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. 😏
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Great post. I am at a point wondering if I should stop writing my current WIP. Reading this post and the reasons why you decided to stop work on your novel and move onto another project has given me a new sense of freedom about my writing. I was adamant that I could make my story work (despite a growing lack of passion) – but sometimes you have to be a realist.
You do have to be a realist but it’s really hard to know whether to quit or whether to keep going. Sometimes, you wonder if it’s just because it’s hard work, and if you persist, you’ll get over the hump. But, like you, I lost the enthusiasm for this one. Who knows, one day it might come back, but I don’t think so.
Whatever you decide, you can always change your mind! Good luck, Tamara. 🙂
Thanks for your helpful post, Louise. I would so love to be a plotter – but my attempts so far have been terrible. I think I still need to get to the end of a decent first novel and iron out many the other writing kinks and craft techniques before the plotting becomes more natural.
It’s great to hear novel 2 is coming along and that a story idea has got you in it’s strong grip. I look forward to hearing more! x
I’m not a natural plotter, that’s for sure, Marie, and it was only because my publisher wanted one that I did it. I wish they’d give me a deadline for this first draft, because I’m very obedient when it comes to those from a publisher, as compared to the self-imposed ones!
Good luck with ironing out kinks and perfecting your novel—I’m sure it will be on a shelf one day! 🙂
Gosh, that must have been confronting to put one novel aside and start again. But at the same time, as you say, it may well become part of something in the future. And your new enthusiasm must make it all worthwhile!
Your pantser to plotter conversion was really interesting. I suspect if I ever write anything longform, I’ll have to follow in your footsteps and become a plotter too.
Loved reading this update, good to know that things are ticking over well in the attic 🙂
I really don’t mind tossing it out—in fact, I’m relieved not to be working on it anymore. It was a real chore! It’s still here in hard copy, and there are some parts of it I can resurrect, so it’s not been a waste. As I said in the comment above, I can always change my mind, too, if I want. 🙂
Lovely to read this post which is full of energy, Louise. Great that you’ve settled down to write again, and have found your enthusiasm for a new novel. Like Fiona, I’m impressed at your conversion from pantser to plotter. I’ll be interested to see how that goes over the next year or so. Your 5am group must be amazing.
I’m loving feeling enthusiasm for a project, Maureen! It was a quick conversion from pantser to plotter, and I don’t know how long it will last. I can definitely see benefits, but it was a very hard thing for me to do and I don’t think I’d have done it if I hadn’t been ‘pushed’!
The 5am group is amazing—you should join us! 🙂
I am so a pantster. I’ve been getting up at 5am to. With my new job it gives me an hour to write. Sometimes I do lots sometimes only a paragraph or two. Really looking forward to hearing about novel 2 when you are ready to share a snippet x
I’m glad you’re still writing, Rae! I’m like you—some days are really productive, others not so much.
Don’t hold your breath waiting for a snippet from NN2—it will be long time before it will be in any shape worth sharing! 😉
Pantser over here too! Although with WIP 2 I have written some notes and ideas of where the story will go. I still have no idea how to write a synopsis, but it would be a helpful outline to have when you get stuck. Good luck with NN2! I look forward to reading it. X
Yes, I like to have a vague idea of where I’m going, and every now and then I stop and assess what I’ve written and work out where the story’s headed, but I’ve never written out the whole story before I’ve written the thing before! It was hard but very worthwhile. 🙂
Thanks Louise for sharing this. Great post as always and cool to see the #5amwritersclub mentioned. The bit that stuck with me was your rationale for dropping ON2: the lack of passion for it. I’m at a crossroads on what my next project will be, and I think I need to use passion to guide me here, so thank you.
Also, those savage post-it notes you put on the old manuscript are so fucken brutal! They crack me up. 😂😂😂
Passion is key! If you’re going to spend a couple of years working on something, you’ve got to really love it!
I’m glad the post-its made you laugh. I don’t know what we did before they were invented! I stick those things everywhere!
Looking forward to hearing more about NN2!
By the time I’ve written it, you’ll probably be sick of hearing about it! 😂
You’re very kind. 🙂
Passion is key, for sure! I used to say I was no writer because I could only write what I was passionate about. I only wrote what I knew. I wrote about my emotions. I wrote from my own experiences, using my vivid imagination to turn a single incident into a complete novel. Not having any writing training left the works as WIPs.
I thought that I was a complete pantser until I started looking at my old WIPs, works before I stopped writing for ten years. Although I had the first few chapters, I realized that I had the outlines of all chapters, or at least a one- or two-sentence summary of what the chapter is about. I had endings. I had themes even. I thought I was a pantser because I would write the fist few chapters without a plan and with time restricting my writing, I actually wrote some sort of outline before the whole idea faded. Those ideas seem to disappear into the limbo quite rapidly. Perhaps, you can be a plantser, which I now decided I am. 🙂
Good luck with NN2. 🙂
Keep going on those WIP’s, Anne, especially if you have the passion for them. And ‘plantser’ is my new favourite term! 🙂
You are so brave! It must have taken a lot to admit that ON2 was not working. Love how once you decided to bin it, NN2 flowed for you. Best of luck with it 🙂
To be honest, I never mind admitting when something isn’t working—I’d much rather toss something that’s not very good, that than keep going with it. I also believe that words are NEVER wasted—they all help in some way, whether it’s towards the eventual novel, or exploring around the eventual novel, or helping you develop as a writer. They’re all valuable and necessary. That’s how I view them anyway, so I never mind if they don’t make it into the finished product! 🙂