Are You a Planner or Pantser?

Do you plan your story meticulously or write by the seat of your pants?

 

Broadly speaking, those of us who pursue the writing life fall into two camps: those who plan (planners or plotters), and those who write by the seat of their pants (pantsers). Both approaches are perfectly valid, but vastly different. Not to say these are the only two approaches, but most others are variations of them.

 

I’ve written by the seat of my pants for years. I always had a vague notion of an idea, sat down, and wrote. As I was usually writing what I consider short fiction or short non-fiction—articles, short stories, scripts—this worked fairly well. I generally worked on projects ideal for the sort of creative freedom such an approach provokes.

 

When it came to planning or plotting, I worried that to notate and research everything I could about my story, my characters, my setting and—horror of horrors—create an outline, could only hinder my creativity. I recall feeling certain that if I worried at an idea too long I’d wring all the life out of it before I could get it all down.

 

It was never a conscious decision, but one day, I began to plan. I carried a journal with me everywhere. I jotted down every little notion I had and watched my idea change and grow over the months until everything began to solidify into a coherent whole.  I even wrote out entire scenes with dialogue and description if I needed to see how a particular moment would work.  As the details of the story grew more complex and believable, I realized I was hooked on the process.

 

Could I have done this all electronically? Yes, of course. I do have extensive documents on my computer, but the journals were for brainstorming. I wrote down ideas and answered questions as they came to mind without worrying about format or organization. It was an informal method. I wrote to myself and for myself with no thought that any other soul would ever see the journals. Later, I transferred everything onto my computer dividing character details, background, world building, politics, and plot summaries into their own documents. I keep the journals  in case my computer, my backups, and my brain all fail at once. I don’t want to be unable to recreate it all.

 

What surprised me most was how rewarding it was. I began to feel like I was accomplishing something. I began to see my story take shape. This made me want to pull out the journal more and more often. I wrote during breaks at work in waiting rooms at doctors’ offices and car repair shops, and banks. Anywhere I had to wait, I used the time to further my story. The more I planned, the more questions I answered about the world I was creating, the more my confidence grew.

 

I became immersed in my writing in a way the freewheeling approach hadn’t allowed and after months of planning, I sat down to write.

 

Now, writing from an outline sounds like a chore, but I think that’s because most people assume that they’re tied to the outline. Tied, chained, yoked, imprisoned…I know that’s what I thought. The truth is the outline isn’t carved in granite. You can revise it as many times as you need. Start writing, and if the scene you thought was going in chapter twenty-two would work better in chapter five put it there. If it doesn’t work at all, delete it. Move on to the next idea.

 

What I learned doing this is that the planning makes you a more confident writer. Being confident that you know and understand the story you’re writing from the very first sentence means you have less of a tendency to come to a complete halt in the writing process just because a question comes up that you hadn’t considered. Even if that happened, you know you can deal with it because you’ve been doing just that for months.

 

None of this means I’m never going to write by the seat of my pants again. I will probably do just that from time to time. I’ll decide project by project. The liberating thing about this is that I’ve broadened my approach. I have more options than I ever did before. So am I a planner or a pantser? I can honestly say I’m both.

Yes, I read another Doctor Who novel!

I’ve gone ahead and read another Doctor Who novel. Check out the review on my Book Review page. I didn’t start out to review another Whovian title, but the book was so good that I just had to mention say something. I’m reading several other books now, so I’ll review something soon. What that will be will depend on what I finish reading first, so I can’t make any promises. I’d like to read more quickly, but I’ve been busy writing and there are only so many hours in a day. If you have a book you’d like me to review, please let me know.

 

Children’s Book Review

I’ve done my first review of a children’s book! I do love children’s literature. Like Meg Ryan says in You’ve Got Mail, and I’m paraphrasing since I’m writing this from memory, kids books become a part of you the way nothing you ever read later in life does. This is so true. When you love a book as a child, it stays with you. Even if you’re not like me and don’t reread them once in awhile, you remember them. You want to share them with the kids in your life either by passing on your own well-worn copy or by buying the latest edition. When you see a familiar cover or hear a favorite passage, it brings on a special kind of joy that, emotionally, puts you right back there to the first time you ever read it…it’s like time travel! When I’m feeling particularly nostalgic, there’s nothing like reaching for an old friend from childhood whether it’s Little Women  or The LoraxThese books teach more than we think they do, but they do it while they become our dearest friends and our best memories. Check out my review on the Book Reviews page!

Here I go, a-Caroling!

A Christmas Carol 1            Christmas has been on my mind since July, which is when I typically turn my mind towards the preparations, the music, and the Hallmark ornaments. With The Big Day only about an hour away I thought I should talk about my all time favorite books A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

            This is a beautiful novella, and I dare say it’s as close to perfect as anything can be. There are few writers who use language as well as Dickens, and this book is proof of that. There’s nothing to cut, no extraneous words, nothing that doesn’t further the story, describe the characters, or set the tone The unique voice of the narrator comes through as a friend or confidant relating the story as only a close friend can, with humor, wit, and passion.

