Pantsing VS. Flaking

Catchy title right? *waggles eyebrows* Well nothing lurid or inappropriate in here except for maybe some misplaced commas and misspelled words. *GASP!* (Hey I’m a WRITER first okay? I edit later, usually multiple times…)

I wanted to talk about my experience thus far about the process of writing as a profession rather than a hobby. I’ve been a Pantser for as long as I can remember. Which is to say, I jump in both feet first, whole hog, sprinting before I can walk, no rules, no game plan–just me and the Thing in front of me. “Look before you leap” has never been on the top 100 list of “advice I should take”. Writing, naturally, is the same. I’ve written stories most of my life but always for amusement and wish-fulfillment. I mean, who wouldn’t want the man of their dreams waking them up with breakfast in the morning on a tray with flowers and the words “Don’t worry babe, I’ll do the dishes,” taking your breath away? *Le sigh* And who doesn’t want their most despised enemy getting a taste of their own medicine through viciously scribbled and witty dialogue from yours truly? I DO I DO!!

OH what fun! With pantsing, the story could continue forever, winding its way through desires and whims and emotion and it may make me feel good writing such nice things. But it sure as hell is boring for someone else to read, which is what my goal is. So as I re-read some of my old stories, secretly promising myself no one would ever read such drivel,  I realize I’m missing something. A looooooooot of somethings. Turns out, there are RULES to writing and being successful.  (Key words: BEING SUCCESSFUL. Keep writing those wish-fulfillment scenes. We can do something more with them later 😉 )

After realizing that I couldn’t just have a great idea and swell grammar to publish novels, I turned myself into Jess-Alice and followed the white rabbit blogs down the dark and confusing hole of STRUCTURE. Ack! PLOTS. SUBPLOTS. Eek! CONFLICTS. EMOTIONAL ARCS. SCENES. OMG get it away! CHAPTERS. WORD COUNTS. Whaaaaaaaaaat??! Wait, hold on, put on the damn brakes! Now I feel like Jess-Alice swamping herself in her own tears of frustration. Life raft! Someone! Anyone? Pantsing is so much easier… *sob* Where to start? Where ot look? What goes first? Where does it end!?

It never ends. Because anything that’s worth doing has to be done right. After all, if writing best sellers were easy, everyone would do it and be successful, right?–says the Kernel of Stubborn Regard in my stomach.

Wooooorrrkkk….bleehhhhhhhh…… *turns into Zombie* 

I did turn into a zombie for a while after diving into this mess of Rules. My poor diseased brain couldn’t take it all in. I tried reading the books and the blogs and the hundreds of pages of advice from published authors. I wrote down plot structure devices over and over again in notebooks and I have oodles of reminders on sticky notes peppering my work space (which is to say, my entire home). Index cards. I even have those! I’m color-coded and have the scene list taped up on my wall above my bed! I have fold out project boards and print outs with messy handwriting and a finger in twenty different blog pies, soaking up the awesomeness that is supposed to be writing. I can do this!

HA.

Yeah no. On top of being a pantser, I forgot to tell you I’m very much a disorganized mess. Nothing about me is logical or makes any sense. My dearest and bestest friend Owen once described my thought process as ‘a tempest on the ocean, guided by whim.’ For once the truth doesn’t hurt because I love every bit of it! It’s one of my favorite analogies about myself to date, other than being called Pinkie Pie (also true. I even have the curly pony tail). People have tried to encourage me to have a routine, to “get on top” of things so my life would be easier. *blinks in confusion* Who ever said my life was HARD? I ENJOY being an emotional, instinctual creature, which is why–HELLO!–Pantsing is so easy and fun for me. Rules are no fun! It takes the creativity out of things! 

….said every single Panster out there, at some point or another. Yep. I feel ya. But hey, Pantsers! What if I told you that the Rules forced you to be MORE CREATIVE? \O/ Nooo Waaaaaayyyy Jess!! Seriously?! YES! But wait, why the sudden change of heart? What caused the 180 flip? Did you drink the dark side Kool-aide? Now now, just wait a minute. I’ll tell you. Lean closer…..CLOSER…*puts arm around your quivering shoulders* lemme tell you…..

