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The traveling pantser

There’s this notion that every writer is one of two types: plotter, or pantser.

In the extreme, a plotter plans out the whole story from start to finish before she sits down to write. She knows how the story begins, what happens in the middle, and how the story ends, and probably has a detailed outline or synopsis written out before she starts the book. All she has to do is write the full scenes as she moves from A to B to C.

A pantser, on the other hand, sits down to a blank page–maybe with a ghost of an idea–types Chapter 1, and makes the story up as she goes along.

In reality, of course, most of us fit somewhere in between, but we usually lean in one direction or the other. Kind of like politics.

The most surprising thing for me is that in spite of my technical background, and my rather logical, organized approach to life in general, I lean much closer to the pantser end of the scale.

I know who my main characters are, how they meet, what the conflict is–though it’s subject to change :-)–and I even try to plan the major milestones along the way. But, in the end, I go where the story takes me as I write.

I like to compare it to a cross-country trip. If I’m on the west coast, and I want to get back east, I know my goal. How I get there is the adventure along the way. Do I take I-80, I-40, or I-10?

For each new book, I start with a general idea of where I’m starting, who’s going with me, and where we’re going, but only a vague notion of how we’re going to get there.

It’s not always the most efficient method, and I’m trying to instill more structure to prevent backtracking, but in the end, it’s the adventure along the way that I enjoy the most.

Are you a plotter or a pantser? Does it surprise you?

POV or POS?

Be honest. Is your WIP GH-ready, or is it a POS? Not sure? Ask your CP for her POV about the GMC and SL in your MS.

If you’re thinking, “WTF?” then read on.

In the military a POV is your Personally Owned Vehicle, that is, your car. There’s an acronym for freakin’ everything in the military. Think Robin Williams in Good Morning, Vietnam.

But, every industry has its jargon and acronyms, and writing is no different. So for my non-writing friends, here are some of the acronyms that I’ve learned this year that may start popping up in my blog from now on. Hey, I’m all about the shortcut.

CP – Critique Partner: The person who tells you if your work is a POS (yeah, I believe that one’s universal)

WIP – Work in Progress: Just like in the world of manufacturing, except the unfinished inventory is the manuscript

MS – Manuscript: Your book before it gets published, whether WIP or completed.

SL or s/l – Story Line: The plot. What happens to your characters between Chapter 1 and The End.

GMC – Goal, Motivation, & Conflict: This was the topic of my first blog. It’s what each major character in a story must have in order to have a great SL.

POV – Point of View: This has two parts. 1) Is it in 1st or 3rd person? Yes, you really should have paid attention in English class. 2) Whose head is the writer in during the scene? Which character’s experience is it?

GH – The Golden Heart: A contest for unpublished romance writers, sponsored by the Romance Writers of America. Being a finalist in the GH gets you noticed by agents and editors all over the country. Unpublished romance authors everywhere are tweaking and polishing their MS at this very moment, trying to get it perfect before the December 2nd submission deadline, yours truly included.

Did I miss any? Too bad, I have to go get caught up on SYTYCD.

UPDATE: Okay, I forgot a few…

HEA – Happily Ever After: To be a true romance novel, and not just a book with romantic elements, the reader must get a happy ending. The hero and heroine don’t have to get married in the book, but a monogamous future must be implied.

RWA – Romance Writers of America: The national organization for romance writers. There are almost 10,000 members, and hundreds of local chapters all over the country.

SM – Southern Magic: My local chapter of RWA which meets in a suburb of Birmingham.

MC – Main character

H/H – Hero and heroine: As in “For a book to be a romance, the H/H must get their HEA.”

ARC – Advanced Reading Copy: early copy of the book that’s given to reviewers, bookstores, and magazines several months before the book is published and formatted for mass distribution. Final copy edits may still be made before publication.

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It’s. Her. Job.

Nora Roberts isn’t afraid to tell it like it is. Every time I see or read an interview with her, I’m impressed. Her recurring theme when asked how she manages to pump out five books per year, year after year, is, well…it’s her job.

Or, in typical writer-style emphasis: It’s. Her. Job.

She sits down 5-6 days a week for 6 or more hours and writes. Huh.

You just have to keep writing, even when everything you write sucks, because as she once said, “You can fix a bad page. You can’t fix a blank page.” (Love that quote!)

So, I’m aspiring to be like Nora Roberts. Yes, eventually, a sliver of her success, or more, would be great. But, for now, I’m focusing on being the type of writer she is. Consistent and prolific.

Canceling my Internet service might help.

Why computer monitors are like raisins

Just like two scoops of raisins are better in your bran cereal, two computer monitors are definitely better on your writing desk.

