I outline, but for me it is the scaffolding. It provides me the framework. I don't do a detailed outline, because I know things will change and wonderful things will appear as I go -- and as my characters assert themselves. The outline is there for me when I get stuck, or when I read what I've written and find something missing. I look at the outline and oh! there it is, I've forgotten one of the beats. I don't see a reason for us to feud. Just use what works, that's my motto!

  3. All artists have their processes, as it should be. I don't think one is better than another, just we have to find what works best for us. For me I start out with an outline, just to give me a guide for research and a confidence boost that I am ready to start writing. By the time I get to chapter 2 (or sooner in most cases) the outline is long forgotten in the creative flow.