Friday, July 26, 2019

Plotting vs Pantsing / My Learning Curve

When I first began to write I had a basic personal story I wanted to tell. I pantsed 28K words in twenty-five days, then worked on that story for three more years. I was fortunate that it went on to a small press for publication. Imagine that! My first ever novel published! Shoot, this stuff is easy! HAHAHA NO!

It was my first novel. I was lucky, not good. It was not particularly good either. But it was an earnest and heartfelt attempt, and a reflection of my writing skills at the time, and I'm proud of it for many reasons even if it is difficult for me to read now.

Though I'd written numerous picture book manuscripts by the time I started my first MG novel, I hadn't ever researched how to write a novel. I'd skimmed and dipped into a few craft books like Stephen King's On Writing, and Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, but rather than settling into the books and waiting to begin my second novel, I charged ahead with an idea. I figured my next story would organically and coherently play out on the page as I wrote. Strangely, that didn't happen.

I'm querying my second novel now, and it was only after getting involved in #Pitchwars where I began to see the value of studying craft. I mean really breaking down your novel and understanding it. My #Pitchwars mentor Yamile Mendez (you need to check out her bazillion books) guided me to websites by K.M. Weiland helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com and Jami Gold jamigold.com.

I use these sites regularly now, as well as the craft books The Magic Words by Cheryl B. Klein and Story Genius by Lisa Cron. I'm sure many of the other craft books on the market are helpful, but these resources work for me.

If you can imagine a scribbled line, you can imagine how my first two books came about. It's like I was learning to draw but didn't quite know how. I've spent considerable time rewriting the second book, and if it gets me an agent, it's going to need more revisions, I'm sure of that. I'm okay with that too. I expect it.

On this third book, I don't want to erase so many scribbles and rewrite them, so I'm carefully pre-planning the novel (with much more detail and structure than a general idea). I'm keeping a growing character sheet complete with backstory for each character. This is helping tremendously. It's also helping me see further into the future. I think this book can be a series. We'll see.

For me, writing now is a mix of framing first (to structure and space the plot and pinch points) and pantsing between these points. I feel it is working well. I think I'll have a readable manuscript to critique partners in about a month, and I'm so thankful to Yamile Mendez and all the generous writers sharing their time and talents with others.

If it weren't for generous writers giving advice and support so willingly, I'd be lost. If you're struggling a bit, keep at it! You're in a great group of people! But you probably already know that.

Take care,
Rob Polk

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