SNOWFLAKE METHOD developed by Randy Ingermanson.

WHOOOMP there it is! The secret to my 180! It is both the easiest and hardest thing I’ve ever read.

Now I do completely understand and appreciate that this might not work for everybody. That’s okay. Find your own way! I will cheer for you and hold a candle in the window for those dark stormy nights of indecision and confusion! But this blog is about me so I’m going to tell you how I handled this stunning new development to my writing. If you don’t mind.

By the time I stumbled on this method, I had already gotten the basics down for structural writing and what not. Practice makes perf–well, makes me more knowledgeable. (But eventually I WILL finish that sentence proudly as a published author!) I was struggling with a novel I had developed during 2015 NaNoWriMo (really fabulous place to get started writing a novel or continue one you need help with). The plot was eh and I could see that from the post-it notes and index cards covering my walls it was a flopper. Great main characters, okay but underdeveloped villain, interesting setting…why wouldn’t this just GO TOGETHER dang it!? Well, because I was doing it wrong. Or at least not right. Duh…

So lets wipe everything away. *WHOOSH–makes hand wiping gestures* Forget the details of your story for a minute. Step 1 of the snowflake method is to sum up your story in 15 words or less. No names. This is a 15 word pitch that you’ll sell your book off of so make it interesting and intriguing. Try it….

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It’s harder that you thought huh? THIS is what I was talking about when I said you have to be MORE creative when rules are applied. You have to strain your brain to fit a massive 80K novel into 15 words. Holy cow Batman! I enjoyed the challenge very much and was so proud of what I came up with I almost bust my own buttons:

“An orphan  girl is challenged to stop History from tearing apart at the seams.”

Yeaaaaahhh you wanna read more of that story right? Eh? Eh? You will. Maybe not soon, but you will. And look! Step one is done! Go you! Go me! Of course, I understand I started working the Snowflake Method with an existing story in mind. I know it’ll be infinitely harder starting out with a blank slate but I think I’ll enjoy the challenge just as much. I advanced through every step with new curiosity as I watched my story stiffen up, change, mold into something worthy of reading. And to be honest, it’s still changing the more I push through working with the Flake Method. Changing for the better I hope.

Caution: While change is good, have a limit. When it’s good enough, STAWP. I’ve been working on a story for 16 years because I can’t cement it in. And I still haven’t even applied the Flake Method to it yet. Yeah, say it with me “oi vey!”

Well. I’m not going to go through every step of the Flake Method with you cuz damn that would be a long post and Randy sums it up so very well if you click on the link. I did want to reinforce the idea, however,  though that Rules are challenging and will test you far more than any Pantsing will ever do for you. At least for us beginners. I dunno about the pros. Don’t they just poop out platinum best sellers? Pantsing has its place. It gets all those wonderful ideas right out on paper right away and you should do it! Don’t let any idea escape you. I carry around a notebook for this reason. Nothing is a bad idea. Just look at “Springtime for Hilter” from the movie “The Producers”. Who woulda thought, huh? ANYTHING can be a good idea. So write it, then refine it. Pants it AND Flake it. Ain’t no write or wrong way. Get it? WRITE or wrong….

Alright. Stopping. Bad puns mean I should be done. Hey a rhyme! 😀

Go be you, friend Panster/Flaker and write, right, rite!

Kay. Seriously done now ^^ Take care, as always.

The Fear: Say it! You failed, you failed, You FAILED, YOU failed….

*stands up and awkwardly shuffles my feet, avoiding eye contact* “Hi. Um–MynameisJessicaandIhaveafearofSocialMedia…and failure.”

