Sunday, April 28, 2013

When and how students write

Adam Gulla maximized his word count by
"counting" journaling each week.
Here's a post over at my blog The Big Thing about the students who drafted the most words in my class during Spring 2013: Adam Gulla and Veronica Sipe.

Here's a sneak peek:
I found this great article the other day, “Seven Effing Great Ways to Build Your Writing Routine.”  The author encourages us to find our writing “sweet spots” in order to maximize our daily/weekly output.

Consider the following questions:
  • How long does your typical writing session tend to last?
  • How frequently do you sit down to write?
  • On average, how many words do you write per session?
  • At what time of the day do you do your writing?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Pity for the Pants

After reading through the chapters we were assigned, I can say that I am definitely an NOP. Well, to be truthful I'm actually a mix of the two types. I don't go through with specific intent to outline my novel, but rather jot down ideas as they come. I've got notes shoved just about everywhere, but I keep most of them on my iPod touch in the notes app. The scenes and other smaller ideas that I come up with usually come to me while I'm running through the story in my mind. I find that if I write an outline for my work, it instantly seems like work rather than fun, and that just seems insanely unfair to my characters. So what ends up happening is that I will come up with an idea for a story and then run with it by letting it play out in my mind like a movie. As I do this, other scenes fall into place, and I write them down as well.

The annoying part is that most of this happens right before I fall asleep. I've always had a habit of telling myself stories to get to sleep, so now I simply use my novel ideas, as they let me get lost in a different world. This works splendidly for that purpose, but there are times that I come up with a detail that I will forget by morning, resulting in far more plotting than I would actually like to do. That's probably a good thing however, as I spend less time simply sitting at the computer trying to think of the next scene. I have more time to focus on the characters themselves, and often even spend my spare time researching and looking for points of reference online. I even found a few actors who I would choose to play the part of my main characters! That seems to be how a lot of other people work through their novels, though maybe not in the exact same way.

After examining my methods of writing and plotting (or rather a lack thereof), I’ve decided that it would probably be a good idea to change my routine a bit. As it is, writer’s block happens quite often due to getting bored with the plot, and I find myself attempting to write less often than I did before.  I need to come up with a writing regimen like was mentioned in the text. It wouldn’t be plotting every detail out, so I wouldn’t feel like it had become a chore that I was required to do. What the regimen would do is force me to expand my ideas and get them down. Perhaps one of the several issues that prevent me from doing this is that I focus on the quality of my writing rather than quantity. I find myself wanting to create the perfect scene, to get it down on paper exactly how it appears in my mind. That’s all well and good, but trying to do so on my first attempt is foolish and wastes time. So in order to reach my goal of finishing my novels, not only for this class but for my own purposes as well, I will try to continue writing at least 2,000 words a week. It’s not a very hard quota to meet, but it will help me develop better writing habits.

The Stalling Queen...and then her subjects

Logan A. Mason

SIR (Issac Newton)

My pants are more like booty shorts

Alisha Layman

Let's just begin by putting this out there: I love outlining. I work as a tutor and some of the first things that I tell people who need study tips are MAKE OUTLINES! OUTLINE YOUR NOTES! OUTLINE YOUR LIFE! OUTLINES FOR EVERYONE!!

So now that that's out in the open, I guess it's safe to say that when it comes to writing, I'm totally a plotter.  I can sit on an idea for weeks (if we're being conservative) just planning out who the characters are, certain scenes, etc.  I can't even begin writing until I have at least a few scenes in my head.  I like having some kind of outline of events for my novel.

Now, this doesn't necessarily mean that I plan and plot in a nice, neat order. Take a look at the image to the right. Most of the time, this is how I do my outlining. I'll get an idea for about three-fourths of the way through and have that scene totally worked out.  And then I'll come up with a beginning.  And then the ending. And then something right around the middle.  And when I've come up with several scenes that are spread randomly throughout the novel, I finally begin to write.

When I plot and write like this, I realize that I have a tiny bit of pantser in me.  Looking back at the image above, when I get to the inevitable Point of Question Marks between Idea Number 2 and Idea Number 4, I try to just wing it.  So the lead just got transported back in time, but she hasn't reached the scene where she is tried for witchcraft? Well maybe she could meet a bushy-bearded man named James Garfield?

