Creative Writing While Still Planning (or) Planning for a Pantser

David_Malo's_map_of_the_world,_1832

By nature, I’m more of a pantser than a plotter.  (Okay, maybe it’s because I was never taught to plot.) Recently, however, a writing friend looked at one of my story ideas, proceeded to twist it on its head and challenged me to write a short story using the idea of a bridge burning at both ends then suggested a few elements to work in, however I chose.  I thought when I gave him the finished draft that I had gone too far afield of what he had “assigned” me.  He emailed me back quickly and told me, “You nailed it!”

That made me start thinking about how you plot and then work the elements you’ve decided on in, but also have room to make the story whatever it might be.  I have started several short stories since then, and also pulled out several that I started some time ago, but haven’t yet finished ANY of them.  Normally I get started and sometimes I finish and sometimes I get lost along the way.  With the framework that he gave me, I plowed right through writing but wasn’t too stifled.  It was something of a revelation.

How to create that framework to work within on my own? I’ve heard and read lots about outlining and planning but I’ve never really managed to grasp it.  Maybe I’m older and wiser but it’s beginning to make sense to me.  I really enjoyed Chuck Wendig’s post in 2011 on 25 Ways to Plot Plan and Prep Your Story, but I can’t say I was able to apply it that well.  (I think that was my shortcoming, not his post.  I’ve always been that way, I could memorize formulas in math, no problem, but applying them was a whole other quadratic equation.)

I like Wendig’s ideas of “The Vomit Draft” where you just write down everything you can think of and “The Bring Your Flashlight Draft” where you only outline a chapter or scene in advance.  (Is that really plotting?  I guess so.)  Anyway, give his ideas a read.  (He’s hilarious.  Seriously, I now must go read some Chuck Wendig.  However, there is at least one thought that made me say, “Oh, ish.  No, it wasn’t the pants comment, it was before that.)  One of my favorite thoughts, “The key is not to let this – or any planning technique – become an exercise in procrastination.  You plan. Then you do.  That’s the only way this works.”

I’ve been hearing a lot from people about using the Snowflake Method to organize their thoughts about a story.  I’ve looked at it and found the originator’s articles online about how to use it for both novel plotting and short story plotting so I’m going to give it a try and see if it helps me finish these short stories I have started.  I suspect it will.

At the same time, I’ve started turning Jim Butcher’s LiveJournal blog into something that I can hit point by point in plotting out my novel for NaNoWriMo.  He says himself that this is information he learned, not something he came up with, so I plan the distillation once I have it finished.  I figure, if I use the Snowflake method then fill it in just a little more using Butcher’s methodology, the novel is going to be a lot easier come November 1st, as long as I can stay in story space.  I’ve been out of that part of my brain for a week at least and I’m looking for the door back in.

In the meantime, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s latest novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane.  It really reminded me of books by Madeline L’Engle that I read when I was growing up, though with a bit more adult content.  There was the same wonderful young main character, the magic and yet the feel of the Time Lords.  I’ve always enjoyed stories with a young protagonist.  I suspect that’s because we’re all a child inside, as he says in the book.  Or as another author put it, we never lose all the ages we’ve been.

Anyway, reading a slightly older collection of short stories by Neil Gaiman now, listening to Anansi Boys in the car, working on applying the Snowflake Method to my short stories in progress, and distilling the LiveJournal entries from Jim Butcher.

Right now I have a story to write and I need some coffee.  I’ve already written one scene last night, two scenes this morning, and I have two more to write then I can start editing and turning it into something that makes sense.  Wish me luck.

Sustainable Arts Foundation Writing Award & a New Story

Cayuga_Lake by Stilfehler

We had a GREAT time on Cayuga Lake last weekend, very relaxing, but now it’s back to work.

I’m working on applying for the Sustainable Arts Foundation Writing Award.  They typically give out 5 awards of $6,000.00 and 5 “Promise” awards of $1,000.00.

