Every time Camp NaNo or NaNoWriMo rolls around I hear the pantser vs. plotter debate. I’m mostly a plotter. I’d never finish a novel without a plot. So, maybe I’m a full blown plotter. Most of my friends are pantsers. I’ve watched how others plot their books and they start right from chapter one. I’m more middle of the road than that, but I couldn’t live without some sort of a plot to work from.
Usually, I’ve bounced the story around my brain for quite some time before I ever sit down to write. I’ve zoned out while doing chores around the house or stayed awake playing and replaying scenes in my head tweaking small parts. Then it’s time to sit down and write. At this point I’ll know my main characters and their major conflict. I’ll also know the ending. Then I just need to fill in the gaps.
To start this process I write the first few chapters of the book. This helps me get a grip on my characters and how their personalities will change my ideas. I know some people say we control our characters and others say they lead themselves. Once again, I’m middle of the road. I find that if I start by letting the words flow and the characters just do their own thing in the first few chapters the rest of the book is easier.
After I get to a point where I feel comfortable with them and what the story should be I plot. This point can vary drastically. Sometimes it’s at chapter 4 and sometimes it’s at chapter 12. As a general rule it happens after the true-mates meet in person and respond. I usually know exactly how my guys meet up before I ever write a word of the story.
Now with all of that said I do recommend plotting in one form or another to anyone struggling with writing. It’s a road map. Sometimes knowing what happens takes the stress out of writing. Recently, a very creative and ambitious aspiring writer friend of mine told me having a plot stresses her out, because she feels stuck to it. But not having a plot makes it hard to write too. Yes, she was having one of those days we all know so well.
Yesterday, I killed two characters off. Their deaths weren’t plotted. I was writing a battle scene for the 6th book of my Hemlock Wolf Pack Saga . It changed some other things for the book. Today, I decided not to kill them. Yes, I resurrected them, because I might need one of them for a future book. Other changes stuck, albeit, brought about in other ways now. I still have the draft where they died. I learned a long time ago when a huge unplanned thing happened to save two copies. One for prosperity and one for working on. Later, once my caffeine kicks, I need to rewrite the last third of my plot. I’m okay with that. The changes make the story more exciting and suspenseful.
For me a plot is a roadmap with coffee spilled on it. There’s plenty of room for detours and the stain creates new little interesting places to visit. I haven’t written a single book where I haven’t tweaked my plot at some point. So, the moral of the story is: Don’t be afraid of plots. Unlike characters you’re fully in control of them. If it needs changed – change it!
At the time of writing this I’m having a bad writing day. I’ve only written about 1,300 words on book 6 of my Hemlock Wolf Pack Saga. I’ve written a few blogs to save for later. (I’ll likely save this one for later too.) Today, I’ve realized something, though. I’ve fallen into a self-worth pitfall about word count goals.
My writing days usually end one of three ways.
Met my goal: Meh. That’s pretty good. I did my job anyway.
Beat my goal: Go me! You’re getting ahead.
Didn’t reach my goal: You are the worst writer on the face of the earth. You’ll never get this book written or published. You should never write again.
I have some ongoing external conflicts in my life at the moment that are definitely affecting my mood, but this is my pattern all the time. And let me just say I thought I was the only one until I sent out some text messages to some writer friends. I’m not the only one. That made me feel better for maybe two minutes. Then I realized how mean we are to ourselves. Yes, word counts and plot point goals are uber important to our chosen careers. They’re like 50% of our job. (Rewriting, plotting, marketing, etc. take up the other 50%.) But at the end of the day they don’t define us as people. A bad writing day doesn’t make someone lazy or horrible or a complete failure. It’s one day. One writing session. Sure, if it’s an ongoing problem we should examine what’s going on and see what the best way to work through it would be. I’m not giving all of us free reign to never pursue a writing goal again. What would we read if we all quit writing? What would you read, person who’s reading this?
So, what am I saying?
Simply that when we get caught up in creating other people and worlds and epic plot lines and romances we shouldn’t forget about ourselves. Sure, we maybe people with universes of stories living inside of us, but we’re still people. Besides, if we don’t take care of ourselves where will all the stories live until they’re born into books?
So, for all of my fellow writers and creative spirits out there here are some self-care tips to help you birth new worlds into existence.
Be realistic about your goals and leave room for slower writing days.
Not everyday needs to be a writing day. Even if you’re a full time writer. I don’t know where this myth came from but I wish I could summon a dragon to eat it. Think about the other professionals of the world. Sure, some brain surgeons are on call at all hours, but they do have down time. So, sure, if your main character wakes you up at 2am to finish a scene. Go for it, but that doesn’t mean you don’t deserve days off.
