Respecting Your Process

My Daughter's drawing of a "Plantster" - which is what I am: a cross between a Plotter and a Pantster
Get it? Plotter + Panster = Plantser? Pants with a Plant growing out of them. Tee hee

Last year, I posted about this awesome blog post I had discovered by author, Rachel Aaron wherein she proposed a new way to increase word count. You can read the post that I wrote here. (The bit about Aaron is all the way at the bottom, so scroll down.) What I had gotten out of her post was that if you spend a little bit of time before you sit down to write making a very detailed outline, your book might get written faster. Seems like a no-brainer, right? I mean if you show up to every writing session knowing exactly what you're going to write, that should save time, right? Absolutely. I was so excited when I read this blog post. Now, I work full-time so there was no way I ever expected to go from 2,000 words a day to 10,000 (or, er, go from a few words to 2,000 per day) but I really liked the gist of what she was trying to get across--know what you're going to write before you sit down to write it, and your word count will increase. It's efficient. Brilliant. This seemed like it was a fail-safe way to increase word count.

Unless you're me.

Let's be clear: I'm not knocking Aaron's theory because I think she's absolutely right (you'll note that I'm focused mostly on the first prong of her theory which is the "Know What You're Writing Before You Write It" bit) and even though it didn't quite work for me the way I thought it might, I still got a ton out of it. The point of this post is to tell you that I tried something based on her post and it helped me tremendously, just not in the way I thought it would.


As I said in my So Many Things post, I took 2 weeks to plot out the book I was working on at the time, COLD-BLOODED. I made a very extensive, very detailed outline. I was super excited about it. I really felt like it took into account everything that I normally worry about and fret over after the book is already written--mainly huge, gaping plot holes. It also helped me see when and where to reveal certain things. It made every detail of the book so clear that I was able to go through each proposed chapter and try to make sure that with each one, I was revealing something new to the reader. Awesome, awesome stuff. Boy, was I psyched about this outline. I mean it was definitely the best outline I ever made. Ever. I was so excited because I thought: now I'll never have a week go by where I don't write because I have no idea where the next scene of the book starts. I can just use my awesome, handy outline! Right? Right?

Not so much.

The problem for me was that making that outline literally took every ounce of joy out of writing the book. Once I knew, in detail, what was going to happen in every single scene, I had ZERO desire to write those scenes. ZERO. It was a massive, horrendous struggle to keep my ass in a chair long enough to scratch out each and every scene. It was no fun. No fun at all. I lost all desire to write, much to my horror. I mean I wanted to have written the book, I just didn't actually want to write it.

COLD-BLOODED, first draft

This whole experiment taught me something about my own process that I really hadn't taken into account--that writing fiction is fun for me because it is an exploration. I would say that 90 percent of the fun of writing that first draft is not really knowing where the words are going to take me. It's like careening breathless down a winding mountain road at dusk on a rickety bicycle--I kind of know what's going to be around the next bend, but there's always the chance I could run smack into a car or a wild animal, or that my bicycle could crap out on me--then what? The process of figuring it all out almost at the same time as the characters do is what makes it fun for me. I mean obviously, I have some idea of what's going to happen and how things are going to turn out, or I couldn't write the book. But before this beautiful, perfect outline, I had more of a generalized mental outline that only reached 5-6 chapters ahead of where I was at any given place in the story. For example, in the first chapter of the FCF sequel, which I will be getting back to now that COLD-BLOODED is finished, I only knew that there was a car crash and Claire would save several people in the car. (I knew who was in the car and why they crashed as well.) Next, I knew that the police would show up and the investigation would begin. I also had some general ideas as to how all of that would go down, but the details of those scenes, the real nitty-gritty stuff, didn't get developed until I actually sat down and wrote those scenes. And let me tell you--I wrote those scenes in a gasping frenzy of euphoria. YES!

So maybe COLD-BLOODED was just harder to write. Maybe the FCF sequel, OVER THE EDGE, wouldn't be hard to write on an outline. Maybe I just don't like the story or characters in CB as much as I like them in OTE and that's why the outline backfired on me. Could be. I don't really know. What I do know is that I'm not willing to risk stamping the joy out of fiction writing for myself again. So I am going to get back to OVER THE EDGE and finish it, and I am not going to use an outline. Not at first.

Where I actually found the outline to be tremendously helpful to me with COLD-BLOODED was in the second and third draft stages. See, usually I write my first drafts like I'm just vomiting up scenes randomly. There's no discernible order. Then I have to piece them together into chronological order, which is always a tremendous pain in the ass. With my handy outline, it saved me hours, perhaps even days, of work putting the book into chronological order. I mean mostly because I tried writing them in order of the outline. But it was still helpful at the initial revision stage. What Aaron's post taught me about what I had been doing wrong with my outlines in the past was that I need to outline the book as I want it to be, not as I already wrote it. That's been my problem in the past. I'd write the book and then I would do an outline, but it was simply an outline of what I had already written. It had nothing to do with how I wanted the book to actually turn out. Whether I do an outline before I sit down to write or after I've already written, I can see that doing an outline of my ideal version of the book will help me far more than simply listing the imperfect, and sometimes unnecessary, scenes I've already written.

So what I propose to do this time, with OVER THE EDGE, is to write like I always have--like I can only see three feet ahead of me; like I don't know what's around the next twisty turn--and enjoy the ever-loving hell out of the process. Then I am going to do my detailed outline--of how I think the book should be structured for readers to get the most enjoyment out of it. Then I am going to piece together the book by following that outline. Maybe I'll need to write new scenes at that point. Maybe I'll need to tweak or delete the already-existing scenes. I know it's an ass-backwards, absurd way to write, but it works for me. I mean come on, if it's not fun, what's the point of doing it? I'm going to respect my process. I really wish that I could work the other way, but I don't want to go through all those months of not wanting to write again. Months! I will be interested to see if this next book gets written faster without the outline up front. I will let you know. I've still got some work to do on COLD-BLOODED but once that is "in the can", I'll be testing this new theory about my writing process.

How about you guys? What's your process? Have you ever tried something that just didn't work for you?


  1. The first draft is never a joy for me - the fun is in the revisions.
    I have to create a detailed outline first and often I will spend longer doing that than writing the first draft. But I have to know where I am going or I will wander into the desert and get lost forever. I struggle during the first draft, not because there is no joy but because I have a difficult time getting the thoughts on paper. Somehow I manage to power through in about two months. The result is a first draft that's not a mess and a joy to revise as I go back and add detail, fix small issues, and fine tune it.
    We all have to do what works for us. Now you know what works for you.

  2. I have made a few half-hearted attempts at outlining before writing, but it has not worked out for me, so I always fall back on winging it. I have tried outlining while in the midst of drafting when I'm stuck, in the hopes that I'll see where things need to go from there, but things usually fall into place without the outline.

    "It works for me"--doesn't matter how crazy or unorthodox it may be, that's the important part right there.


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