Adapting as a Writer

When I first started writing books I never outlined. I tried to outline my first book and found that, once it was outlined, I couldn’t get into the rhythm of writing the actual narration of the story.

It was incredibly frustrating and I felt like I couldn’t write. My lifelong dream of being a writer, going to college to learn how to be a writer, all my lofty goals would never be achieved because I couldn’t understand how to write.

Then I read a blog post by an author I loved at the time, she was a very prolific writer so I figured she knew what she was doing, and she said she wasn’t an outliner. She explained that she was a “pantser,” or “pantster” if you prefer, which meant she had an idea for the book and then just wrote freely, or “by the seat of her pants.” As she explained it, once she outlined a book it was as if her brain decided she’d already written the story and lost all sense of urgency to get the story down on paper. That was a lightbulb moment for me.

Maybe I wasn’t an outliner either. So I tried it her way. I was able to write my first three and half books that way. I wrote so much so fast, it was incredible. It really was like I was flying/writing by the seat of my pants. I’d found a key that fit my writer lock and I was so happy and relieved.

Then my hard drive became corrupted and ate tens of thousands of words from my fourth book. I was devastated to say the least. A magical IT guy recovered some of the lost work but I did have to rewrite a lot of what was lost and I had to try to remember what I’d written (I have multiple redundancies of back ups now–a hard lesson learned) and I started making notes, which turned into a very loose outline. And, thanks to those bullet point notes, I finished that book in record time.

So, when I started book five, I tried to outline again. And I found I was a new kind of writer. I started outlining books, long-form, by hand. But the incredible thing was, I didn’t lose my need to tell the story again. Instead I found it easier to leave off for a couple of days and come back and pick up where I left off. I didn’t need to remember all my cool ideas because they were all written down, waiting for me. And I learned I didn’t have to hold exactly to the outline, I could spin out and come back to it. Like an anchor in a storm.

Then, if you’ve been reading our blogs for a while, you know I burned out and took a break from writing. Then the pandemic happened and my life blew up, and I only started writing again very recently. And this book has been entirely different than all my other books.

I’ve worked with an outline with it and then, when I ran out of outline, I’ve pantsed some of it, and then inspiration struck and I got all these incredible plot twist ideas that made me realize I needed to change the whole book. That last bit meant that I needed to add whole scenes and characters to the book. Personally I’m the kind of writer who starts at the start and moves forward, in one document, until I reach the end, then I’ll go back and add/edit later. I never work backwards. But not with this book. Because I’ve had such a paradigm shift with the story of this book. I knew I needed to work through those missing scenes. I tried to just go forward, telling myself I’d fix the first half of the book later, but as soon as I wrote a line referencing the change in the story I knew I needed the ground work.

So I started opening new docs. As you can see I’ve written a few scenes like this.

It’s kind of strange. I feel a little like I’m making a quilt or puzzle pieces that I’m going to fit together later. I’m not even sure where these scenes will go, but I knew I needed them written so, as I write the second half of the book, I have memories of these scenes to build upon. I don’t even know what to call this style of writing.

I will say, I am not a huge fan of it. I like to watch my word counts jump when I’m done for the day and this makes it feel like I’m not doing as much work. But I am. I know I am. One pro is that I can see I’ve hit my daily count much easier than doing the math . Another pro is that it does fee like I’m hitting small milestones so I can feel al sense of accomplishment that way. And I know, once I’m satisfied I’ve written all the missing scenes to pull the book together, when I got to copy and paste those scenes into the main document I’ll feel a huge amount of gratification when I watch my wordcount jump over 5 figures.

It’s just different.

And this far into the game it’s kinda weird to realize you can change your writing style again. So, if you’re new to writing, or old hat but finding you’re struggling to figure out how to do this thing called writing, maybe you just haven’t found your style yet. Sometimes a book is first person, sometimes it’s better in third. Sometimes you need an in-depth, thorough outline, sometimes you just need to write a scene that’s burst into your mind without knowing where it’s going.

Just like a story can evolve as the characters move through the plot, you as a writer can evolve as you get further into your career. You just have to figure out what is going to work for you at this point in your career and learn to adapt if one way of doing things isn’t working for you. All that matters is figuring out what gets the story written. Outline or pantsing. Morning sessions or nighttime. Small goals every day, or big wordcounts once or twice a week. There is no one way to write a book and you can learn from other writers so you don’t lose hope.

The Nouvelle Vampire


Eric with fangs

So my last Spellbound Scribes post listed some great m/m vampire books. That post came about because I’d been researching the subgenre (sub-subgenre?) so I could add to it. And now I am. I’m co-writing an m/m vampire story with my friend Irene Preston, and hallelujah! It’s honestly the most fun I’ve ever had writing.

The co-writing thing is like having an extended (very extended) (like 75,000 word extended) conversation, not counting the evening Facebook chats to work out plot points. As a result of all of that discussion, I recently had sort of an a-ha moment.

I really owe Charlaine Harris BIG for how I think vampires should behave.

Eric giphy

Which is actually kind of a problem. I took the time to explore what had already been written so that I wouldn’t outright duplicate anything, though I’ll admit that one of the reasons I went four years between vampire projects was my fear that I wouldn’t be able to come up with anything unique.