WHEW! There! I said it! Isn’t it always the first piece of advice anybody gets when they say they’re afraid of something? FACE IT HEAD ON. Yeahhhh……this is me diving head first into my fear. Please have patience with me while I flounder about my kiddie pool of insecurities with my arm floaties. It won’t be depressing though or an emo monologue of ME ME ME, WAH WAH WAH. Promise! Because I’m sure that whoever reads this, if anybody ever reads this, has been where I am now in some form or another. Facing fears is hard and we should celebrate the bravery it takes. Let’s swim together, shall we? A burden shared is a burden halved. Now, on to the meaty stuff.

I decided to start a blog because I want to be a writer. A published one. And like all good little nublet writers, I scoured the internet for all the tips and tricks to giving me an chance of making that dream happen. WHOA MAN. I was overwhelmed by all the information and technical jargon that went into writing. Voice. Characterization. Subplots. Emotional Arcs. Voice and Themes and Backgrounds, OH MY! And that was just writing the actual book. That was part of the struggle of just putting words on paper for the novel itself. Then over and over I came across terms like “Author’s Platform” and “Social Media”.

*SHUDDER TWITCH*

Since when did authors need to promote themselves and be….SOCIAL? Don’t they have publicists for stuff like that? I mean, I’m SURE Stephen King just popped a manuscript out from under a darkened doorway and agents fought to the death to publish it, right? That’s SO how it happened! And then after his fifth book or so there was a book tour, and magically, he was a best seller. *nods* Yes, this is exactly true. Absolutely.

Not it’s not.

2016 is the year of Social Media. Twitter, Instagram, Periscope, Snap Chat, Facebook, dear GAWD it never ends! But with paper books being phased out in lieu of Kindles and E-books (a tragedy to hear since my favorite smell is fresh ink on paper), the only way now to make yourself known is through some sort of social platform. All the blogs say so, funny enough. Get yourself out there! Be social! Interact with your potential fans and promote yourself!

No. No No. I’m a hermit by choice! I have a very small group of geeky friends who accept me, warts and all. They tell me when my writing sucks and I believe them because they’re saying it with love. Perfect beta readers already in place! Ha. Hello Jessica, I’m the Real World. Let me welcome you with a slap upside the head. THEY not going to buy your books. (Cuz they know they’ll get them for free anyway.)  Really, it’s up to the readers of the elusive BLOG to support my charming yet clumsy self. I understand this. I do. But ugh. Blogging? I don’t even READ them regularly. I don’t sign up for e-mail updates! I recently cleared out 10K messages from my main e-mail, some of it from 2011. Yeahhhh…..Plunk, click and go is my computer know-how. But to be a writer, this is what I’ll have to do.

*whimper*

To understand my choice of being an anti-social hermit though there is a need to know the reasoning behind WHY. I’m sure you’ll understand and nod in sympathy. There’s just so many reasons to fear this little box of text being sent out into the internet ether but my top four are here:

  1. I’ve been teased my whole life for having big boobs and a crooked eye (also called Strabismus.) Also, I was a smart ass with straight A’s, which was uncool then. Self-esteem and self-confidence have been at an all-time low since Middle School. Yes, I’m a 30 year old woman admitting this. Points for bravery and honesty.
  2. I’ve never stuck with anything for any length of time. Hobbies, exercise routines, schooling, career choices. The devil really is in the details. I seem to lose interest whenever I have to delve below the surface of any given thing. Ugh. Who has time for details? Pfft! Let someone else work that out. The Big Picture is all you need! HA!
  3. I cry over everything. Seriously, everything. When I fight with my husband about movies, when I see cute bunnies on the TV, when I see a particularly stunning painting…EVERYTHING. But those are just the GOOD things. Imagine the bad things, like criticism and deliberate malice delivered by a sharp-tongued stranger who doesn’t know my soft heart at all. Oh yeah. Total mess. Rejection is hard for me to accept and I know diving into this, there will be a lot. Which brings me to my final and biggest fear…
  4. Fear of Failure. WHOOOMP there it is.

I read this quote by Stephanie Perkins (Author of Anna and the French Kiss) who sent a pep talk to us all on NaNoWriMo. (FABULOUS writing community by the way. Totally worth looking into.)