You must have a child under the age of 18 (which I do) but there’s no application fee and it’s all done online.  The application is due by 5 pm (Pacific Time) on August 31st, which is Saturday.

I’ve applied for other grants before, so I already had half the work done.  They just want 4 samples of  work so I’m submitting two short stories, an essay and a memoir piece.

I made the mistake of not paying enough attention to what they were requesting otherwise so learn from my mistake.  I had combined my biography and letter of intent into one thing for another grant application and didn’t realize I need to write them separately for this one.

They want a biography, an artist statement that gives a “concise description of your work and goals as an artist,” a Curriculum Vitae (in other words, an artist’s resume that tells them where your work has been seen and what workshops you’ve attended) and a letter of intent that tells how you would use this award if you win one.

The thing that’s giving me the most trouble is the biography.  A lot of what I write is biographical in nature so it’s hard to know where to stop.  How much or how little should I say about myself, my life, my writing and my family?  The only direction they give is to include how your family life inspires or challenges your writing, if it’s relevant.  Well, yes, it is relevant, but what else do I include?  My mind went one way, focusing on my writing throughout my life, but I’m trying to keep it concise.  I mean, they didn’t even give me a word count maximum –  I could ramble on for ages!

So I went through and edited the writing pieces I’m submitting, yet again, then edited the resume, artist statement and letter of intent.  Then I realized I need to pull out a separate biography.  I’m almost there.

(Just went and looked at last Spring’s winners. I’m glad I didn’t look before.  It’s a little discouraging.  Everybody who won seems to be very accomplished.  Oh well, it’s worth a try.)

I’ve also been editing my entry for the Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Contest.  Then I started getting this idea for a story about two angels and a demon that would be GREAT for the longer genre contest.  Unfortunately, that’s only two weeks away so I don’t know if I can have it ready in time.  It’s a good story so I’m pursuing it and if it’s not done, I’ll hold onto it.  I’m a little loath to send something I just finished writing into a contest anyway.  I prefer to let things set for a bit and edit again.

We had an unexpected day off on Wednesday because our power went out so I took myself down to the local coffee shop to write for a bit.  It was incredibly loud and I was getting a little annoyed but I decided to just listen and found that I was sitting next to a group of people talking about their Catholic religion.  My, how inspiring for my story since one of the characters is a priest!

So, I flagrantly eavesdropped and made a few notes.  They were telling religious jokes and laughing uproariously but they also hit on a few more serious topics.  Not sure if it has any relevance for what I’m writing but it did inspire me to think about my story and make some progress.  I’ve got a good idea of who my characters are and why they are there.  I also have the central question of the story, the theme and where it’s going, to guide the plot.  Now I just have to make sure all my scenes reflect and build on that.

It just seems like there has been a lot of great creative energy in the air lately, for my whole writing group at least.  Hopefully that is true for everyone out there.

Character Motivation

Heated Discussion

Heated Discussion

 

I’m told that people like the honesty in my writing but figuring out what is honest can be difficult, like trying to figure out what people mean with the words they choose and their motivations. Sometimes even they don’t know.

As humans, we are prone to ascribing motivations to people that may, or may not, be true. “Well, he said… but what he really meant was…”

Likewise, “Did he really mean what I thought he meant?”

As authors, we have the power to ascribe motivations to our characters, but we shouldn’t forget this ambiguity. Characters may not be sure of the motivation of other characters, they may ascribe motivation incorrectly and our characters may not even know their own minds.

We get to help them discover it.

And sometimes we have to step back, stop trying to figure it out, stop trying to be clever and just take things at face value.

At times like these, it can be nice to just sit down and write a story where events happen and we don’t have to ascribe meaning to them. We don’t have to try to figure them out.

People will usually try to ascribe their own meaning to the events anyway, as you may have experienced at one time or another.

Inappropriate Stories in My Head

I was supposed to be working on my novelization of Biomalware.  I was supposed to be editing and re-writing, but the Universe had other plans.  Let me tell you a little story.

