Surrounded by inspiration

Hi all! Welcome to another installment of GPF. Today, I welcome my old (in blogfollow years) friend Sylvia. Her blog, Playful Creative, is an interesting mix of her, her writing and some writing tips. There’s never a dull moment, so if you want some fun, feel free to give her some follow love.

Take it away, Sylvia.

One of the most awesome aspects of being a writer is that everything is related to writing. Everything I see, hear, touch or experience can be inspiration to use in my novel.

That is one of the reasons my office, my favorite writing place, is surrounded by inspiration. I don’t do sparse. I love to sit in here and look at all the things on the shelves above my desk, or leaf through a book on my shelves or play with the unicorn that sits on my desk. My office is one big space for inspiration and creativity.

For me, writing is playful and joyful. If I don’t focus on making my writing time like that, I invite in the gremlins called writer’s blocks. They have been around me long enough. Now I just write.

Sometimes I do get stuck though, when I wonder where the story wants to be taken next, one of the downsides of being a pantser. I have enough inspiration around me to get myself into finding that next step. I have found that any creative expression can get me back to writing. The best ideas for a story jump into my head when I am creating something entirely different. And that can be anything. The best is doodling. Nothing frees up my mind for inspiration like mindlessly drawing silly things.

But ideas can strike anywhere. As I said before, everything is an inspiration. That is why I think that being a writer must be quite tedious for the other humans in our lives. There have been countless moments of me going, “That is a great idea!” and then maniacally searching for a piece of paper or my phone to jot down the idea. Sometimes I can get so lost in these thoughts that it takes a lot of patience for the other person to get me in the here and now.

This is especially worse when I am writing a novel. My husband often complains I forget things the moment he says them to me. I then invariably say, “Sorry, darling, I have novel brain, my brain is occupied by characters. What were you saying?”

Of course I don’t hear him then either.

Hahahaha thanks so much for this Guest Post, Sylvia.

If anyone else still wants to sign up for the rest of the year, please check out this post.

So… what do you do to get your creative juices flowing?

Writing Books

Hi all! Today I welcome Steven J. Wangsness to MFB. Steven’s new book, TAINTED SOULS is available on Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble Nook and other e-readers. Check out his website at ūüôā
Take it away, Steven.

Writing a book is like skinning a cat — there’s more than one way to do it.
Some authors map out their novels in minute detail before ever setting pen to paper, pinpointing every plot point with the precision of a military staff officer and cataloging every facet of their characters in encyclopedic fashion — their appearance, their manner of speaking, their personal histories. With plot and characters so well known in advance, the act of creating a book becomes giving a written account of what already exists.
William Styron (The Confessions of Nat Turner, Sophie’s Choice) is supposed to have had such an exhaustive road map to his novels before him that his first drafts were his last drafts — by the time he started to write a novel, all there was left to do was craft the words; everything else about the novel was a known quantity.
Other writers prefer to fly by the seat of their pants or, as they might prefer it, to allow the book to grow organically with minimal direction from the author. In essence, as events occur and characters enter the scene, they determine where the action goes and how the characters grow and who they become. I recall an interview with a British writer a couple of years ago who said he was “too lazy” to write an outline; he just started with a simple idea and let the book go where it went.
Jack Kerouac portrayed himself as just such a writer, having claimed to have written¬†On the Road¬†in long sheets routed through his typewriter in one three-week-long burst of spontaneous fury. The truth is more complex, with the book going through many edits and revisions. (Confession: I’ve never gotten past page 20.)
As a writer, I lie somewhere in between these extremes, though I have tended more towards the seat-of-the-pants variety. My college term papers were rarely products of long research and carefully outlined prose but mostly coughed up in all-nighters while hunkered down at the typewriter with a few open books and several cups of coffee.
Before I sat down to write my novel¬†Tainted Souls, however, I knew I wanted a detailed plot summary. For one thing,¬†Tainted Soulsis a plot-driven mystery and I didn’t think I could afford to wing it. I plotted out all the scenes beforehand, using open-source “mind-mapping” software called FreeMind. I wrote a 15-page, single-spaced summary describing all the action in each of the chapters. Though I wrote down just a few bullet points, rather than detailed histories, I had a good notion of the characters and their motivations before I started writing.
Even so, the plot took twists and turns and the players took on characteristics I hadn’t anticipated. These developed out of the writing itself. Just one example: I knew that I wanted my protagonist’s partner to be earthy and buffoonish as I set out; but it was only as I was writing the first chapter that he revealed himself to me — that’s how I would describe it — as corrupt, too. His corruption became not just an interesting aspect of his character but crucial to the plot as it finally evolved; without it,¬†Tainted Souls¬†would be a different book.
For me, then, part of what gets written down grows organically out of the process of writing itself. Characters flesh out, events suggest themselves, sub-themes emerge, all giving the story new hues and affecting the course of the plot. Like real people, the characters reveal more of their true natures the better I get to know them. As in real life, the course of events may take an unexpected turn. It’s not for me to argue whether this is a better way of writing than asserting full control of the book from the get-go. However, for me, no matter how carefully and diligently I may pre-cook the final product, at least some of the book is going to “write itself.”
How about you? Do your characters take on aspects that surprise you and go down a road you didn’t see coming?
Thanks for this great post, Steven! All the best with your book sales.
Before I go, I just want to ask if there’s a kind and brave soul out there that would please book 30 March for a GPF? If you’re interested, please check out this post and contact me.
OK then! Have a great weekend! X

