The joys of flying by the seat of your pants when writing

I have tried and tried and tried, but plot, I cannot. I guess it’s partly due to the fact that my beast of a novel refuses to be limited to the constraints of a formal plot outline.

I know this because I tried to create a plot outline before I started to write the book. After about two pages of it with no end in sight, I threw my hands into the air and put the planning aside. I guess that makes it sound like I’m doing a trilogy. If you thought that, you’re not far wrong. I suspect that this will be a series of four books though. But..

The plotting I did was for the first book only. The thing about it that it is a great story that has subdivisions. Some things happen at the same time, some don’t. Some things trigger events in the other story-lines. So it turned out that just writing the damn book is easier that trying to plot it out. I do make an effort to keep major plot points in mind so that I don’t end up wandering around, but those points are fluid. They can change whenever something huge happens as the story progresses. But unless that event is massive, the points don’t change.

Writing like this does have its disadvantages. The big one is that I block. A lot. For long periods of time. Sure I have the big plot points to write towards, but sometimes I draw a complete blank when it comes to writing the small stuff that happens in between.

Then there’s my other personal favourite: I’m happily writing along when I get this sudden flash of inspiration. Usually it’s like a video clip that’s looping through my mind. Sometimes it’s a phrase, word or sentence that keeps echoing. Wonderful? Ugh… not if it’s not from the current book.

Blame my paranoia for this, but I rarely write any ideas down, since it’s difficult to keep track of my notes. So I can’t just write down and describe the mental image or words. No. My mind and creativity gets snarled up in trying to figure out how the story gets to that point in the distant future. Sometimes it takes me weeks to work things out well enough for me to get back to writing. 

Am I complaining? Well… not really. Those flashes of inspiration, for all of their tendencies to come at bad times, really are brilliant. I’m talking about gasp for your breath and grab onto something solid brilliant. These are the kind of things I would never have been able to create if I thought about it. My subconscious just takes in everything – my characters, my story, the circumstances, events etc. – and makes a huge leap to a future point in the natural progression of the story.

I can’t really give examples, since these are huge spoilers. Spoilers of the scope that if I was reading the book and my friend mentioned this, I’d maim his or her reading experience of another book as revenge. (I hate people telling me what happens after the point where I’m reading) But let me just say that someone is going to get the mother of harsh wake-up calls while someone else is going to get a lot worse before he gets better. I just hope I can pull it off before the readers absolutely hate the latter person.

I’m curious about plotters though. How do you work out your plots? What are the best and worst parts of plotting?

And the other pantsers, what are your writing experiences like?

I’m dying to find out about other people’s writing experiences…

My tiny dilemma(s).

Well, except for trying to remember how to spell the word dilemma.

Last time, I announced my decision that I was out on the hunt for a crit partner. One of the big reasons for this is that I am well on my way now, but I’ve been feeling this tiny nag of uncertainty in the back of my mind. It has to do with my plot.

See I have five main characters along with a cast of supporters. Fine. The thing comes in where the story is told from two perspectives. The book is largely about two stories.

To me, this isn’t large, since I keep track of the goings on, but then, I did create the stories. I let my gran read the first portion and she said that the story is good, but that she’s worried about the readers being confused.

Problem here is two-fold. One, she absolutely doesn’t want to hurt my feelings and two, she was taught never to write with more that two or three main characters. She never read or wrote a fantasy novel. 

I can’t give it to my three best friends. One will soften the crit, and the other understands the convoluted workings of my mind too well. So Theresa will say I make perfect sense, because she knows how I think (Although the deal with helping me edit stands :-)). As scary as the thought is, I think that creatively, she thinks like me. Waldo is well read on fantasy, blunt to a fault and being a guy, never quite grasps my thinking, but… he’s doing a Masters in Engineering. I just can’t be cruel enough to make him read through what is sure to be a reasonably sized beast of an epic – in rough draft form – again and again.

So I need someone to read my work, that doesn’t know me, but understands Fantasy as a genre.

Which brings me to the troubling part(s). Firstly, there is the matter of trusting a complete stranger with my brainchild. I don’t know if I’m being overly dramatic, but it feels like I’m toeing the abyss with my eyes closed. It’s just that, I think that this is such a good concept for a book. Really, it’s very very good. If I can pull it off… So I have to check, but what if this person I choose to trust decides he or she likes my idea more than their own?

Then there’s the logistics of the deal. I’m currently writing the Fantasy with pen and paper. So, to get it to a CP involves me rewriting the parts I’ve written, while I’m writing the rest of the book. I don’t want to stop dead, since I’m on a roll. Also, if I get input early on, it might mean a smaller scale rewrite later… 

Anyone have any advice about this?

Wish I could be more creative with my titles.

Really I do. I guess that is one of my greatest weaknesses when it comes to writing.

I’m sure that you have noticed that I refer to my Works in Progress as the Fantasy and the Western. Why? Because I haven’t figured out titles for them.

I have most of my story lines down. I have my characters about as figured out as they’ll let me. Both books are in a stage of rapid movement towards the climax (although far from it), but I have no idea what to call them.

It’s a problem that has haunted me from my childhood. I write good stories (I hope), but thinking of a suitable title is always difficult. So usually I finish the story and pick a name related to some aspect of it. The thing is that my Fantasy novel has quite a few aspects, so picking one is going to be tricky. Still, I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.

At least today, it gave me something to start with. Brilliant eh?

On the topic of writing, I am much relieved to report that I have spent the past few hours writing my Fantasy. My head hurts like hell from the effort, but it’s done and I’m happy. Why? Because I have thousands of ideas running in front of me. 