“Sometimes the things that matter the most to us are the hardest things to actually do. Sometimes they matter so much that we never do them, because our fear of failure is stronger than our fear of not even trying.”

I cried reading it, naturally. It was EXACTLY how I felt. I would rather live with the regret of never knowing what I could have been, than fail at the biggest dream of my life. I just wouldn’t have the strength to try to rebuild myself after the crushing disappointment.

There are thousands of posts out there that talk about this and I understand that there are other authors/ agents/ bloggers out there facing the same issues. Perhaps that’s part of the reason I had the courage to finally take this step. Like, who is ever going to read MY blog amidst the thousands? I’m SAFE!

However…

No matter how fearful I was, there was always this kernel of stubbornness burning in my belly that never let me give up. (Even on math, which I loathe to the core of my being.) It didn’t let me give up on Harry Potter, even when I threw “The Half-Blood Prince” across the room and dented the cover. It didn’t let me give up on my marriage (best accomplishment EVER). And I know that even when things look bleak and when I’m glaring at my computer, wanting to table flip the whole thing and say FECK THIS, the kernel will pull me through. This tiny ember isn’t done with me yet. It has a huge Voice and it has a lot of things it wants to say, that it NEEDS to say.

I WANT TO BE A PUBLISHED WRITER! it declares.

If that means I have to write in a blog twice a week and talk to people and get fans in order to get a literary agent to consider me for a book deal, then I’m going to do it. If I have to start reading and following other blogs to see how the Pros do it, then I’ll carve out time from my schedule to do it. If I have to publish my writing here first to develop a thick skin and writing savvy, well then I damn well better do it, shouldn’t I? Whiny brat. Grow a pair!

I WANT TO INSPIRE OTHERS TO WRITE!! it shouts.

Liz Gilbert’s book  “Eat Pray Love” did this for me. I had a panic attack for DAYS after reading her book. Random crying, shuddering, uncontrollable shakes, the works. My husband grew concerned with my emotional outbursts and gave me wide-eyed looks as I cried over the dishes. It was the first time anyone had understood the fear and frustration of being in a life they weren’t happy with. But she found it. She forgave herself her flaws, embraced them, and found balance in her life. Liz allowed me to see a different way and I hope one day I’ll be able to tell her how much her writing meant to me at that time in my life. I want to be that for somebody. I want to be the reason they change for the better. Maybe they’ll even write a book…

I WANT TO MAKE MY MARK! it says.

One of my all-time favorite lines is in “P.S. I Love You” (the movie)  when the main character Holly is describing what she wants to do with her life to Gerry, a stranger she met walking. She quotes William Blake: “I must create a system or be enslaved by another mans; I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.” To this Gerry simply replies “You want to paint socks.” OH MY FECKING GAWD! YES! Whether it’s a work of art or a book or a jar of barbecue sauce, I want to be remembered by more than just my friends and family. (That sounds selfish doesn’t it? Or pompous? Aiee yaahhh….) I Just want to carry out my legacy from beyond my death bed. Even if it’s just ONE book, or ONE piece of art. An imprint of ME on the world. Something I made and put out there and then THERE IT IS.

Pesky little bugger. It disturbs me uncomfortably when I’m chillin’ down in the dark pit of NOT KNOWING.

So, at the end of all things, after the back and forth tug-o-war, I have to ask myself, is my fear of failure going to stop me from pursuing my dream? If I stumble and fall, will I pick myself up again, try harder, and let the kernel speak for me? The fact that I’m starting this blog gives an answer. I hope people read it… Nope, never mind. Don’t read it.

STAWP.

Fine. Read. Reply. Comment. Help me with my fears and I will find a way to repay you in kind, one way or another. And I will help myself by getting used to the words “YOU FAILED.” I’ll say it every day and have people say it to me and maybe I’ll get a thick enough skin to endure this journey with some sort of grace. I may even take my arm floaties off 😉