I recently wrote about exploring my overall practice of writing. I asked how much writing is enough writing?
In my analysis of my writing work ethic, it became clear that when it comes to guaging word count I could do more.
I determined that I could easily put out at least another 1200 words a day, five days a week, of my fiction. This, in addition to my typical 1500 words of nonfiction a day will bring my total weekly wordcount from a total (fiction and non-fiction) of 10,500 words a week to 13,500 words a week.
As of yesterday (not counting this article) I have written 17,900+ words. If, like me, you suck at math — that is 4420 words better than my planned total.
While the massively improved word count is rather impressive — what gets me more is the main way in which I have achieved it.
As I have written before, I am a pantser (one who writes by the seat of my pants) rather than a planner (one who sets-up and/or outlines story matters in advance). Typically, I sit down at my computer with a scene, characters, and situations in my head — and start writing.
This can make for some cool discoveries and work. But it can also mean the plot remains rather vague for a while.
A previous article touched on how I intended to approach a new story idea I’ve been toying with. To make it fly, the pantser would work as a planner.
To my own surprise, this has turned out to be amazing.
Planning is still creative
Because I have never been a planner, I thought that the process — sitting down and plotting out the story — was not nearly as creative as writing by the seat of your pants.
To those who are and have long been planners — I mean no offense here. Your creativity and the stories you write are no less awesome than MY work. I am in no way saying that my way is better — it’s not, it’s just different. But I had always thought that plotting out a story in advance was much more technical than it was creative.
One of the ironies of my existence is that I have a technical mind. If I do say so myself, I’m quite good at analyzing situations. I’m very observant and tend to catch details and learn useless factoids because of this.
Initially, my plan had been to sort-of write a synopsis of the story for the book. But I realized that it would not give me the build-up that I normally get from just sitting and writing. O kay, I thought to myself, maybe I should instead do a synopsis of the chapters.
This was an interesting approach. I had, previously, begun to layout the necessary background for my story. I’d built a very general when, where, and aspects of the who. Some details were already emerging, and I had the inciting incident already worked out.
What is the general overview of the first chapter? I began to write it out. Wasn’t long before I had it done. So, I began to do the same for chapter 2. Before I knew it, I had laid out — and plotted — an entire book.
That was just as fun and satisfying as simply sitting and writing from the seat of my pants. Who knew?
Finding flow and creating from a wider lens
It became quickly apparent to me that I was mistaken. Being a planner is not as far removed from being a pantser as I thought it was.
Because I am planning the book and plotting chapters from this wider lens, I have a better focus. I can see where I need to move the characters to move the story along.
Getting into the flow from this wider lens is easier than I had expected. Little to no dialogue is being written, and I am laying out the overall ideas for the chapters. It’s the equivalent of painting with a big roller on the wall — rather than a smaller brush to do trim work.
Granted, a smaller brush is brought into play in the planning from time to time, too.
Not only have I, in the past week, plotted out the first book of this new story idea — but the second and most of the third. Because I have been doing all of this overarching plot work and planning, I know where I am going far more than I tend to via my normal writing practice.
It’s not at all lost on me that what I thought would be more constraining and less flow-inducing has been the opposite. Planning out each chapter of my book gives me not less control, but more. It’s easy to see how I can succinctly build an approximately 50,000-word novel from start to finish.
The discoveries that come of sitting and writing without a plan are no different when you sit, write, and MAKE the plan. Characters are speaking to me. Ideas I didn’t expect are arising. Frankly, I haven’t been this excited about a story idea in some time.
This is another useful tool
While this new story is taking up some time, I am not neglecting my other writing. I have still gotten in writing on the 4 thbook of The Void Incursion, for example. Editing on my coming stand-alone fantasy novel has also been given my attention.
As I sat down and plotted this new series, I saw a whole new option for my work. The first series for these characters will be four books in total. But then, with that first plot resolved, I can do more and create another for the same characters, in the same universe, to work with.
Why the new approach? Because while I’m an artist, I also desire to have commercial viability. The Void Incursion series, with new books coming out every six months, is being written by the seat of my pants. (Though I do have the overarching plot worked out). In the interest of not only writing more fiction weekly — but publishing more and getting myself out there — this opens a door.
I can be both a planner and a pantser, it turns out. Like any artist, this places more tools in my toolbox.
Painters have various brushes they apply to their work. Sculptors, woodworkers, and metalworkers all employ a variety of tools for their desired effect. Hell, as a long-time medieval rapier fighter (fencer) I have a variety of weapons — offensive and defensive — I will employ depending on whim and opponent.
More tools mean more options. Unless this makes you more indecisive this isn’t a bad thing.
Intentions for planning my work
There are, generally, two models currently being used by most published authors. These are not my words, but I have seen this explained by others in this manner.
The first is the Lamborghini approach. You offer one big, expensive idea to the world. This is often the way when it comes to traditional publishing. Make big bucks on the one impressive thing.
Let’s face it — a Lamborghini is a $200,000+ supercar. Big, flashy, and showy.
The other approach is the Walmart approach. Offer lots and lots of items for low and reasonable prices. This is often the way when it comes to self-publishing. Make big bucks on many impressive, affordable things.
Yes, in some cases this means there are lots and lots of off-brand items flooding the market — but gems still emerge.
I intend, even with an increase in the volume of my work, not to decrease quality. Everything will be sent to an editor when complete. I will employ a cover artist so that each new book is appealing on sight.
I’m a professional writer. That’s what I do. Today I am not earning quite enough from my work to pay the bills — but it is not out of my reach.
Sure, becoming a best-selling author would be amazing — but a make-my-living-from-my-writing author is where that even begins.
Planning is part of my newest approach to my writing practice. It’s proven, thus far, to be extremely exciting, too. I can’t wait to see what I can build out of this process.
Thank you, as always, for being a part of my ongoing journey.
Originally published at https://www.mjblehart.com on September 19, 2020.