Using a word count tracker and planner. I use PaceMaker. When I’m planning out how long it’ll take my to write a novel I make sure to include every upcoming appointment date that will hinder me. I take into account everything from errands to meal prep. Then I add three days to the end of when I think I’ll finish it.
2. Kill the negative self talk before it kills your story.
This just isn’t about word count. It can be about any part of the writing/editing/publishing/marketing process. Tons of information exists out there on how to do this. The same method won’t work for everyone. As I said at the beginning of this blog I still struggle with this.
3. Don’t forget to celebrate victories.
If you totally kick butt on your word goal it’s okay to celebrate. When you finish a first draft (even if you’re behind on your timeline) you should still celebrate. Do something nice for yourself.
4. Make your work area comfy and nice to look at.
If your chair is hurting your back replace is ASAP. If every chair hurts your back talk to your doctor or other medical professional. Hang up inspirational quotes and photos. I like redecorating my wall space with each new novel. Yeah, I pin up a lot of notes about things to remember for the rewriting process, but I add things that remind me of the setting or my main characters. I also have a longstanding love affair with scent candles. Aromatherapy for the win!
5. Get up an move!
As tempting as it may be to sit and stare at a blank screen when you’re having a bad writing day don’t punish yourself like that. Get up and move. Take the dog for a walk. Go for a bike ride. Do a yoga workout video. Do something to get your blood moving and get out of your own head for a minute.
6.Remember writers are always working.
A lot of my friends lift a brow at this one, but it’s true. When we’re planning or writing a book we’re always thinking about it and that’s okay. Today, while having a horrible writing day I figured out a major plot point for the middle of Claiming the Shaman. My brain needed time away from the keyboard and screen to say “HEY! I KNOW WHAT HAPPENED!”
7. Alternating word sprints with other activities is a life saver!
Some days I wouldn’t get a thing on the page if it wasn’t for this method. Most writers will be familiar with the concept of a word sprint. If not, it’s basically setting a timer for a per-determined amount of time and writing your heart out until the timer goes off.
On bad writing days I’ll try alternating this with doing household chores or playing quick little games on my phone. This one has really turned around some of my bad writing days.
8.Relax your shoulders or treat yourself to a massage.
Sitting at a desk all day writing can be hell on your neck and shoulders. Remember not to scrunch your shoulders up like a turtle trying to hide in her shell while typing. I’m 100% guilty of this one.
Also, if you have the time, cash, and inclination treat yourself to a massage! Maybe you could do a massage swap with your SO!
9.Chat with other writers.
If you’re new to publishing speaking with other writers can be down right scary! But if you can make a few good writer friends you’ll have someone to shoot weird questions to. Most of which will include “Is X normal?” or “Do you do X too?” It’s a great way to feel a little more connected despite working in a career of solitude.
I should be working on Claiming the Shaman book 6 in my Hemlock Wolf Pack Saga , but my mind is too scattered this morning. It’s one of those days most writers are familiar with. Everyone has them at one time or another, but when chaos erupts they’re more common.
Some of my books have been called wholesome. I don’t mind that label, because I’m the most old fashion about sex in my friend group. I like writing happy endings where the good guys win and the bad guys get their just desserts. That doesn’t always happen in real life and I believe we need it in the places we escape to.
With all of that said I wanted to warn my long time readers that this blog may not be as wholesome as most of my books are. I’ll be covering difficult subjects and messy situations to which there are no easy answers. Real life doesn’t tie up as neatly as a book, unfortunately.
Recently, a friend told me I needed to connect with my readers more and perhaps people in general. I’ve always been introverted and keep a lot of things to myself. The older I’ve gotten the more I find myself surrounded by more words than people. Most days I like it that way. No one can write full time surrounded by people demanding their attention.
As someone who’s always kept my problems to myself in large groups I find it difficult to write about the chaos my life has become this year. Two family members have passed away. Another family member is dealing with addiction and he’s not who he used to be. Most of my other relatives are enablers and think I’m the asshole for not doing the same. I understand that addiction and addiction treatment is a hot button topic these days, but my message to anyone dealing with a similar problem is that it’s fully within your rights to kick anyone out of your life for any reason. You are important and you deserve to be happy. You don’t have to put up with bullshit.
