For most of my life as a writer, I have been a pantser.
My friend and fellow author Val Griswold-Ford introduced me to the notion of planners vs pantsers.
Though I have defined this before, let me clarify — a pantser is someone who writes by the seat of their pants. They sit at the keyboard or in front of the page and blast out whatever they do.
A planner, on the other hand, plots. To a greater or lesser amount of detail, they come up with a plan for the whole story.
I used to believe that planning was detrimental to creativity. It seemed to me that the rigidity of a plan might stifle creativity overall. How can you be as creative as possible when you have a plan and plot to follow?
When a new idea came to me for not just a story, but a whole sci-fi series, I decided that to make it more commercially approachable — and to give it better direction — I would try being a planner.
So, a lifelong pantser worked on being a planner. I had one idea. Inspired (not at all based on) by the idea of The Clone Wars — what if both sides employed clones for a war? Then, when the war ended — what became of the tens or hundreds of thousands of surviving clones?
I laid out the groundwork and a foundation for this story. My friend Danielle helpfully suggested the series name — Forgotten Fodder.
When I wrote The Vapor Rogues — my Steampunk world — I needed to build the world in advance. That’s where Forgotten Fodder began. But then along the way the plot thickened.
Detailing the books
I figured out a bunch of the details for Forgotten Fodder overall. Unlike the Star Wars variant of clones — one clone, lots of jobs — I decided that both sides created more than a dozen different, specialized clones. Some — with specialties that could be made use of post-war — were better off than those who were infantry or mechanized soldiers.
I began to work out the initial plot. Then, the main clone and the main non-clone characters. I wrote out the inciting incident — which became chapter one of the first book (which I named Unexpected Witness).
Working that out was kind of fun. Then, I started to plot out each chapter. This wasn’t lacking in creativity in the least — it was really exciting to watch the story unfold. Knowing how long I wanted the book to be — I reached the end of Unexpected Witness.
That was the beginning of the story arc. Cool. I continued and began to plot out each chapter for book 2 — The Clone Conundrum. I had, with the plan, a real idea of where this was going.
Okay. Maybe creating a plot early-on wasn’t a terrible idea at all.
Within a week, I had the chapter-by-chapter plot written out for a total of 4 books. Using this work as part of my new focus on paying attention to my productivity via word count — I calculated that with this plotting, it might be possible to write a book about every 4–6 weeks.
It was time to put that to the test.
Starting a new book
On September 23 rd, I began to work from my notes and my plan — and started to write chapter 1 of Unexpected Witness.
It wasn’t long before I made several realizations.
First — Pre-planning doesn’t stifle the creative process. Sure, I laid out the plan for the chapter — but all the characters and their interactions grew just as organically as they do when I work by the seat of my pants.
Second — Having a pre-plotted chapter makes it a lot easier to maintain focus and really get some quality product written. Less guesswork and more direction.
Third — I know what’s coming. This makes foreshadowing, dropping hints, names, and other ideas that will play out later in the story so, so much easier.
Fourth — Pre-plotting can be changed. Just like writing from the seat of my pants, I was able to see where some of my ideas in the planning were not applicable as originally created as I wrote. But it’s all me — so changing it is a matter of action.
Tracking my daily word count, I found this was not a chore of some sort. I took a great deal of joy in having so much direction with what I was doing. This planning/plotting business does not impede my creative pursuit at all — it makes it easier.
On October 30th, I finished the last chapter of Unexpected Witness. That means I wrote a novel in 38 days. That’s just under five-and-a-half weeks.
I am over-the-moon about this. Thus, for my NaNoWriMo project this year — I will start Book 2 — The Clone Conundrum — on November 1st.
The plan going forward
At this pace — without burning myself out — I believe that I can now publish one book every two months in 2021.
I recognize that this is a super-ambitious pace. But there are some key matters to consider.
IF I take this approach — here is what it looks like:
February 2021 — Publish Unexpected Witness — Forgotten Fodder Book 1 (complete but unedited)
April 2021 — Publish Strategic Crush — The Void Incursion Book 3 (complete but unedited)
June 2021 — Publish The Clone Conundrum — Forgotten Fodder Book 2 (unwritten, but plotted)
August 2021 — Publish Unraveling Conspiracy — Forgotten Fodder Book 3 (unwritten, but plotted)
October 2021 — Publish Antipositional Moves — The Void Incursion Book 4 (one chapter left but unedited)
December 2021 — Publish Bold Moves — Forgotten Fodder Book 4 (unwritten, but plotted)
Several other matters need to fall into place to make this fly. I need to do my edits — and get everything to my editor (and potentially hire another editor). I am less concerned that the cover artist I’ve been working with can do this.
The plan and risks and rewards
There is some risk in this. It will cost me money to hire my editor and cover artist. However — I firmly believe that the potential reward is well worth the risk involved.
Why? Because I believe in these stories of mine. I believe in my art. This new Forgotten Fodder series is super exciting.
Oh, and did I fail to mention that I have an idea to continue the series after book 4? Yeah, I have the idea for another 3 or 4 book story arc to follow the first. And — based on where The Void Incursion is going — one more book to complete it in 2022.
Also — somewhere in here, my wife reminds me that it would be awesome if I finished editing Harbinger — book 3 of The Source Chronicles (my fantasy series).
Planning hasn’t quenched my love of writing at all. Quite the opposite. I am invigorated to keep at this. I can hardly wait to see where all of this might go — and share what I think are some awesome characters, worlds, and stories with you.
Thanks for following along in my insanity.
Thank you for reading. I am MJ Blehart. I write about mindfulness, conscious reality creation, positivity, my creative process, and similar life lessons.
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Originally published at https://www.mjblehart.com on October 31, 2020.