I used the two-monitor trick to great effect when I worked in the technical realm. Now in my ongoing quest to improve my productivity–and make use of that extra screen that’s been lying around–I’m putting the two-monitor method to work in my writing life.

I use a laptop, but on my current desk (read: dining room table), I have a flat screen monitor at the ready that I can plug into my MacBook any time I want another screen.

Why would I possibly want another screen? How about this?

  • Instead of printing the comments your critique partner/contest judge gave you, just move that file to the extra screen and refer to it while you make changes.
  • Open your character profiles or other reference materials and move them to the extra screen so they’re at the ready while you’re typing away.
  • Open your Internet browser on the extra screen and you can reference your findings without leaving your manuscript.

The opportunities for multi-tasking, saving paper, being more productive, and procrastinating are endless!

Just today, I browsed the blogs while checking my Facebook page. Ahem. That is, I updated my query letter based on my critique partner’s comments, without having to switch back and forth between the two documents, or waste paper by printing her file.

What’s your favorite productivity trick?

Query Letter Purgatory

Have I mentioned how much writers hate crafting query letters? Yes? Oh, fine.

Well, maybe it’s just me, but trying to boil my story down to 2-3 paragraphs that will catch an agent’s eye is excruciating.

Today, I spent some time perusing blogs by literary agents Nathan Bransford and Kristin Nelson, looking for inspiration. I also looked at agent Janet Reid’s Query Shark blog. All of these are great resources for the aspiring writer looking to understand the mind of an agent and what he or she is looking for, but in the end, the most help has come from my awesome critique partner, Christine. (Thanks, C!)

I will get a decent letter out there soon, and then the long wait will begin.

While I’m waiting, whatever shall I do? Hmm. Maybe I should write a book…

My discipline needs a tune-up

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

According to success guru, Brian Tracy, it takes 21 days of repetition to form a good habit–although bad ones seem to require a much shorter period! So, how does one form a habit of excellence?

Discipline! I’ve heard that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to be an expert at something. But continued practice requires discipline. I think my discipline needs a tune-up.

Over the years, Brian Tracy’s books (try Eat That Frog!) and seminars (Try Psychology of Achievement or How to Master Your Time) have helped me increase my productivity with effective time management strategies, ideas for overcoming procrastination, and goal-setting techniques.

I applied these ideas regularly when I worked in the business world, but somehow when I started writing, I threw it all out the window. Other than a to-do list with deadlines, I haven’t been as disciplined or productive as I’d like.

Why? No clue.

So, after a less-than-productive day/week/month (although I did manage to pound out 1,000 words today), I’ve decided to make a daily plan/productivity strategy. It looks something like this…

  1. Write 1,500+ net words/day at least 5 days/week (I track this in a file in Scrivener)
  2. Finish daily goals on to-do list (e.g. write query letter or synopsis, submit contest entry, critique for partner, etc.)
  3. Only check email three times/day (mid-morning, lunch, before bed) unless daily goals are met
  4. Work out early, or wait until afternoon slump
  5. Limit Facebook and blog visits to once/day unless daily goals are met
  6. No reading for fun unless daily goals are met

I’m trying to pay attention to my best times of day to tackle different tasks. For example, I know I am better at writing before 10:30 in the morning, and again in the late afternoon/evening. Other things, like educational reading, working out, or running errands, are best handled during my less productive hours.

My daily plan is a work in progress–like my manuscript–but if I keep working on it, hopefully I can move closer to excellence.

Back to Work!

Okay, celebration over. It’s time to get back to work. (Productivity guru Brian Tracy would be so proud.) Winning doesn’t mean anything except that a few people liked my writing enough to vote for it. If I want to get that writing published, there’s work to do!

With helpful feedback from my awesome critique partner, Christine, I am working on a query letter to send to several agents. Writing query letters almost ranks up there with writing synopses on the list of Things Writers Hate to Do, but I’ll muddle through. It has to be done, and it makes sense to capitalize on my recent win and get those letters out ASAP.

But then what? Well, I need to keep working on the next book, of course. Even if an agent snatched up Counting on You and sold it instantly (insert wishful thinking here), one book doesn’t make a career.

Ultimately, I’m a writer–whether I ever sell a book or not–and writers write. Huh.

So, after the painful 20,000-word cut, I’m back to plotting, character development, and writing scenes for my next story, tentatively titled Floater.

Floater is a new challenge for me because it’s romantic suspense, something I haven’t tried before. Figuring out how to create an interesting suspense plot, plus weave in the sexual tension and keep it all moving, is a fun challenge.

Ask me how I feel about it in a couple of months. 😉