Alternatively titled: How a Pantser Became a Plotter*
I’m being a bit naughty today and playing hookey from my work-in-progress. I’ve worked pretty solidly on it for three weeks, and I’m a bit tired, so I’ve decided to write other things instead today. Which is why I’m here, bringing you an update on how my yet-to-be-named second novel is going.
Ditching a Novel After 25,000 Words
You may recall that a couple of weeks ago, after thinking about it for a year and writing 25,000 words, I ditched Novel #2 (now known as Old Novel #2, or ON2). I printed it out prior to trashing it so I can harvest anything good and transplant it into the New Novel #2 (NN2), because as I re-read it, I actually liked some of the writing and there’s the occasional good scene. I know I can use some of it, but even if I don’t I believe that no writing is ever wasted, even if it doesn’t make it into the final product.
That aside, the main reason I canned ON2 was because I’d lost my passion for the story, if, indeed, I’d ever actually had any. It started out as a topic I wanted to write about, much like Novel #1 began, but whereas Novel #1 took off as soon as I found Ida, my narrator, after a year of working on this one, I was still waiting for it to grab me—that moment when you realise what the story is about and can’t wait to write it.
I still didn’t know what it was about and I just couldn’t get into it. I didn’t have the passion for it, none of the energy I feel when I’m excited by a project. I had no idea where it was going, and I felt nothing as I was writing it.
It was brought home to me whenever people asked me about it, and I groped about trying to describe it. In the end, I realised I didn’t want to write it anymore. One thing you need when writing a book is passion for the story because you spend a couple of years working on it, and if you’re not enjoying it, it’s no fun and that shows on the page.
So I assigned ON2 to the bin. RIP, ON2. I’m sorry to say, you won’t be missed.
On the same day I let go of ON2, another idea popped into my head. I thought about it over the next few days, and ideas came thick and fast. The more the ideas came, the more excited I grew, and so began NN2.
Because I was excited by this project, I wrote with a feeling of momentum behind me—happily getting up for the #5amwritersclub** and tapping away on my keyboard. That initial burst soon dissipated, of course, and the words aren’t flowing quite as fast, but the story idea still excites me.
When a Pantser is Asked For a Synopsis
Coincidentally, just after I started NN2, my publisher asked for a synopsis, an outline of the plot of my second novel. Anyone who knows me, knows I’m not a planner. I write novels as I live life—hour to hour. I can’t even write to a prompt. I need the freedom of a blank slate—I want to be able to experiment as I write, exploring tangents and ideas as they come.
So to ask someone like me for a synopsis before I’ve completed the first draft is like forcing someone to drain their swimming pool through a petrol funnel—I have so many good ideas, I can’t narrow my focus already! And what about all that spillage!
However, I didn’t want to let my publisher down, so I wrote one. At first I told myself, You don’t have to stick to it. Just write something, anything!
Because I hadn’t written the story, all the logistical and practical problems I’m yet to solve reared their ugly heads as I wrote. Why did she leave the city? What was her job? What sort of character is her father? Etcetera …
It was hard to answer these questions without writing my way in and getting to know my story first. The whole time, I told myself nothing was set in stone, so just write anything down. Which I did, but not before really thinking about it. There are still details to work out, things I can add in as I write the story, but from writing this outline, I’ve been able to work out the type of story it is and come up with a loose plan. It doesn’t matter that some of the details will change later because I know where I’m headed, and it’s made me even more excited to write it.
So, what I’m saying is that although it was hard and completely against my personality type, it’s been a helpful exercise. I wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t been forced to, but now I’m glad I did. I have a basic story path to follow, so I know where I’m going, but it’s still loose enough to give me freedom to explore if I want to.
I’m a slow writer—I average only 500-600 words a day—but with the help of the #5amWritersClub and my other accountability group, the Lollygaggers, I’m ploughing on. Onwards and upwards with NN2.
Okay, that’s enough procrastination—I’d better get back to work!
* A pantser is the official term for someone who writes their stories without planning first—in other words, flies by the seat of their pants. A plotter is the opposite, someone who plans their story before writing it.
** Actually, not entirely true. I’m not always ‘happy’ to get up at 5am. 😏
A reminder that I’ll be back here next week with a post on ‘Social Media for Writers‘, so look out for that!
My March newsletter will also be out soon, so if you haven’t signed up you can do that here.
ARMADALE LIBRARY AUTHOR TALK
If you’re in the Armadale area next Friday, 6th April, please come along to this talk. It starts at 10:30am, is free and morning tea is provided.
Click here to book.