Stationery · Uncategorized · Writing

Plotting, pantsing – and somewhere in between

Like many writers, I like to read about the process other writers go through when they set about creating something, whether that’s a novel, short story or anything else. I think there’s always a desire to wonder if another person’s system might work that little bit better than your own and result in better work.

In particular, I’ve been quite interested in the debate between plotting – setting out a novel in its entirety before embarking on the project – and ‘pantsing’ – flying by the seat of your pants and telling the story as you go, because these are very different methods of working.

Now that I’m working on my second novel, I thought I’d share my method and the ways in which it has changed in case it’s of interest to anyone starting out.

Pantsing

My first effort at a novel in 2011 was completely ‘pantsed’. It was for NanoWriMo, so this was more out of necessity to beat the clock than out of a conviction that this was how I would work. Unfortunately, it was also completely pants and hasn’t seen the light of day since. I still like the idea, but the execution was so poor that reading it makes me embarrassed.

However, it was my first novel and it did get me started on the road to publication, so at least it was a beginning.

Plotting

My next attempt was a YA story I’d had brewing for some time and for whatever reason, I decided to follow a method that involved carefully planning each chapter and writing a synopsis before I started.

This really appealed to me – but it didn’t work. I found that writing in this way removed all the happy surprises that usually come about as I construct scenes and make my characters interact. I also found I was unwittingly trying to rush each chapter to get on to the next point on the list. These factors killed the creativity for me and the novel stalled indefinitely.

Back to pantsing

When I first decided once and for all in 2016 that I would work on the story that became Revolution until it was finished, I was back to pantsing again. I sat down at the laptop or notepad and just kept writing. This time, I wasn’t going to abandon the project – but it did result in some quite major challenges.

The first was that the novel was shorter than I wanted it to be (around 40,000 words) and it didn’t contain any action from the baddies’ perspectives, which made it feel quite sparse and more like an outline than a proper novel.

And the other thing was that there were some pretty major plot holes. Characters in two places at once? Check! Never-ending days and then inexplicable night-times despite bright sunshine just a scene before? Yep!

This had the effect of making the editing process extremely lengthy and arduous – in fact, I was pretty much unpicking it and remaking the novel from the foundations up again. So, while pantsing did result in me finishing a novel and brought about some very fun passages and writing sprints, I didn’t especially want to do all that again.

Somewhere in between: writing perfection (for now)

So, based on all of these experiences, I have created a new system that seems to be working for me on the second novel. I discovered that I don’t like to know too far in advance what’s going to happen – but I do like to have an idea of where the next couple of chapters should be headed. I want to know the ending, but not necessarily all the steps that will get me there.

I also wanted to work directly on to the laptop because I can keep up with the speed of my thoughts, but know I’m the kind of person that needs some kind of paper system to stay on top of brainwaves, chapters and other paraphernalia.

Therefore, I bought a traveller’s notebook and created a main notebook insert, a folder for loose notes and put a jotter in the pocket at the back. I started with brain-dumping all the ideas I had for the novel in the jotter, which I find helps my mind make connections and brings the story to life.

I then started writing the first chapter in a Word doc on the laptop. When I was finished, I used a single page in the main notebook insert, headed it ‘Chapter 1’ and wrote bullet points concerning all that was going on in that chapter, including characters involved, settings, etc, on that page.

Finally, to prevent me being apprehensive about the next writing session and having to look at a blank page when I started the next chapter, I went back to the jotter, scribbled ‘next’ and then brain-dumped all my thoughts about what I wanted the characters and the plot to be doing next.

Each session, I repeat the process, meaning my notebook is getting pleasingly full of synopsis pages and my jotter has plenty of useful nuggets that I shouldn’t keep forgetting by the time the next time I sit down.

It sounds complicated explained like this, but it isn’t – and best of all, it’s working for me. I’m about 21 chapters in now and I’m getting the satisfaction of knowing enough about what’s going to happen next to keep me from worrying , but also enjoying the fun that comes from having the story lead itself.

If you’ve been struggling with finishing projects, maybe a change of methods or a little work on figuring out what might help you blast through to completion could help – just like it did me.