For once, those ideas involve events immediately after my last written sentences. So hopefully next time I won’t have to wonder what I have to start with.

On a somewhat unrelated topic, I think it’s time for me to let someone who doesn’t know me read at least portions of my book. So… I’m searching for a crit partner. Now, I have never done this before, and I’ve heard many horror stories about mismatched personalities, so I’ll have to wait and see. I will keep you posted…

Right, so enough about me. What about you? Have you ever had to do with a CP? How did it work out? Any advice for the rookie?

How I discovered writing and the first lessons I learned from it

Let me get to the reason for this blogs existence: writing about writing.

I have to admit that I started the blog a little late, so I will have to bring you up to date, starting at the beginning.

As I said before, my gran is a published author, so I have been writing for as long as I could write. It started with little short sentences and later extended to imitating whatever my gran was writing. If she wrote a child’s story, I wrote a child’s story. But I was about ten when I started to become a writer.

Ok… before I continue, I have to explain what I think it means to be a writer. By my definition, a writer is a person who has come to the realization that they are not happy unless they have written something. It can be anything. Poetry (making you a poet), songs (lyricist), writing about your day, anything. I believe that all people can be writers, the difference being whether they just want to write or whether they actually do sit down and start something. Whether they finish it is another thing, but I’ll get to that soon.

Anyway, back to my original line of thought. At aged ten, our family vacation took me to Namaqualand in the Northern Cape. While there, the technicolour carpets of millions and millions of flowers had me waxing lyrical for hours and hours. (Even as a child the strangest things fascinated me.) We drove past an orange and yellow field and I exclaimed that it looked as if the sun had fallen. My grandmother (the writer and my ever-patient sounding board, but by now very tired of my girlish exclamations) challenged me to do something with what I had seen. So I started stringing rhymes together and my gran, thinking that what I said was very cute, gave me a pen and paper. She explained the idea of separating ideas into stanzas and left me to it. Voila, I had written my first poem. Today, the snatches I remember aren’t really that good, but it gave me my first taste of the joys of recreating what was on my mind. It also led me to my first attempt at writing a book: a poetry anthology about the places I had seen.

In the end I had written about six poems in total before other pursuits (such as playing with my cousin Rynerie and school) took over my attention. Still, my gran was encouraging me to write poems and entering them into competitions and I gave the bug to Rynie as well. Soon, when we couldn’t play outside or got tired of our games, we’d write little stories and poems. One of our stories actually was adapted and used in a special church sermon and some of our poems won us prizes. Over the years, both of us won prizes that got us published in mixed anthologies and magazines etc. Where and how many though, I can’t tell you, since I was too young to be bothered to keep track.

Aged thirteen, I was reading a Western when this gunslinger walked into my head and I started realizing that I had to write his entire family’s story before I could get to his. This became the first book I ever tried to write. I had the entire series of thirteen books planned down to the characters’ birthdays, their children’s names and their birthdays. Sadly it was riddled with disasters. First, after I was past halfway through the first book, more than three quarters of what I had written was wiped. Luckily the notes survived. Seeing this as Providence, I decided to start it again. I was happy that I did, since the quality of my work was much better. I was about a quarter of the way when my gran’s computer broke and my mom took out my mother board to replace it with my gran’s. They didn’t ask because they thought I had a backup copy. I didn’t and hours of work is currently residing somewhere in our garage.

First lesson of being a serious writer: ALWAYS MAKE BACKUPS!!!

Demoralized by this set-back, I gave up and resumed with what I knew best, poetry. To be honest, poetry is a much better way to spend time when in school and at university, since it tends not to take up so much time. However, since it has been four years since I paid attention to this bit of advice, I shall promptly suggest you ignore me. Any way. Somewhere along the way I discovered fantasy and by the time I was sixteen, I was writing a book again. This one was a lot darker than anything else I have ever written. It still is, but I was hooked, making this my third attempt at a book. Unfortunately, I was and still am my worst critic. When I say this, I mean that I always find something wrong or to be inferior. So… twenty chapters in, in what I can only call a hissy-fit with myself, I deleted the entire book and started again, with planning, notes, drawings, the works. I had written about fourty chapters of the second version, when I came to a horrific realization: the book was far too dangerous to release on the unsuspecting minds of my young readers… I gave it to a friend of mine to read without explaining what I felt and she had the same opinion. So… I stopped the project dead in its tracks, deleting everything on my computer and burning anything on paper.

Lesson two: Never edit or censor yourself while writing.
Lesson three: Never start writing something you might not be completely comfortable with. If you can’t justify your reasons for writing what you are, stop.

For an entire year, I didn’t write anything, until one day, this bad-ass walks into my mind, grinning insolently as is saying: “Here I am, sweetheart. What are you going to do with me?” So, me being me, I started pondering him. Who was he? Who were his friends? Soon, I had an entire cast going. Each character with their own quirks, hopes and fears and I started planning and writing. It wasn’t long after writing that I realized two things. Firstly that my characters and story were to complex to write in an explanatory way. The reader has to be led through the story. So… most of my planning flew out the window.

Lesson four: Don’t get too stuck in planning, since it might get complicated….

 Secondly: my self-editing was getting worse to the point where the gears in my mind simply ceased up. Out of desperation I decided to buy myself a nice empty book and a pen. I started writing, forcing myself not to reread or strike through anything I wrote. This hand written attempt is now my sixth and current first book. It will be the one that I publish…