Because of my plotting nature, this point, the Point of Question Marks, can become the Moment Where I Experience Writer's Block that thing where I can't come up with any more ideas.

This is just one of the little notebooks I do my plotting in
There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.
Terry Pratchett

This isn't always the case; sometimes I come up with the best ideas off the top of my head. That's why I don't see myself as a strict plotter. I don't plot out the whole novel; I come up with various scenes throughout the novel and then fill in as I go. Yeah, sometimes I get stuck because I'm not as good at pantsing as I am plotting. But I'd rather have a little bit of mystery waiting for me when I begin writing, rather than have the whole novel ready in my head before I even write a word.  As James Scott Bell explains in his book Plot and Structure, plotters run the risk of lacking spontaneity, which the pantsers have in abundance. I don't want my writing to become boring. So while I may be an outlining freak, I still have some pants. My pants are just more like booty shorts.

Redefining Writing

James Gartner

        I had finished two drafts of novels before I took my first creative writing class.  People still argue about teaching writing, and some believe that writing is something that can't be taught.  They should try and read those ancient drafts and see what they think then.  Of course, I'm sure that more things than merely education have contributed to my writing.  I did write far more regularly back in those days, but then, everything was more regular then.
This book is very helpful whether you're
a pantser or a plotter.
     Needless to say, I had never heard of "pantsers" and "plotters" when first I started writing.  I just did what I felt like doing, usually starting off just writing and making stuff up as I went, and maybe outlining a few things later on.  I used to picture my story as a kind of movie then, and I still do sometimes.  I'm a very visual person and I'm studying film as well as writing.  As I write more, I tend to see things a little differently.  Pantsing seemed to work out all right, but then I'd go back and look at my work and find all kinds of problems.  But what trouble is that?  It was just a draft, after all.  Yet every time I plugged one hole, something else opened up.
       So, ninety pages into a new draft of a new novel, one I'm considering working on for this class, I decided to start fresh and try and build a solid foundation before I begin to write.  I'm trying to be more organized.  But I'm young, and I've always found trial and error to be effective if time consuming, so I'm trying something and seeing how it goes.
       I think that's also some of where I get blocked up when I'm trying to write.  As I'm looking ahead, I'm thinking I'll probably do lots of different outlines.  Just let things go and see where they end up, then shuffle some things around and start again.  Eventually my outlines will look like one of those choose your own story books probably, but it's an experiment.
       In my last blog post I talked about being a binge writer.  That typically goes with being a pantser.  And honestly even if I have outlined something, the details of the scenes come as I write, at least so far.  Sometimes that takes me in different directions from where I had plotted, but I'm pretty flexible.  The problem with writing a novel is that sometimes it takes a long time to figure out that you're wrong.
Redefined implies that there is nothing more to do.
Perhaps a better slogan would be "Redefining Education,"
but maybe that was already taken.
       So I'm still searching to improve the way I go about writing long projects.  Who knows if I'll ever be satisfied.  I don't always stick to a certain path, even if it works.  Most of the excitement is in the experiment, in the search.  There always might be something better (which, by the way, is particularly frustrating when writing because I'm never really satisfied).  I don't think anyone is too old to keep learning.  Then again, I'm young, so that's easy for me to say.
       Perhaps I should have put this disclaimer toward the top, but if you came here looking for advice, you'll find that I'm still figuring things out myself.  Check out the other posts on #amnoveling and you may find what you're looking for.  In addition to Plot & Structure, James Scott Bell also has a blog.