Last week I ordered a few items as presents for an upcoming birthday.  Earlier this week, the packages arrived, plus one.  I didn’t think too much of it but as I opened the last package and pulled out an item I wasn’t expecting to see, my mind did a few backflips.

It was a red Ferrari logo t-shirt.  I had seen this somewhere before, and recently.  In my sleep deprived state, my mind struggled to piece it together.  I knew I hadn’t ordered it.  Where did I see it?  A television show that we had watched that weekend.  Someone had been on the phone asking if the Ferrari logo was on the front and the back.

My mind reeled.  I had seen it somewhere else too, an online store.  Was I dreaming?  I almost always know when I’m dreaming.  I looked in the bag, no invoice or note.

I hadn’t bought it, had I?  Was I ordering things in my sleep?  Had someone ordered it and sent it to me for the birthday party that weekend at my house?  Perhaps one of my siblings?

I checked my invoices.  No, I hadn’t been ordering anything in my sleep.

I talked or messaged family.  No, no one had ordered it and had it sent.

To add a little more context, I’ve just started watching Doctor Who, the new series.  I had just watched the episode where Rose looks into the heart of the Tardis and becomes an avatar, sending the words “Bad Wolf” back in time and space to warn herself.

This was just too f@%*ing weird.

So, last night at writer’s group, I put the story to the group and challenged them to come up with a reason for the package arriving.

One of the group went the way of a horror story.  Fine.  Not for me, though.

As I drove home my mind continued to work on it, suggesting where the package had come from and why.  (Gallifrey, Texas.)  I’ve become a bit too invested in Doctor Who and he figured prominently in the explanation I’m afraid.

This morning, while I was showering, the story began again, dialogue writing itself.  I’m supposed to see a psychic in a week and apparently she has a message for the main character, saying where the package came from.  Little bit of telepathy, he’s not really dead.  I had to go write it down before work in order to still the voices.

I think I have a nice little sci-fi story going and it could really turn into something publishable if I just write it and then take out the Doctor Who specific references.

It’s not what I was supposed to be working on, but at least I’m writing again, creating.  I’m just going to ride the wave and enjoy it.  The other will come in its own time.

Life is strange and wonderful, if you just look at it the right way.  Enjoy.

Camp NaNoWriMo and getting started –

Well, I wasn’t sure I was ready to start this novel.  I wrote the short story, Biomalware, months ago and my writer’s group proclaimed it “the one.”  They felt I should turn it into a novel.  I thought about it for a while and decided they were right so I started mulling over how to do that.  I got some character sheets, setting sheets and scene sheets from The Writer’s Craft web site and… they sat there.  I made up my mind to start writing the novel as part of Camp NaNoWriMo in June, and I got about six hundred words, give or take.  That was as far as I got.  Don’t ask me why.

Then, recently, I had a dream.  In my dream, I was sitting at a computer at work, doing something.  I realized that if I just started writing the novel, it would come and it would sell.  So, in my dream, I took out a tissue and blew my nose.  Then I opened a blank document and wrote, “She took out a tissue and blew her nose.”  (Thankfully, what I’m writing is not a chronicle of my life right now.) 

When I woke up, I decided to start writing with Camp NaNoWriMo in August.  “This time it was right, it would work, and no one would have to get nailed to anything.” (Douglas Adams)  I prepared a little bit but on August 1st, I opened up a blank document, brought over the first three sentences of what I had previously written and just started. 

It was grueling at first.  I didn’t feel inspired.  I worried the whole venture would have to go this way, slogging my way through bit by bit.  But then I reminded myself about what Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWriMo, had said about how the novel takes on a life of it’s own.  So I stuck with it hoping that, after a week, the novel would take off and things would get a bit easier. 