And despite my best intentions, I keep making pronouncements, like, OUR vampire should be THUS & SO, and Irene will be all, “um, why?” Then I pause long enough to realize my reasoning has more to do with Eric Northman than with any truly creative thinking on my part.

The whole game in romance is to take something that’s been done a bazillion times before and make it the same, but different. For this project, I started with a vampire who’d been a monk before he’d been turned. Fresh premise, right? Except maybe not so fresh if everything I layer on top (fabulous wealth, orgasmic bite) is lifted thoughtlessly from somewhere else.

Eric n Sookie

Last March I took a class from Kerri-Leigh Grady on Strategies for Writing Fresh, offered through SavvyAuthors.com. If she ever offers the class again, you should totally sign up. In the class, the first thing Kerri-Leigh had us do was pick out some of our favorite familiar story elements, arguing that our readers needed something to relate to before we blew their minds with our ingenuity.

(She then had us do a bunch of really fun exercises twisting familiar tropes, which have already gained me one finished project – and I may yet write that Heathcliffe as a biker in contemporary L.A. thing, too.)

So maybe my first step was okay. I mean, a “vampire story” has certain expected, familiar components. My attempt at ingenuity – a vampire who started life as a monk – is likely something readers can connect with. It may be that my vampire should retain those Eric Northman elements, too. (Especially the orgasmic bite thing, because who wouldn’t benefit from that?)

Except the thing Irene’s questions made me realize is that my vampire only gets to keep the parts of the vampire myth that make sense for his character. Monks aren’t notoriously wealthy, so maybe that’s not an element we end up keeping. Developing the vampire character has become a process of picking and choosing which pieces of the trope work for HIM.

Perhaps – and this is my real a-ha moment, which I may have actually had while writing this post – just maybe coming up with a truly fresh premise isn’t about the thunderbolt that sends you scurrying to your laptop. Maybe it’s more about making a couple of tweaks to something familiar, then informing them with real, live (or undead), characters.

If you’ve got a process for tweaking a standard trope or character type, leave me a comment. Would love to learn from you!

Eric n Jason

Where am I? Who am I? What now?

There’s always this strange feeling that comes with finishing a book. Whether it’s just after finishing the rough draft and tumbling down the mountain of the denouement, or you’ve finally conquered the many-headed monster of line edits and plot holes, or finally, finally typed those two little words: The End. But the feeling comes and it’s one of bewilderment.

You’ve been working so hard, from idea conception, to finally hitting the last period, or – if it’s a series – you got to finally write The End, when you’re done, you’re not quite sure what to do with yourself. There’s no word goal that needs to be met. No deadline looming. No emails from your editor, with an attachment that now has more Track Changes than original work. No acknowledgements to write. Nothing but trying to enjoy the idea that you get to take a break. But it’s strangely hard to take that break. I, for one, tend to feel guilty.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I take a break and I damn well enjoy it. I catch up on some reading, be it novels or beautifully drawn comics. I enjoy the slow sipping of my coffee, rather than the bleary-eyed chug only to find I’ve let the stuff get cold. I watch some guilty pleasure T.V. I stay in my pajamas by choice. Or maybe I don’t and I take a shower and do my hair and feel like a person again. I go out to dinner with my hubs to celebrate.

But after a day or two, I feel guilty. Which is so strange.

I mean, when you work for someone you’re supposed to get a vacation, right? And we’re not talking a day or two. You get some time to decompress and go do something you don’t normally do because, damnit, you’ve been working hard (maybe).

So I just published the last in a trilogy. I will say that, of all my work, I am most proud of this body of work. The Ash and Ruin Trilogy, I think, is my best work so far. But I will tell you this, it is a dark, mean story with a scorched earth and blood. There are dead-eyed monsters with rattling, plague-spreading breath and monsters that look just like you and I. And each installment took little pieces of me with them, every day writing, every day editing, they took pieces of me.

And when I came to the end of the third book, that last day, I could see the horizon – it was about ten thousands words in the distance and I knew I didn’t want to quit until I reached it. So, over the course of the day I wrote some 12,505 words and the last two were “The End.” I nearly collapsed. I almost had to crawl to get out of my office at the end. I don’t even remember the rest of the night, but I felt like I’d been in battle with my characters and I’d somehow dragged my body, beaten and bloody, out of those pages and found my way home.

And now it’s published. I finished revising the rough draft of another book just the other day, so I told myself I could take a little time to enjoy this week and this last publication. So, I read some beautiful comics, I finished a book I’d been reading, I got a fricken massage today, I gave myself a pedicure. But you know what?

I feel guilty.

But some characters are already starting to talk to me, so the tiny break was a good thing. So, take your breaks, kick that guilt monkey off your back, sip your coffee, because more words are coming. More goals. More deadlines. More edits. If you’re a writer, you’re gonna write. But you deserve that break, just like I did.

Now, if you like monsters, and heartbreak, and bloody adventures, and scorched earth apocalypses, please, help me pay bills and feed my dogs by clicking on your favorite retailer’s link and maybe buy a copy.

 

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