 

Dickens’s prose elicits a smile from me every time I read about the “wisdom of our ancestors” being in the simile and how Dickens’s “unhallowed hands shall not disturb it or the Country’s done for” and only Dickens can describe a house as “playing hide and seek with other houses” while every page holds some line or phrase that I can only describe as delicious.

 

Aside from the beauty of his prose, the story itself is full of emotion. There’s no denying the jollity of the Ghost of Christmas Present. There’s no hiding from the familiar gaiety of the Christmas celebrations, even if they’re populated with games and pastimes a modern audience doesn’t recognize. It’s plain that the Cratchits really understand Christmas and why it’s celebrated and that Nephew Fred has the kindest, most patient soul of any character in literature.

 

What most people do recall, if they’ve read the novella or just seen one of the myriad retellings, is that there is a strong moral to the story. Ebenezer Scrooge is on a journey not to learn that he should perhaps not begrudge his clerk a day off, but rather that there is a deeper meaning to the Christmas celebrations. People only familiar with the films or other adaptations may not realize that in the book, Scrooge goes to church perhaps for the first time in his life, and certainly for the first time in many decades. At its heart, this is a story of second chances, and, while it may seem cliché, the book is anything but. It does seem sobering that even in Dickens’s time, Christmas celebrations could lose their focus. The true meaning of the holiday, it seems, has always been in danger of being lost. Dickens, of course, was trying to preserve tradition as well as influence society, and he took his little book to heart with the hopes that it would have a positive impact.

 

I can’t read the scene where the Ghost of Christmas Present reveals the two children hidden in his robes—Ignorance and Want—without wondering why no one has learned anything about dispelling these things since the 1840s.

 

If you’ve never read it, or haven’t read it in a long time, I urge you to pick up a copy or dust off the one that’s been sitting on your shelf for years. Even if you’re familiar with the on screen adaptations, then you don’t know the story nearly as well as you think you do. It’s worth reading.

 

Watch this space for another blog in the next few days on the myriad adaptations of this brilliant story. Merry Christmas, and God Bless Us, Every One!

Who’s your favorite?

I’ve finally added my first general review of a book adapted to another medium, in this case, Doctor Who! I find this infinitely appropriate as I am a long time fan still reveling in the joys of the 50th Anniversary and the realization that the rest of the United States has finally caught on to what an amazing show this is! Yes, I’m a Whovian from way back, and, as all Whovians must, I have often been asked that question. You know the one I mean.

 

Who is your favorite Doctor?

 

Who indeed.

 

Often I said, and still do say, that the 7th Doctor, Sylvester McCoy, is my favorite. I do love him. I know that by the time he came along most long time fans had abandoned the show. I can’t say I understand it. I always believed he brought a certain mystery to the character, and I adored the mischievous twinkle in his eyes, his accent, and his umbrella. Of course, there is one other thing I found incredibly compelling. His Doctor brought to light what I called the Camelot Connection in the episode “Battlefield,” which, I’ve heard has been voted a least favorite episode. I’ve seen it and again I don’t understand. It’s got U.N.I.T. and Nicholas Courtney as the Brigadier, Jean Marsh as Moraine, I think there are other episodes that deserve the title much more than this one.

 

Regardless of my usual answer, I do have a really hard time with the question. My first Doctor was Tom Baker. I distinctly recall channel surfing (though it wasn’t called that at the time, and you had to do it standing up by the TV with your hand on the dial) and I landed on the episode “Pyramids of Mars” starring Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen. Already a huge sci-fi fan, I stopped to watch it and I was hooked. It was several weeks before I had the opportunity to see another episode, though I thought about “Pyramids of Mars” often. When I turned on the TV, I found another Doctor. It was “Spearhead from Space” starring Jon Pertwee and Caroline John. I did wonder what had happened to the tall man with the long scarf, but as any child of the times, accustomed to actors being replaced, I accepted that this was the Doctor. It was several episodes before I really understood the premise, and eventually, Elisabeth Sladen reappeared, followed soon by Tom Baker.

 

The thing is, and I confess it’s conceivable that I misremember this, but I can recall seeing different Doctors on different TV stations. There were several PBS stations that all broadcast in the same general area, and each would be on a different Doctor depending on where they were in the episode rotation. I distinctly recall watching the credits to see which Doctor would be in the episode I was about to watch.

 

In the intervening years, I’ve seen every Doctor in action. After the series cancellation (for which I still haven’t quite forgiven the BBC) I bought the novels, though most bookstores in that day were much smaller than the current Barnes & Noble mega stores and didn’t devote a lot of shelf space to cult favorites like Doctor Who. I joined fan clubs (and I still have all the newsletters!) and sought out hard to find memorabilia at sci-fi conventions. (Yes, I’m avidly a member of other fandoms as well, but I’ll save that for future posts!). Even at sci-fi conventions, however, it wasn’t easy to find pieces of the Whoniverse.

 

When I first heard the show would be coming back, I was excited but apprehensive. I’d been through it all before in 1996 when Whovians everywhere anticipated a return that never quite materialized.

