To Pants or Not To Pants – That is the Question

#amwriting #amediting

 There’s a great dichotomy among writers: plotters (those who outline) vs. pantsers (those who write by the seat of their pants).  Most writers fall into one camp or the other and sing the praises of their choice.  Nothing wrong with that.  Everyone’s mind works differently, and what works for you may not work for me.

I’m one of those rare birds who uses both methods.  I plot out a short story or an essay like this – it’s the only way I can make sure I don’t lose track of my theme somewhere in the middle.  But when it comes to novels, I’m a pantser.

I start out with a concept, plus a beginning, an ending, and a few scenes in between. But once I start writing, I let the characters take me where they will.  That process sometimes means the intended scenes don’t make it into the manuscript and, at least once, it’s meant that the ending isn’t what I originally envisioned.

Yet I can see the point of plotting, especially when the story is complex or there are more than a few characters to keep track of.  Not too long ago, I read a book in which all but one of the sub-plots was left dangling at the end, and I remember thinking that the author could have made good use of an outline.  That’s one of the benefits of plotting – making sure everything that’s started has a resolution.

But as far as I’m concerned, whatever works for you as an individual is fine with me.

However, I recently read a blog post by someone who swears by outlines.  The blogger spent quite a bit of time belittling those who don’t plot ahead, saying things like “some authors can’t be bothered to outline”, “an outline is the only sure road to success”, and “I never read a good book that wasn’t plotted out beforehand”.

Really?  This blogger contacted every author whose book she ever read to determine if the writer used an outline?  And never enjoyed a book whose author said “NO”?  What about those dead guys, like Cervantes, Twain, Dumas and Voltaire, whose works are still held in reverence – did she contact them by séance?

Or did she maybe just assume that bad books are not plotted and good books are?  You all know what happens when you assume…

So, in support of all the non-plotters out there, here are some quotes about writing from your fellow pantsers.  Now I haven’t read all of these books, but I’m fairly certain most of them are pretty good.


I’ve never written a book with an outline or a predetermined theme.  It’s only in retrospect that themes or subjects become identifiable.  That’s the fun of it: discovering what’s next.  I’m often surprised by plot developments I would not have dreamed of starting out, but that, in the course of the writing, come to seem inevitable.  Susan Choi (American Woman)

I don’t plot the books out ahead of time, I don’t plan them.  I don’t begin at the beginning and end at the end. I don’t work with an outline and I don’t work in a straight line.  Diana Gabaldon (Outlander)

I cannot outline. I do not know what the next thing is going to happen in the book until it comes out of my fingers.  Patricia Reilly Giff (Maggie’s Door)

In fiction, you have a rough idea what’s coming up next – sometimes you even make a little outline – but in fact you don’t know.  Each day is a whole new – and for me, a very invigorating – experience.  Peter Matthiessen (The Snow Leopard)

I do not outline.  There are writers I know and count as my friends who certainly do it the other way, but for me, part of the adventure is not knowing how it’s going to turn out.  Joyce Maynard (To Die For)

I don’t outline; I listen to a kind of whisper inside the material.  Jayne Anne Phillips (Shelter)

Writing is a process of discovering. I could never outline a narrative; that just sounds boring.  There’s no joy of discovery in what you’re doing if that’s your strategy.  Bob Shacochis (Swimming in the Volcano)

I don’t outline at all; I don’t find it useful, and I don’t like the way it boxes me in.  I like the element of surprise and spontaneity, of letting the story find its own way.  Khaled Hosseini (The Kite Runner)

I don’t write a play from beginning to end. I don’t write an outline.  I write scenes and moments as they occur to me.  … I sequence them in a way that tends to make sense. Then I write what’s missing, and that’s my first draft.  Richard Greenberg (Life Under Water)

The important discovery I made very early is that my novels had to be written without any given plan or outline.  I can’t do it in any other way. But then they are dependent on the sentences, my intuition, and, as I have experienced many times, the subconscious.  Per Petterson (Out Stealing Horses)

The way that I write novels in particular is I don’t usually outline; I just write.  Part of the fun is discovering what’s happening in the story as I’m going along.  John Scalzi (Old Man’s War)

I never work from an outline, and often I don’t know how the story will end.  Patricia MacLachlan (Sarah Plain and Tall)

Choosing to write a play is some kind of surrender. I don’t make an outline.  I sit and work, and suddenly the door opens, and out it comes.  David Rabe (HurlyBurly)

When I sat down and wrote the first paragraph, I was like, ‘Oh, I can go with this.’  I didn’t do an outline. I didn’t do anything.  I just wrote sentence by sentence, not knowing where the story was going.  Colleen Hoover (Losing Hope)

#Twitter for #Writers

#amwriting #amquerying

One of the truths of today’s publishing world is that a writer must have an on-line presence. Doesn’t matter if you’re self-publishing or going the traditional route, writing fiction or non-fiction, poetry or prose, your name has to be out there.