Artist vs. Editor: The Battle of Outlining

by Chase Stanley

Throughout the span of my creative writing experience, I’ve fallen under the impression that my writing style has reflected that of a pantser, a “no outline” person. Upon reading a segment written by James Scott Bell about plotting systems, I’ve learned that this is indeed true, though there is a certain grey area that has been opened for analysis.
            As detailed in his chapter on plotting systems, Bell discusses both techniques, that of developing an outline pre-writing, and that of winging it. As he describes it, “no outline” people “love to frolic in the daisies of their imaginations as they write. With nary a care, they let the characters and images that sprout in their minds do all the leading. They follow along, happily recording the adventures.” He describes the joyous act of writing by the edge of your seat with the metaphor of falling in love every day, an emotion I often feel when typing up a storm. I type quickly, randomly, nonchalantly and without a care. He then addresses the other side of said approach, the insecurity that results without a steady roadmap and a potential danger of never hashing out a sturdy plot.
            I’ve yet to ever give this threat proper thought, choosing instead to rely on instinct and freshness rather than appropriate structure. This quickly grew into concern, but Bell reassured me that neither the organized, outline style nor the winging it style are wrong. It merely depends on the individual and the varying degrees of comfort therein.
He describes different approaches that every writer can benefit from, yet encourages everyone to try out different styles for the sake of their work. By reviewing these techniques, I’ve found that I am more a mix of the two, leaning more so on the winging it side though able to construct my own system that will benefit my individual needs as an aspiring author.
Similar to the system he outlines for “outline people,” I do prefer reviewing material in hard, paper copy instead of giving myself a headache spending countless hours on the computer where, after awhile, the words begin to blend and appear the same. I enjoy physically going through my work, pen in hand, and editing the old-fashioned way before returning to the computer and making the changes. Bell also notes in the same section that flexibility is key and you must always be ready for “bursts of genius.” I often prepare ahead of time for said “bursts,” making a habit of carrying a mini-notebook in my back pocket, allowing myself to be flexible wherever I may be.
With that said, attempting to stay completely organized, at least in my experience, is feat not worth the headache. Before long, the storyboard will have proven itself too confusing and another hassle to hurdle. I'm fueled by the guarantied randomness of chaos. For the “no outline” people (aka my kind of people), Bell recommends setting a daily quota and not allowing yourself to do anything else until you meet said quota. A challenging request for us spontaneous, spur of the moment types, but a necessity for the sake of accomplishment.
My prior method has always been a bloody battle between my inner artist and inner editor. They constantly engage in combat though the artist, a stubborn warlord, usually wins out. I need to better establish a sense of control, allowing the artist to run wild then shutting him down, thus allowing the editor to approach the battlefield and clean up with no interference. It has always proven to be a difficult transition, though it may be possible by incorporating the best of both styles.

To Outline or Not to Outline? That is the Question.

Rianne Hall

There are three rules in writing. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.
-W. Somerset Maugham

There are outline people and no-outline people in the world of writing. Planners and pantsers. And the truth is, both have been successful. But which one are you? How do you figure this out? Is there a right and wrong, here?

Upon reading a few chapters from James Scott Bell's book, Plot and Structure, I have discovered a few things about outline and not outline people. Not outline people enjoy the act of writing. They enjoy the whimsy of letting their writing take them wherever it feels they need to go. They love not knowing where they are going, and can't wait to see what happens. Outline people are different. They need a structure and to be in charge of where their writing takes them.

Here is the man without the plan,
Ray Bradbury.
R.I.P :(
Since the beginning of my writing experience, I have been a pantser. I have always gotten a thrill from beginning with an idea, developing a character, and letting my imagination go wild. The outcome of this story is a surprise, even to me, and I love that part of being a pantser. I'm discovering, for me, this technique only works for stories that are shorter than ten pages.

As I begin to think of myself as a novelist, this is not the case. I need to have an idea of where my characters have come from, where they are going, and where they will end up. I need a method to change my characters or move them from one place to the other. I have to develop some sort of outline to get myself started.

But this does not make me a planner.

I still need that thrill of mystery when my characters take me somewhere I did not expect. I still need a surprise in my stories. If this does not happen, I lose my love for writing. I lose interest in my story and hate myself for letting that happen. At the same time, I need a general plot. A plot that will keep me writing, intrigued, and, most importantly, keep me focused on where I want my characters to end up. So where is the balance? I've come to discover that planning does not need to take away the thrill of mystery and surprise with writing, but rather give order to those surprises.

Something I have discovered works wonders for me is to skip around, and plan different plot points with whimsy. Do not pay attention to how this is all going to come together and the end, but develop each main plot aspect you want to include with zeal. Then, I understand where each plot point is going, and when all is said and done, I really do not know how these plots will interact, or even if they will make sense. To me, that is why we edit our pieces.

Am I a pantser? Sort of. Am I a planner? Maybe.

Here is my point. Do not define yourself as either an planner or a pantser. Do both! Have methods, not labels. Have experiences and learn from them. If you do this, I promise you will be happy with your writing style.