Writing Like a Panster

I finished my latest Manuscript and am seeking representation, which can be a long process. So, until then, I’ve started a new project.

But it’s been slow going so far, and I think I know why.

I’m OVER-THINKING.

I’m not an outliner, I’m a “Panster.” Which is weird, because being a “Panster” goes against every other part of my life. With the rest of my life, my family, my finances, etc. I am a planner. Type-A all the way.

But not when it comes to writing. Writing is the one place that I give myself permission to fly free.

I usually start with a character and go from there. The story reveals itself to me along the way. Of course, that means there is going to be a lot of tweaking and rearranging, but that’s the price I pay for being a “Panster.”

If you’re an Outliner, you plan your novel way ahead of time, from what I understand. Some people have story arcs and everything before they even start writing.

This time, I started my story with a few characters and how they interact and I immediately jumped to plotting. And I’ve been trying to make my story “fit.” But doing that for a #Panster is like putting a size 10 foot into a size 8 shoe. There’s a lot of forcing, and whining and pain involved. And it isn’t fun, and it isn’t productive. Trust me, I worked in a shoe store when I was young and watched hundreds of women insist they were a size 6 when they were clearly a size 7, and then proceed to blame it on the shoe.

I’m blaming the shoe right now instead of just finding the right fit and giving myself lots and lots of room.

So, I’m starting over…in my own Panster way. I’m going to let my characters tell me their stories. I’m merely the recorder. I need to let them tell me their hopes and dreams and fears and conflicts. If I set them free on the keyboard, they will show up. But I need to stop shoving my large characters into the small shoe.

How do you start a new story? Are you a Panster or an Outliner?

Entering a Local Short Story Contest

 

Every year, our local library holds a Short Story Contest. I’ve entered for the last three years, and have yet to place.

I’m considering entering again this year, just for the practice.

But I don’t write short stories. I never have.

I write novels, so writing a short story, for me, is a bit of a challenge. I’m also a “panster” which makes it even more challenging. Without an “outline,” it makes it much harder to wrap up a story in 2500 words or less.

I write women’s fiction, and women’s fiction differs from most other genres. Without completely sounding like I have no idea what I’m doing, I’ll try to explain what I mean: women’s fiction isn’t necessarily trying to “solve a problem,” as in conquering the neighboring tribe, or saving the planet from the comet headed straight for it. Women’s fiction tends to be about “relationships.” It isn’t as cut and dry as some other genres, and I don’t mean any disrespect by that at all. I just don’t can’t write those other genres without sounding like a 4th grader wrote it (no offense to the 4th graders out there).

Women’s fiction is different in that it’s character-driven. There’s still a problem to solve, sometimes many, but it’s painted with a much broader brush, at least the way I write. My characters are flawed and their flaws are what drive the plot.

So, back to the short story.

First, condensing a story to 2500 words is daunting for me. That means that I need to come up with a premise that can basically be solved in one and a half chapters! What?! That’s when things usually just get going in a women’s fiction novel, not resolved!

Thinking of something that fits into that box is really, really hard for me.

I’ve tried using writing prompts, but have yet to find one that inspires me. I’ve tried different genres, but I really can’t write fantasy or SciFi…I just can’t.

But, like most writers, I like to bang my head against the wall, otherwise I wouldn’t be a writer. (Writers will understand that). I’ll keep trying. I’ve started 3 short stories so far that have fallen flat. I still have until July 31st to submit my entry. It isn’t impossible, just improbable, and I can work with those odds.

What about you? Have you ever tried to write something different than you’re used to? What got you over the hump?

Explaining Being a Writer to Friends and Family

 

I should start by saying that I have not yet published a novel. I’ve published poetry and articles, but I haven’t hit the mother lode yet.

Explaining being a writer to friends and family can be frustrating and humorous.

First and foremost, unless they are writers themselves, they don’t understand the process, the time commitment, or the frustration that comes with wanting to be a published novelist.

Every time I talk to my mother she asks me “Are you going to get this one published?” as if I just need to walk down to the local bookstore and hand them my book. I would love to tell her, “Yes! It’s going on shelves next week!” But when I try to explain that it’s completed, and that it really isn’t “finished” just yet, I hear silence on the other end of the phone. She doesn’t get it. It isn’t her fault, she just isn’t a writer and doesn’t understand that writing is a process.

Truth of the matter is, aside from the initial completion of a novel, most of my non-writer friends and family could care less. Some of them ask about it from time to time, but then glaze over when I bring up editing, or second drafts, or the nature of the business. They don’t really want to know.

