No Roadmap, No Problem
Hi. My name is Hailey, and I’m an organic writer.
It only took me something like three years to figure that out…
When I first started writing, about six years ago, I had no idea what I was doing. I thought all writers got a spark of inspiration and then sat down to write their idea into being. I wrote like that, blissfully unaware of “The Rules,” for a few months. Then I got curious. Was my story crap?
Was I any good at this writing thing? I wasn’t sure. So I turned to the internet and found Absolute Write. Their site opened my eyes to what it actually meant to be a writer (including that whole pesky grammar and punctuation thing).
The AW forum was my first introduction to the terms “plotter” and “pantser.” I wasn’t sure what either was, really, but plotters sounded so put together that I wanted to identify with them. I wanted it so badly, I blocked myself creatively. It turns out that after color coding charts and graphs to outline a novel, I lose all interest in actually writing it.
Even after my initial stumbles, I continued to fight my process. I struggled for a long time, for years, trying to make myself into a plotter, until I found Jodi Henley’s blog. Reading her posts, I learned about organic writing and realized there was more than one way to write a book, and that “pantser” wasn’t a dirty word.
The rest, as they say, is history. I accepted my pantser destiny and learned to roll with the fact that I write better when I know as much about what happened next as my characters do.
Assuming you’ve reached the point where you have embraced your pantser ways too, I have a few tips that might help organize your chaos. Fair warning—most of these tips involve sticky notes.
Write forward. Even if you’re leaving dangling plot threads, ignore them. Edits can fix anything. But, as Nora Roberts said, “You can’t edit a blank page.” Save yourself time by pulling out your sticky note pad and writing yourself a reminder mentioning name changes or threads you know will need pruning later.
Edit smarter. What I’ve learned is, if you’re reading your rough draft and stop to fix every little thing, you’ll get hung up on those and lose sight of the big picture. Read your draft from start to finish, changing nothing. BUT as you find errors, make a note of them. You don’t want any to slip through the cracks.
Revise faster. Armed with your stack of sticky notes, you’re now ready to tackle edits. If you changed a character name (or noticed you changed the spelling halfway through the story) then use “find/replace” to correct those instances. I also use “find” to locate each section mentioned in my notes as being in need of revision. It’s faster than reading the entire manuscript again just to hit those areas. Which brings me to…
Read it again, Sam. Yeah, I know the classic movie quote isn’t accurate, but it works in this context. Any time you use “find/replace,” you’re gambling. I recommend reading your book again to weed out any potential errors. Not only is this the time to check for typos and grammar, but once your book is structurally sound, you need to read it again to smooth the prose and strengthen your character development.
Wash, rinse, repeat. I know writers who send rough drafts to their crit partners and writers who expect their editors to clean up after them. My advice? Don’t be that writer. You want people to see your email asking for a crit or beta read and have a positive reaction. If people know you’re a clean writer, if they can tell you self-edit with a critical eye, they will be more willing to fit you into their busy schedules because you’re less work. The same goes for editors. Personally, I want mine to see my submission and be excited to work with me. I want her to know I respect and value her time, and turning in a polished manuscript accomplishes that.
Being a pantser can mean more edits, but it’s a trade I’m willing to make for the creative freedom to follow my imagination wherever it leads during the course of a story.
Thanks for letting me blog! Whatever your writing path, I hope you tread it happily.
Born in the Deep South, Hailey is a lifelong resident of Alabama. Her husband works for the local sheriff’s department and her daughter is counting down the days until she’s old enough to audition for American Idol. Her doxie, Black Ilex, helps Hailey write by snoozing in his recliner in her office.
Her desire to explore without leaving the comforts of home fueled her love of reading and writing. Whenever the itch for adventure strikes, Hailey can be found with her nose glued to her Kindle’s screen or squinting at her monitor as she writes her next happily-ever-after.