You can find Revolution, my first published novel, here if you’re in the UK and here if you’re in the US. Happy writing!

Planners · Stationery · Writing

The Arc system – how I got into planning

 

I’ve always been someone who likes to write things down – Christmas present lists, interesting quotes, ideas for short stories, if I don’t jot them somewhere, they’re likely to be forgotten.

Up until lately, I had been using cheap sketchbooks from a stationery shop in order to do this, which I liked because the paper was nice and thick, they’d withstand being chucked into my bag and the fact that they weren’t particularly beautiful meant filling them with my scrawl didn’t make me feel too bad (I’ve had stunning notebooks in the past and they remained blank because no idea seemed important enough to sully their perfect pages with).

However, after filling several of these books, the system started to break down a little. I often started stories or even parts of novels in them, then broke off for whatever reason – and those snippets got lost and forgotten about. I found an old notebook in October last year (2016) and discovered loads of fragments that might have turned into really good stories or craft projects, had I ever finished them or even looked at them again. My carefully jotted down notes, card layouts and other useful stuff were getting buried among reminders to myself about appointments, directions to places we were visiting and other transient things. It was also really annoying that I had left pages blank, obviously intending to go back to various things at some point but unsure as to how much space I’d need.

I started to wonder if there wasn’t a better system that would allow me to keep this kind of rolling notebook but make it more manageable and less cumbersome than the A4 ringbinder I had tried. So, I went online – and there it was! The discbound notebook.

I must point out that this isn’t a new thing at all: discbound notebooks have been around for years, but I’d just never heard of them. A number of different brands make them, from Me and My Big Ideas (The Happy Planner) and Martha Stewart to office supply store Staples (unfortunately soon to be defunct). They are basically plastic or leather covers held together by plastic or metal discs instead of spiral binding or in a ring-binder style. You can buy special paper for them or get hold of a punch to make your own. Once you’ve put your inserts in, you can move the pages around at will, meaning you can make a really thick notebook, take projects out once they’re finished or add pages to something ongoing.

I chose the Staples Arc leather cover in brown after finding a good deal on eBay and after using it for several months now, I’m really pleased with it. I upgraded the standard rings to some bigger ones (although I might actually have gone too big and am considering swapping again for the medium-sized) and I can fit all kinds of things in there, all neatly split up into sections using the brand’s plastic dividers.

I’ve got story submission records so I can keep tabs on competition entries and feel motivated to send more out; there’s a simplified calendar that allows me to jot down what I did each day (and so it’s obvious if I’ve been really lazy); there are to-do lists and notes to self; and finally, there’s a section where I can start pieces of prose but also see them through to completion.

Now, if I come up with a story idea, I jot down the basic outline or bits of inspiration that have led me to it, then begin writing like I usually do, longhand. However, when I need to break off, I keep the fragment in the story section. There’s no need to leave pages blank, because I can move paper to that part later. It doesn’t get forgotten because it’s right there in that specially divided section. When I’ve gone back to it and either finished the story or decided it’s not really going anywhere, I can take the pages out, archive them and work on something else. I’m even thinking of starting a contents page at the beginning of this section so I can see at a glance what there is in there and what needs finishing off.

I’ve definitely found that the discbound system is working better than my old method. I managed to enter four short story competitions in January 2017 and I also sent off a couple of magazine fillers, which is a lot more than usual. I also feel as though I’m keeping hold of ideas and projects more effectively, rather than simply starting lots of things and feeling frustrated because nothing ever really gets done.

If you’re a stationery enthusiast reading this and have known about/been using discbound for years, it’s a bit like preaching to the converted. However, since I had never heard of this whole new world of ‘plannering’ and the Arc was a total revolution, I thought I’d share this post. Perhaps it will help someone out there get organised!

Of course, since ‘discovering’ the Arc, I’ve also found Simple Stories, Dokibook, Webster’s Pages – and rediscovered Filofax. I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole of planners (ringbound as well as discbound) and and am now completely obsessed, so you can no doubt look forward to plenty more posts on this topic in the not-too-distant future.

In the meantime, I’d love to know what you use, how you got started on your planner road and what system has helped you achieve your organisational goals?

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