With all of that said how do we write through chaos? These tips may be more aimed at writers who write full time, but even if you don’t write I hope you draw something from them. I’ve always been the sort to ask “How can I turn this bad thing into something good for someone?” It’s my hope that voicing these problems and tips will not only soothe something within me, but help someone somewhere who reads them.
Please note these tips don’t replace seeking therapy or other professional help. If you’re in need of help please reach out to someone trained to help you.
Accept Some Days Suck
Everyone everywhere has bad days now and then. Sometimes they politely wait in line behind a bunch of good days. Other times a bunch of them push their way to the front of the line and compete to be first. There’s a big movement that real writers must write everyday. That’s bullshit. Writing is required to be a writer and if you plan to publish you’ll need to spend a lot of time writing. It doesn’t have to be everyday. If a bad day pops up and you can’t get words on the page don’t sweat it. Tomorrow will come. Take time for self-care and work on other parts of the process: Planning, plotting, cover work.
2.Take Advantage of the Days That Don’t Suck
If your life has whirled into a chaotic mess the days that are less chaotic are to be taken advantage of. Maybe you have the house to yourself and you’re feeling okay. That’s the day to get the words on the page. Even if you hit your normal word count goal see if you can get more onto the page. These days are your secret weapons against the chaos. Extra words help make up the difference.
3.Don’t Wait For Inspiration or Motivation
This is common advice for all writers, but where chaos rules you might not find motivation easily. Tack up your long term goals for you book or series or whole writing career somewhere you see them everyday. Focus on them. In a lot of cases, they can be the lighthouse in the storm. We all need those lighthouses.
If you’re life is particularly chaotic you may want to make sure you set aside time to plot your novel. I know pantsers everywhere are rolling their eyes at me, but bear with me while I explain why you need a plot to write through chaos. Being creative can be hard if things are upside down for whatever reason. With a plot you know what you’re going to write each day. You can tweak it as you go, but it gives you something to focus on.
4.Tell Haters to Shut Their Mouths
There’s nothing worse than going through hell and having everyone else point out why they think your writing, story, book, or whatever is useless. Tell them to shut up. Seriously, I know everyone says keep your head high and ignore them, but honestly if someone is really toxic in your life you need to kick them out if you can. If they’re generally okay in most situations, but still tear down your dreams – that’s toxic. I’m talking about the friend who worries about if you make enough money to live. I’m talking about the haters who just run their mouths for whatever reason. Maybe they think they’re not good enough or that if you do great at something they’ll have to do something too or they’ll look bad. Just cut to the point and tell them to shut their mouths. I don’t mean go online to reply to bad reviews or anything like that. This is in your personal life. Bad reviews happen to everyone. Don’t even react to them. Once your book is in the public people can think whatever they want to about it.
5. Prioritize Your Goals
Maybe the chaos in your life isn’t brought about by other people. Maybe it’s your health. Maybe you need to pick up healthier habits or quit smoking to improve your health. I’m not going to lie these things take time and energy, but the good thing about them is that you can quit smoking while writing a novel. You can find time to write between working out and meal prepping. We find time for the things that are important to us. Sure, maybe we have to cancel that Netflix subscription or uninstall our favorite game for a while, but if you want writing to be part of your life it needs to be in your top 5 priorities.
6.Work Out Your Issues
While we can’t make anyone else do anything (get clean, get healthy, be positive, etc.) we do get to make choices about ourselves. If you need help getting someone out of your life or letting go find a therapist. That’s literally what they’re there for. If you need help getting healthy ask your doctor or join a support group.
If you have fear of failure or are haunted by imposture syndrome figure it out. Everyone has their issues, but if you want to move out of chaos you have to understand and work with your demons.
7.Don’t Turn Your Novel into a Journal
It’s okay to leave pieces of yourself behind in a novel, but not your life story event for event. Have an addict family member and you want a side character to give your beloved MC hell? Sure, they can be an addict, but don’t make it a journal. Let life inspire you, but from personal experience making a novel based too much on your own life never works out. Yes, there are exceptions, but not everyone is an exception.
I’ve read first drafts by fellow writers and my own that are just too journal-like for publication. When we write about something we’re too involved with emotionally it’s hard to create likeable characters. Sure, everyone character doesn’t have to be likeable, but your main character should more or less. If you’re living vicariously through your main character and torturing another character, but the motive isn’t plain for your character (it’s more yours than theirs) it doesn’t make sense in your book.
It’s okay to succeed out of spite. It’s okay to kill off a character named after your ex-fiance or evil aunt, but don’t let your personal feelings override the logic, character development, and plot of your book.
