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SOTP Writers and Plotters—a #TBT Post and a Follow-up Question | #amwriting

Thursday, March 1, 2018

A decade ago, just as my career as a published author was getting started and I realized the need for no longer “winging it” while writing under contracted deadlines, I posed this question:

Can a SOTP Writer Become a Plotter?

I have always been a seat-of-the-pants (SOTP) writer, even well before I had ever heard that term. I almost never knew, beyond the fact that the hero and heroine are supposed to end up together, where my stories were going when I sat down to write them. With my first three manuscripts, I just sat down and wrote. Started with Chapter One and wrote straight through, discovering the story as I went along, being as surprised by the twists and turns the story took as if I were reading a book written by someone else.

Of course, that was before I started graduate school and learned all the ins-and-outs of plotting, character development/arc, story beats, and pacing. All of a sudden, there were elements of writing a story I kind of had to know before I could actually sit down and write one. Which is why my three manuscripts since then, Stand-In Groom, Ransome’s Honor, and Menu for Romance, have all taken me much longer to write, and have all required a couple of re-starts—because once I got into them, I found major holes in the stories or characters behaving in ways that didn’t lend to a good character growth arc.

A week or so ago, I pulled out the notebook containing the printed copy of my first complete manuscript—a six point-of-view romance/women’s fiction novel that I wrote in nine months following the first writing conference I attended. It’s the one where I practiced what I’d learned about limited POV and writing every day even when I didn’t feel like it. The amazing thing is that the story is strong, the main conflicts and plotlines are easily identifiable, and, even though the pacing suffers in places, the narrative drives toward the ending.

So why, over the last four years, have I had trouble repeating this process of just sitting down and writing a story?
Read more…

How I Became a Plotter
What I discovered once I was in graduate school and then, later, under contracted deadlines, was that I could no longer just let the story come as it may if I wanted to meet those due dates. I needed to know where my story was going so that I could make the most efficient use of my writing time (which was very limited in those years—working full time, going to school part time, and being an officer in a national writing organization). I also needed to be able to write full synopses of stories I hadn’t yet composed in order to get those contracts. Plotting out my books before starting (and I use the term plotting to mean writing a full synopsis and a Seven Story Beats outline) became especially important once I was under multiple contracts at the same time, with three or more full-length (100k+ words) manuscripts due each year and needed to be able to hammer out the book in two or three months’ time.

Does that mean I knew everything about those books before writing them? No. There was still a lot left for my imagination to fill in when I did sit down to write. But having that outline, the synopsis, for which I’d done a considerable amount of brainstorming before writing (or even before selling) the book became the buoy that kept me afloat when I got to the part of the book I hadn’t plotted out ahead of time. I had milestones, beats I needed to get to in order to reach the ending I’d already planned, which helped guide me.

Since finishing my last published book in 2013 . . . no, actually, before I finished my last book—while I was writing that book—I was so burned out on writing this way. It had become what I’d always sworn I didn’t want, why I never really dreamed of being a full-time author. It became WORK. It was no longer a process of creative discovery. It was a job. My job was to come up with a synopsis/outline that a publisher liked and would pay me money for. But in order to earn all of that money, I then had to sit down and write it according to that synopsis/outline. I couldn’t let it get off track. I couldn’t let it change halfway through into something else. And once I finished one manuscript, I couldn’t allow whimsy to capture my imagination and lead me to a totally new and different story . . . I had other contracted manuscripts to completed.

Writing in 2018—A Follow-up Question to the Original Post
I started out this year with the goal in place to spend thirty days planning/plotting my next story and then the next 90 to 120 days writing it. And, as has happened with me each of the previous times I’ve tried to do this over the last couple of years, I lost steam about halfway through. Why can’t I make this work?

Ah, there’s that W-word again: WORK. I’ve realized that in the deep recesses of my brain, planning/plotting out my story ahead of time is associated with everything negative that came from becoming a moderately successful published author—and completely drained the joy from writing for me. Between 2008 and 2013, writing went from something in which I took refuge—something that both relaxed and energized me at the end of a stressful day, a way to work out my anxieties and emotions—to my greatest source of stress and anxiety and emotional turmoil.

So I set aside my 2018 writing project for a month. At least, the planning part of it. I’ve been thinking about my characters. I’ve been collecting (and manipulating) images of my templates (and am about to re-cast my hero—from Arthur Darvill to Sam Heughan). I’ve been trying to remember how I used to approach writing a story. How I used to look forward to sitting down with a notebook or at the computer in the evenings to try to get out in words what I could see happening in my head. How I couldn’t sit through an evening of music after dinner without brainstorming my story all over the paper tablecloth. How I once spent an evening at the famous Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, where I’d taken a couple of other authors in town for a conference, writing the next chapter of Stand-In Groom on a bunch of paper dinner napkins.

So now I have to ask myself:

Can a plotter become a SOTP writer again?

That’s what I’m setting out to answer in 2018.

  1. Regina Merrick permalink
    Thursday, March 1, 2018 4:38 pm

    I’ve missed you, Kaye. I’m in the doldrums, myself – at least today I am. With the first book published and the second book with the editor (tremble), I’m looking at the plotter/pantser dilemma, myself. First book, all pantser – and about 8 years. Second book? A combination. I already had about half of it written. You know what really got me writing – besides quitting my job? A deadline. And it can’t be a self-imposed deadline – I’m too smart for that. When I knew Feb. 15 was my deadline for 70-75,000 words, I hopped to it and got it done. The third one, I started a week later, and I’m up 5,000 words, but now I know I’ve got to get an outline of some kind going. I think you can go back and forth. There are some things that need to be plotted – especially in a series. Personally, I don’t know if I could write more than a 3-book series. WAY too much plotting and keeping up with communities, families, etc. Wish you well!


    • Thursday, March 1, 2018 4:55 pm

      Part of the answer for me is to write with the idea that it’s not going to be published. Or at least not until everything is finished and I’m happy with it. Writing for my pleasure first and then deciding if it’s worth trying to get it published (or publish it myself) after it’s finished.

      I want to start writing daily, with a goal of just 300 words per day to begin with, without it having to all be on the same story or in chronological order in the story—or even just 300 words of brainstorming notes. Now I just need to make myself do it and develop it into a habit.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thursday, March 1, 2018 5:58 pm

    I think you can. Whether we’re a plotter or a pantser has a lot to do with our personality type, particularly the MBTI. I’ve been learning about this over the last year, and learning more about my own MBTI type.

    S types in the MBTI system are plotters. That’s how they’re wired. It’s varying levels of plotting, but it’s still plotting. N types, especially high ones like me at over 90%, shut down creatively when plotting/extensive planning is involved for a creative project. Having to plot something, or write a synopsis, shuts me down so fast it’s not even funny.

    The best thing about the new world of indie is the old rules no longer apply. Synopsis is optional. Especially if you’re a pantser. We have the total freedom to follow the story and our instincts.

    There’s a series of articles in the RWR from winter/spring 2017 where Becca Syme talks about the S and N differences in creative brain wiring. I highly recommend going into the archives and reading those. Then, if you don’t know what your MBTI is, do one somewhere and find out. That’ll let you know which of her suggestions to try out.


    • Thursday, March 1, 2018 6:31 pm

      Interesting, because I’m an S (ISTJ). I’ll have to see if I can find those articles in the archives!


  3. Tuesday, March 6, 2018 2:20 pm

    They’re amazing! She has some stuff on her website too, and does a class on it about twice a year through Margie Lawson’s Academy.



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