Blogging is one way to accomplish that, but it’s fairly time-consuming. Readership growth is slow compared to other social networks. And snail-like compared to what Twitter can provide.

I was looking for an easier way to make contact with other writers and readers when I started my Twitter account. I didn’t post too often – it seemed a little forward of me to put my thoughts out there for others to consider. (You’d be surprised how often this particular mind-set encumbers writers.) I posted now and again, and I set up an account at HootSuite to enable my blog posts to feed into my Twitter account. In a few months I had about 30 followers.

Then, like a bolt out of the blue, I saw a post from one of the writers I followed labeled #1lineWed. It was a really nice line of prose, and I simply had to find out what it was all about.

Clicked on #1lineWed and the sparks started flying!

Before I go any further, let me explain what #1lineWed is. It (naturally) occurs every Wednesday, and is a place for any writer – professional, hobbyist, poet, novelist and anyone else who writes – to post a line (or many) from their work in progress. A theme is posted every Thursday by @RWAKissofDeath (the mystery/thriller arm of Romance Writers of America). All you have to do is find appropriate lines in your unpublished work and post them. That’s it!

The hardest part (for me) is making sure I’ve only got 140 characters including the hash-tag. The easiest part is finding other authors to follow, and most, if not all of them, will follow back.  In my first 4 months on Twitter, I gained, as I said, about 30 followers. After 6 months of playing #1lineWed, my following has grown to over 2,000 and gets bigger every day. Even better, my Twitter feed is full of wonderful writing that inspires me to “keep on plugging on”.

#1lineWed has two additional benefits that I never saw coming. If I post a line and it gets a good reception, I know it’s golden. If few or no people like it, I know it needs work (or maybe I just chose poorly – sometimes it’s hard for a line to do its job out of context).

Second, it can be an eye-opener when I search my manuscript for themes: one recent theme was texture, and I found I used the word “soft” over 200 times in one manuscript. Believe me when I tell you, I cleaned that up quickly!

But the BEST part is the writers’ community on Twitter. What a wonderful group of people! If you’ve got a cover reveal or a publication date coming up, they’ll cry “Bravo!” If you’re stuck in the third chapter of a new work, they’re there to cheer you on. Enter a contest and need support? These writers will have your back. And if you’re just plain having a bad day, someone‘s always willing to commiserate with you.

I feel like I’m connected to a community in a way I haven’t been since my fibromyalgia forced me to quit working 15 years ago. My outlook on writing as a solitary pursuit is no more. The writing community on Twitter is fluid, yet close-knit. Sharing and accepting. Smart, funny and talented. In short, they rock! And I’m extremely lucky to be sharing words with them.

There’s plenty of room for you, too!

In addition to #1lineWed, I also “play” #2bitTues. The #2bitTues theme is posted on Sunday by @AngDonofrio, but it’s optional, so if you don’t have anything that conforms, you’re welcome to post whatever lines strike your fancy. One note of caution: NO selling!

Still can’t get enough? There’s #meta4mon as well as hashtags specifically for poetry, flash fiction, 6-word stories, etc., etc., etc. But be careful – these hashtags are addicting and you may find yourself using up all your writing time playing along.

Looking for an agent/publisher? There are contests you can enter, too: #PitMad and #AdPit are two coming up soon!

And you can find me on Twitter: @giffmacshane


#amwriting #amquerying

Just the other day, I posted this quote from Winston Churchill: Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts. Normally, I’d just leave it out there and it would hopefully inspire some other folks the way it inspired me. But I’ve found that over the past few days, I can’t seem to get it out of my mind.

Maybe it’s because I’m at a point where some writers I know have given up: 100 query letters sent, no nibbles. A handful of really nice responses, praising one or more of the elements of my offerings. But no concrete interest to date.

Many people would move on.

It’s not that I thought it would be easy. In today’s anyone-can-publish environment, I knew it would be hard to find an agent or publisher the traditional way, as the bar is set so high. I knew that books set in the Old West aren’t all that popular, particularly when they don’t adhere to the expected story lines. I knew that rape and incest were topics that would be rejected immediately by some agents.

But I also know it’s a subject that needs the light of day to shine on it, and that I’ve handled it with both empathy and sensitivity. I’ve explored the effects of these horrors not only on the abused, but also on those who help others heal, who become the caregivers for the exploited, and who may feel guilt and despair because they think they should have somehow, in some way, been able to intervene and change the path of fate.

So, yes, it’s a hard subject. I often find myself drawn to hard subjects, like intractable physical pain; the plight of Native American children in missionary schools; Irish slavery in the Americas; hatred of those who are not “like us”; the failure of those we trust to defend us; being disabled in an able world; and An Gorta Mor. I have written or am writing on all of these subjects.

Knowing that LET THE CANYONS WEEP was going to be harder to place is something that gives me the ambition to keep going with the query process. The book hasn’t failed because it hasn’t found the right agent, but I will fail if I give up on it.

Or it could just be the hardhead incurable optimist in me…