You can teach me to plot? Thanks, but…

I always wonder why people think that there’s only one way to write.

Just today I read a tweet about how one can learn how to plot.

But then… why would I?

I mean, I do just fine pantsing (at two finished drafts and a third in progress). No one’s going to drop dead when I pants.

Why¬†do people always think that plotting is better? The only thing that plotting does for me is give me an excuse to procrastinate while I write down what I already knew what was supposed to happen. Otherwise it discouraged me because I didn’t know every detail before I started writing.

You know what? It doesn’t matter not having all the details. That’s what the first draft is for: to find out what the heck is going on in the story.

Because there’s a big difference between what you think is happening and what happens when you write it down.

Still, I will never go as far as to say that pantsing is superior to plotting in any way. Pantsing has its own drawbacks, the main one being “painting yourself into a corner”. Then there’s also the blocks that happen because you don’t know how to start what happens next. Or the gaping plot holes. And so on and so forth.

But here’s the kicker: I enjoy fighting myself out of my self-created corner situations. I like not knowing too much about the story when I start. It gives me my sense of adventure. I enjoy the mental gymnastics involved in solving the plot holes once I get to them.

And no matter what, there’s one big reason why I don’t plot. I used to plot all of my stories. Every single one. Seven of them in total. How many did I finish? Zip. How many did I get half way? Zero. How many did I get quarter way: Two (I think) before I dumped them because they had no soul.

So I have no reason why I’d want to plot. Not even the smallest of reasons. The only thing approaching plotting that I do is making a point of knowing how the story ends.

So if you’re a plotter. Kudos to you. Especially if you’re good at it.

If you’re not. So what? As long as you get your stories done, that’s fine. And if you’re new to this writing business, don’t ever believe it when someone says it’s better to plot.

Unless you’ve pantsed for years and through many stories and failed to finish one.

What do you think? Is there really a better way to write a novel?

Are you a plotter or a pantser? What about your preferred style makes it suit you?

A to Z Challenge: Knowing

I think most of you have at least once read some sort of hint in what I post or comment that will make you realize that I am the consummate pantser.

In fact, the thought of spending more than fifteen minutes on something resembling plot development fills this little heart with dread.

And yet, my first draft wasn’t all that chaotic. If anything, it felt a tad too linear to me, because I focused too much on one part of the story.

How, you may ask, did I do it?

Simple. I knew.

Before I started the first line of my first draft, I knew how the book would end.

Every single thing I wrote either went towards character revelation or to progressing the story line. Of course, I decided to end the story earlier than that, but when I started rewriting, the new end was fully formed in my mind.

To me, the end is my Polaris. Without it, I meander aimlessly, looking for a point for my story to go. With it, I still get to meander all I want (straight from point A to B is soooo boring), my wanderings now always have some underlying reason to them.

That makes a vast difference.

When my first draft was done, I knew that I would have to tighten the story up considerably. So I used the important plot points to make a rough structure for my rewrite. So yes, I do plot, but after I write. So now whenever I open my rewrite, I know what needs to happen in the near future. But those plot points shift (I think I’ve been through three significant changes to the outline) as I find ways to make later points possible earlier to pick up the pacing. The fact that those plot points are so flexible means that I get to still play while I write.

But none of the changes to the structure would have been possible if I didn’t know how the story had to end.

So…. About you: Plotter or Pantser? How do you approach your story? What keeps your story in line?

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…