Even my own husband has only read one of my early novels. In fact, when I was teasing him about not being interested in what I was writing, he insisted that he was interested, and that he’d read my book. That was 3 manuscripts ago! If it was me, I would want to know what my partner was writing about: am I in it? Is the psycho man-hater character modeled after me? What sort of personal stuff did you put in there? But not him. I guess I should consider myself lucky on that note. I could write a whole book about him and he’d never know it until it was on the shelf of Barnes and Noble. Hmmmm…maybe…nah, I wouldn’t do that. But the point is that I could, and he’d never know.

The truth is that writing can be a lonely business. People won’t understand what you do. They won’t understand the effort you put in to character development, and structure, and plot. They won’t understand what’s taking so long to get your book published. They won’t understand that just finishing a first draft is an accomplishment in itself, even if it never gets published. And writing a second or third novel is even more impressive.

So if it seems like you don’t have the support of family and friends when you’re writing, don’t give up. Those same family and friends will be there when your book goes on the shelf. They might even buy a copy…maybe. They may even open it up and read it just to see if they’re in it.

Don’t worry about finding an answer when they ask if you’re book is published yet. Just tell them it’s in the works. Because it is…the moment that first word is written, your great novel is in the works.

More writing and less explaining!

Besides, the writing community gets it.

Do you have a creative way that you explain writing to your friends and family? I’d love to hear it.

Writing Without Fear

 

My latest WIP has been a bit of a challenge. I’m a panster, not an outliner which can be both freeing and completely stifling.

I usually start with an idea for a character, or characters, and then build a story and plot around them. I know, it’s backwards, but it’s the way my brain works.

I’ve started my current WIP three different times.

First, the plot wasn’t strong enough, so I set it aside. But the characters kept talking to me, and telling me they had a story to tell.

So I picked it up again. I tried changing the plot and making it more appealing, and it seemed to be working for a while. But it was still missing something and I couldn’t put my finger on it, so I set it down again.

The third time I picked it up I realized that the story was focused around the wrong character. I was trying to make a supporting character the protagonist. One of the side characters had a much better story to tell and made a much better protagonist: the kind you want to root for even when you know they’re going to fail miserably.

So I started over…again.

I also decided to write with a different approach. No editing. No rereading. Just keep writing. I know that means there will be a LOT more editing at the end, but it’s been kind of fun writing without fear.

I’m also writing completely prepared to cut out scenes, even chapters if necessary. Many times, as writers (or at least it’s this way with me), we’re reluctant to take out scenes, especially the ones that we really love. We don’t want to let go of them. But this time I KNOW there is going to be changes, and I’m good with that. Sometimes as I’m writing a particular scene, I may have an idea that it may not make it to the final cut. I’ve even found myself thinking “that doesn’t fit there” or “that chapter really sucked.” But I just keep writing.

This WIP has turned into a sort of writing exercise in free writing. Who knows if it will work? I’m not sure what I’m going to gain from it, but I’m not afraid even if the whole thing needs to be scrapped. As long as I finish it, then I will have reached my first goal.

Writing without fear may turn into editing without fear.

What do you do when a WIP isn’t working? Do you scrap it or do you try to re-work it? Are you a panster or an outliner?

Jane & Maria – 2nd Installment of the Coffee Shop Vignettes

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Maria wrapped her hands around her coffee cup to warm them.

“So, tell me…how did it go?” Jane asked Maria, as she handed her son a coloring book and some crayons, and moved her coffee out of his reach.

“I’m not sure,” Maria said.

“Well, was it a good interview? Do you think you gave the answers they wanted?”

“I’m not sure,” Maria said and slumped back in her chair.

“Oh, come on. It couldn’t have been that bad,” Jane tried to be encouraging. She turned to her son, “No, no…only in the book…not on the table.”

Maria smiled.

“It’s just that it’s been so long since I’ve been out of the workforce, you know?” Maria said.

“Oh, I’m sure that won’t matter that much. You have the experience they’re looking for.”

“Yeah, but from 200 years ago!” Maria said and laughed.

Jane laughed at Maria’s exaggeration.

Maria sighed. “I don’t know. Part of me is excited to go back to work now that the kids are in school full time, but the other part of me wants to be home for them. I hate the idea of sending them to daycare. I should be helping them with their homework, not some stranger.”

“I’m sure there will be plenty of homework for you to help with. Besides, don’t a lot of their friends go to the same afterschool care?” Jane asked.

Maria nodded.

“What about the job? You’re scared, aren’t you,” Jane said.