I made it through day one, then day two.  I tried to keep going over what I’d written so far and the story as I knew it so my mind would work on it when I had nothing else to think about.  And a funny thing happened at the end of day two.  I had more story to tell.  I couldn’t go to sleep until I scribbled a few paragraphs down.  Then I woke up this morning and my brain had more to say about it.  Something is happening here, folks.  I’m beginning to live in my story, and it feels wonderful.

(By the way, synchronicity is a strange thing.  I just went to the NaNoWriMo web site to look for Chris Baty’s name because I couldn’t remember it and found there was a post Nano pep talk from Audrey Niffenegger that I had never read last year.  Since I just started listening to Her Fearful Symmetry in the car last night, I read it.  Quite nice.  But I won’t tell you what it said because you should have signed up for NaNoWriMo last year so you could get the pep talk and read it for yourself!)

Anyway, looking forward to lunch so I can write some more.  I’m hoping that one of these days my characters are going to surprise me and do something really interesting.  If not, I’ll just have to add it in the re-write.

Wasted week, or was it?

You know you’re the mom of a two year old when your idea of a spa day is 10 extra minutes in the bathroom all by yourself.

But I digress.  I’ve been off work for the past week and home with the munchkin but I’ve gotten very little done in the writing arena.  Sunday we went to a graduation party and the munchkin fell asleep just as we got there so I sat in the car with her while she napped and managed to plot out the first quarter to third of Biomalware.  Do you think I actually wrote any of that this week?  Nope.  I did put together some stories on Monday, toward a collection, but I want to write a few more before putting it out there.

So, was it a wasted week?  Of course not!  I did get those two things done, but more than that I got some rest, relaxation and well filling in.  I’ve read a couple short urban fantasy stories from the Strange Brew anthology, quite a bit of Susan Wittig Albert’s The Darling Dahlias and the Cucumber Tree mystery, and I’ve caught up on some blog reading.  I’ve gotten a couple naps in (albeit mostly contorted on a love seat next to the munchkin but one was a lovely half hour all to myself in a darkened bedroom with a summer breeze coming through the window.)  We got to see a funny and fluffy movie based on Janet Evanovich’s mysteries, called One for the Money.  I got my car cleaned out today and made a plan this week for organizing the house and getting the yard back in shape.  (Planning is so much easier than doing, dontcha think?  But it’s a necessary step.)  No real travel this vacation but soon, and there’s certainly been plenty of good beverages, though mostly chilled. 

So, no, it hasn’t been a wasted week.  I’m feeling very relaxed these days and better able to deal with the challenges of life in general.  Certainly more ready to put some of my plans into action.  What more could you ask from a vacation?

 

The Fine Art of Procrastination

Well, it’s June 1st and I’m supposed to be starting my novel today.  What have I done instead?  Let’s see…

  • Got up.
  • Showered.
  • Had breakfast.
  • Checked Facebook.
  • Started laundry.
  • (Congratulated friend on finishing her novel today.)
  • Wrote in my journal.
  • Finished making grocery list.
  • Went grocery shopping with husband and munchkin.
  • Made lunch.
  • Ate lunch.
  • Put away leftovers.
  • Continued laundry.
  • Got munchkin down for her nap.
  • Looked at Facebook.
  • Read Ragen Chastain’s blog on health at every size.
  • Writing a blog post!

There were quite a few other odds and ends in between there but you get the idea.  I’ve finished reading Writing the Breakout Novel and it has made me think about a number of aspects of my book but it has also made me realize how far I have to go in developing this idea.  So, do I plan it all out on paper before I start writing or do I just start and see where I go?  I think the answer will be somewhere in between. 

I’m not even sure where this novel starts.  Does it begin with the short story that I wrote or at another point?  I’ve got the character, setting and scene charts here.  I’ll fill out everything that seems evident and hope it points me in a direction.  If not, I’ll start with the short story that I wrote and go from there.  I like to have a picture in my head of a scene and get that out every day, which usually turns out to be about three pages. 

Here’s to a summer of creativity!

But first, I think I’ll go take a peek at Pinterest. 😉