 

When the new series hit the U.S., it seemed an overnight sensation, though in reality the popularity grew gradually. I still know many fans who haven’t seen all of the Doctors yet, even though BBC America gave everyone the opportunity in 2013 when they showcased one Doctor for each month of the year leading up to the 50th Anniversary special.

 

The show spawned spinoffs in Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures, and there have been animated episodes, movies that seem to stand outside the official cannon of the show, and an industry of its own as more and more Timey Wimey Stuff is available at more and more stores, outlets, conventions and websites.
In all of that there have been Thirteen official Doctors if you count John Hurt. (I know about Peter Cushing, but even the BBC doesn’t include him!)  Some Whovians don’t count Hurt, and I come down firmly on both sides of that conundrum, though that’s a separate blog post! Thirteen Doctors and more than 36 years of television episodes, but 50 years of stories, novels, graphic novels and comic books, audio plays, spinoffs, soundtracks, posters, collectibles, conventions, The Proms, and special Fathom events…in all of that, officially, who’s my favorite Doctor?
The one I’m watching.

Updates

Hello all!

I’ve updated the book reviews page today, and should have another update soon. I’m currently reading several great books. (Yes, several. I do tend to read more than one book at a time. I’ve currently deep into five different novels, and I have to stop myself from starting a sixth!)  I hope to get two more reviews up soon, and of course there will be more writing tips. I appreciate your patience if anyone out there is reading this blog. Please comment. Tell me what you like, don’t like and what, if anything, you’d like to see me cover whether it’s a review request or a writing dilemma you’re facing or even something for one of the pages I haven’t quite gotten around to updating.  Check out my latest review and by all means read the book! I highly recommend it.

Theresa

Update to Reviews Page

Hi!

I’ve added a review of the Sarah J. Maas book A Court of Thorns and Roses to my Book Review page. Please check it out. I will have more updates as well and I will be adding contact information to make it easier for you to make suggestions if there are books you’d like to see me review.

There will be many more reviews to come. I’m reading some great books right now. Yes, books.  I have a habit of reading several books at once. One to take to work with me and read on my lunch break, one to read upstairs, one to read in my living room, one to read if I’m going to spend a night at my sister’s house, and one to read when traveling.

Keep reading.

Writing Tip # 1

For those of us who write, whether because we have to (for work, school, or other similar commitments) or because we HAVE to (because we can’t NOT write) there are always obstacles to overcome. The biggest one facing most of us is finding time to write.

You will always hear writers complaining of not having time to devote to their work. It’s an awful truth that most of us have to hold other jobs and not actually live off the work about which we are most passionate. To that end, full time work, part time work, a combination of the two along with the obligations of everyday life (shopping, cooking, cleaning, dry cleaning, picking up kids at school or soccer or dance, getting the car inspected) will often keep a writer too busy to have any sort of time to write.

There are a lot of ways to deal with this. Some prefer writing retreats, which are a great way to go if you have both the time and the money. A writing retreat is a chance to get away, usually to somewhere secluded or isolated, and concentrate on your writing. It’s like a working vacation. The pretty little isolated cabins in the middle of nowhere are supposed to give you a pleasant place to stay but with a minimum of distractions. I haven’t done a real writing retreat. I don’t have the money, and I also don’t know how I feel about going anywhere that isolated. These places are generally in what I think of as Wilderness. Having grown up in a city, the only nature I ever saw was a park. The only wildlife I ever saw were cats, dogs, pigeons, sparrows, and squirrels. The first time I saw a rabbit or a skunk was a moment of sincere shock and surprise for both the animal and me.
So…what’s a poor city girl to do? A writing retreat really only has to be a distraction free environment. Turn off your phones. Stop checking Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. There are apps designed for writers to lock you out of social media for a set period of time so you won’t be able to sabotage your work by getting sucked into the minutiae of the internet.

If you have friends who are writers, talk to them about working together not necessarily collaborating on a joint project, but turning to each other for advice, encouragement, and goading each other to stay on task.

Barring that, try remembering that it’s not important to wait until you have a lot of time. You can write during your lunch break, while stuck in a waiting room while your car is being repaired or waiting to see your doctor. You can write on the bus or train while you’re commuting.

Carry a notebook or two with you wherever you go and jot down ideas. Use a digital recorder, app or voice recorder or whatever technological thing you have to record your thoughts if you really can’t write them down. Keep a notebook by your bed in case you wake up with an idea you just don’t want to lose. Don’t let lack of time be the reason you don’t try to work on your pet project.

If you don’t have a pet project, write anything. Write a description of what you see out of the train window as you head to your home or office. Write a scene based on something you overheard in a deli at lunchtime. Use writing prompts or even a single word challenge to get yourself working, but just keep writing. The more you write the better your writing will be. Round Robins are a fun activity you can do with any number of writers from just two to a dozen or more. Each person writes a bit and sends the story on to the next writer. You can have rules about word count or structure or have one single word, phrase, event that must be worked into your pages and working together will make the story run in directions you might not have considered if you worked alone.

Remember, you don’t have to be published to consider yourself a writer. You just have to write.