“I hate to admit it, but yes, I am. I haven’t had to work for anyone in a long time. I’ve been the one telling people, well, little people that is, what to do for the past ten years. I don’t even know if I remember how to take orders from someone else,” Maria said.

“Sure you do. I’ve seen you take orders from Sarah all the time!” Jane teased.

“Oh, please! I don’t take orders from my 14 year old.”

Jane raised her eyebrow.

“Okay, okay, maybe sometimes I do. But don’t you dare tell her that!” Maria admitted.

“Mama…other book, other book,” Jane’s son insisted.

“I see you have your own dictator,” Maria teased.

Jane frowned at her as she got out another coloring book for her son.

Maria’s phone rang, and she looked at the number. She put her finger to her lips, and Jane told her son to be quiet.

“This is Maria,” she answered, and listened.

Jane kept her son occupied and watched Maria’s face for any indication.

“Yes, I’d be happy to. Okay. Okay. Thank you. I’ll talk to you then. Bye,” Maria said.

“Well?” Jane asked.

“I got a second interview!” Maria exclaimed.

“I knew you could! See, I told you! When do they want to see you again?” Jane asked.

“Tomorrow morning,” Maria said. She let it sink in.

“How does going back to work sound now?” Jane asked.

“It sounds pretty good, actually. Look, I better go. I have to find something different to wear tomorrow. I haven’t had to wear a skirt for two days in a row in a long time! I’ll call you tomorrow, okay?” Maria said as she got up. She waved to Jane’s son on her way out.

“Bye!” Jane called after her, but she was already out the door.

“Bye bye,” Jane’s son imitated.

Jane smiled at her son, grateful that she had a few more years before she’d have to go back to work, but excited for her friend. She picked up a crayon and helped her son color his picture.

If I wrote the same way my husband plays video games…OUT LOUD

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There’s an evening ritual in our house. After we’ve had dinner, and everyone’s done with homework, we usually go our separate ways to relax.

For me, that’s writing; for my daughter, that means drawing; for my son and husband that usually means video games. While my daughter hums along to whatever she’s listening to in her earbuds, my son is usually chatting with friends while they play minecraft. My husband has recently started playing OverWatch…and he’s very vocal when he is being shot at, or things aren’t going his way. And we mock him, because his noise cancelling headphones make it easy for us to do so.

So it got me thinking: what if I wrote the same way he plays Overwatch?! OUT LOUD! Could you imagine?

It would go something like this: “What?! How did that that guy just die? Who shot at him?! Where did he come from?! I can’t believe that! Come on, that was a cheap shot! Am I the only one in this mission?! Why can’t I hit anything?!”

The funny part is that as writers, we do ask our characters questions. We do get mad at them sometimes. We even get frustrated when they don’t turn out like we want them to. But I’ve never known a writer that does that OUT LOUD! And never with as much vigor as my husband playing Overwatch.

You can see that it might bring a whole knew dynamic to my writing. Especially considering that I write women’s fiction.

It might sound more like: “Why won’t she just kiss him already?! What does she want from him?! How come they can’t just be friends?! Don’t walk out on her again! She knows better than to do that! How could she not see that? It was so obvious!”

Then again, maybe I should “write out loud.” It certainly would draw some great looks from my family…well, except for my husband, because he wouldn’t be able to hear me…you know, because of the headphones and all.

How about you…do you write out loud?

Introducing “The Coffee Shop Vignettes”

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Sometimes it’s hard to think of an idea for a Blog Post, but it’s much easier for me to think of a story. I think I get it from my dad.

When I was really little, he used to sing a bedtime song to me that he made up called “Jackie Penguin.” In the song, Jackie Penguin would just happen to have the exact same day I did. And Jackie Penguin’s day always ended happy or learned a lesson, just like I did. #thanksdad

That’s where the inspiration for “The Coffee Shop Vignettes” came from: for the days that I don’t have a Blog Post, but I do have something to share…or at least my fictional characters do.

My hope is that the reader would see themselves in the situations, or their friends, and would find connection and comfort.

This is a compilation of encouraging conversations from everyday life. Imagine yourself sitting at your local coffee shop cozied up with a book, surrounded by other patrons. It is alive with conversation, of people coming and going, and slowing down just long enough to get a glimpse into one another’s lives. These are the stories of your neighbors, your friends, your family, and maybe even your own story. They may sound familiar to you, and you may have even overheard a similar story at the table next to you.

My hope is that some of the stories bring you comfort, reminding you that we’re all in this together. Your stories are my stories, my stories are yours. Please check out the first installment of “The Coffee House Vignettes” listed under the “Categories” sidebar.