8.Please, Please, Please Finish Your First Draft Before You Start Editing It and Picking it Apart
You can polish up a bad first draft, but you can’t publish half a book. When things are hard it’s easy to pick apart everything we do including our writing, but please don’t fall into this trap. There’s no need to torture yourself. Get your story onto the page and then clean it up. Find a plot hole? Start a separate document and record it there. Name it something like “Draft 2 notes” and move on.
9.Lean on Your Support System
It’s easy to hide under the blankets and not talk to anyone when all hell breaks loose and it’s okay to do that for a while. Sooner rather than later you need to reach out to your real friends. Let them know what’s going on. If there’s something reasonable you need help with ask them. If 2019 has taught me anything is that your friends want to help you more than you think.
10.Remember Nothing Lasts Forever: Chaos Included
There will come a day where you look back and are amazed at what you’ve overcame. Seriously, think back to other hard times you’ve went through. Sometimes you need to make hard changes, but you’re going to be okay.
Keep writing. Write out of passion, desperation, love, hate, or hell, write out spite to show the bastards they can’t keep you down. Whatever reason you find, if you love your craft, please don’t quit writing. Someone out there is waiting to read your book.
Some writing days are just better than others. I woke up pretty exhausted this morning despite sleeping in an hour later than usual. I’ve recently cut my nicotine gum down by a 1/4 and I think that’s taking its toll on me. It’s about 5 PM at the time I’m writing this and I’m ready for bed. I’m going to try to stay up a few more hours before crashing.
I’m trying not to get caught up in the fact that quitting smoking is slowing me down in every other area of my life. It’s a good thing to do, but that little ‘nicotine addict monster’ likes to claim I could write so much more if I just smoked. I don’t want to smoke. At this point it’d likely make me sick. I just don’t want to be tired anymore. Oh, tomorrow is another day. I’m so ready for this weekend!
What I accomplished today:
Today I wrote chapter 11 and 12.
Snags Along the Way:
Mostly just being tired. I think I need to write out another plot soon too, but I’m too tired to do that today.
How today went:
Starting Word Count: 20,074
Total Words Written: 2,150
Ending Word Count: 22,224
I’m going to have to remember slow and steady wins the race. No matter whether I finish this book this month or next – I tried despite being in the process of quitting nicotine.
Goals for Tomorrow:
Tomorrow I just want to meet my word count goals and start my weekend early!
This morning I woke up feeling great! Which was a
good thing since we’re a third of the way through camp! Though, as I was
writing today an odd thought occurred to me. I’ve trashed two plots so far for
this novel! The beginning is still coherent and it’s still moving towards the
same ending. I knew the ending since before I started writing the book, but the
middle has evolved more than any book I’ve written before. For most of my life,
I’ve been a hardcore plotter. Knowing what I was going to write the next day
and the day after was what kept me going. Now, I know what I’m writing
tomorrow. I know what happens in the next few chapters. (Inside my head at least)
but I don’t have a plot outlined. Please don’t take my plotter’s membership
card away! Lol
In some ways, this has been more fun than usual. I’m not saying I’m converted to pantsing forever, but this book I might be half-pantsing. I feel like I’ve written more in a shorter amount of time since taking the stress of an outline out of the picture. Maybe it changed when I quit smoking. I’m just 3 days shy of 3 months quit now. Maybe it’s unfolding this way, because I didn’t decide for certain I was participating in camp until the last minute (so to speak.)
Whatever’s happening, I’m enjoying it.
What I accomplished today:
Today I fleshed
out chapters 7-9 and wrote chapter 10. It’s an exciting part of the story that
I can’t wait for you guys to read.
Snags Along the Way:
didn’t hit any snags today. It was a nice normal boring (around the house not in
my book) writing day. Which, of course, are my favorite sort of writing days!
How today went:
Starting Word Count: 17,329
Total Words Written: 2,745
Ending Word Count: 20,074
I’m almost 4k ahead of schedule!
Which is freaking awesome! But I’ve reworked my schedule to take weekends off.
I’m bad at taking vacations from work. They usually last two or three days and
I’m back to work. Maybe, I can start taking off days for the sake of taking
them off instead of just for errands or sick days.
I’m really excited to write chapter
11 tomorrow. It’s a very unique chapter the likes of which haven’t been seen in
one of my books yet. Y’all can’t see my devil horns, but they’re there. I
Goals for Tomorrow:
I’m just aiming for about 1.2k words tomorrow and I hope to finish chapter 11 tomorrow. I spent this afternoon cross checking characters to make sure I had all my details ready for tomorrow.