Friday, January 29, 2010

Only you know what works for you

I’m Lydia, the Duchess of Debretts. You may call me “Duchess” or “Her Grace of Debretts” but never “Lady Debretts” - because that would just be wrong. As far as the English Peerage is concerned, there are hard and fast rules which should always be followed. However, not every aspect of writing is so inflexible – at least not in my opinion.

A few years ago I had writer’s block. A tragedy had befallen my family and I had a difficult time getting back into the swing of things. I headed off to the RWA Conference that summer, excited about a workshop on brainstorming. I figured that might get me back on the right track. Spark my creativity. Get me writing again.

Boy was I wrong.

Instead of getting something positive from the experience, I got a lesson in hubris, not mine. The presenter asked the audience by a show of hands how many of us were “pantsers”, and about half the audience raised their hands, as you’d expect in any group of writers. The presenter then went on to tell us that being a “pantser” was the worst possible thing you could do as a writer.


I’m a “pantser”, but I didn’t take offense on my behalf. You see, it’s hard to tell me anything. I make up my own mind and don’t oscillate with direction of the wind. So, it wasn’t so much that I had been insulted, but I worried about how many other “pantsers” in the audience thought they were doing something wrong. How many of them went home and tried to change their process because a multi-published author told them to? That, in my mind, is unconscionable.

Every writer has their own process. Some plot. Some don’t. Some have to write with peace and quiet. Some need music. Some need to write X number of pages a day. Some just need to write one sentence. Some write when creativity strikes. Some type away on their computers for hours upon hours until they’re exhausted. Some are character driven. Some are plot driven. Some have index cards lined across their bedroom floor, the story all mapped out. Some use collages to inspire them. And others use absolutely nothing at all.

And every form is valid.

It drives me crazy to hear people say with all certainty that they have “the” way to do something. There’s not just one way. There’s a million. And my process might not work for you and yours might not work for me. I would never dream of telling someone they needed to write “my” way, and I’m not about to have someone tell me I have to write “their” way. We’re creative animals and we don’t fit into cookie-cutter molds.

To me, the most important thing in being a writer is to find what works for you and embrace it. You might take a class on plotting and realize, “Hey, that’s great. This is perfect for me. I never would have thought of it.” Then again, you might not. My suggestion to anyone starting out in this business is to keep an open mind, figure out what you need in order to write and then do it.

In the end, my writer’s block faded away and I was able to create again once my grieving process was over. I’m still a “pantser” and a rather successful one at that. I know who I am as an author. I’ve embraced my writing process and my style, and I wish the same for every other budding author out there.


  1. Great blog, Lydia. I completely agree. My process is so weird, I can't imagine telling someone else to use it. I always start with Chapter 5. I don't know it's Chapter 5. I always think I'm starting at the beginning. But it's just a scene. And then I realize it doesn't make sense unless I put something in front of it. When my first scene becomes chapter 5, then I know I have enough to make a book and I run with it. Imagine a workshop teaching that. Lol

  2. Wow, Gail! You are up early on the West Coast.

    I can't imagine trying to teach a workshop on the process you described. Just thinking about it makes me giggle. Although, it does sound similar to the process I used when I was first starting out. I'd write a scene that went here, a scene that went there - at different points in the story. Then I'd have to find a way to make them all connect. Now I just start at the beginning and work my way to the end.

    I think the process you use can change and morph as you travel down the path toward publication and beyond. The important thing to remember is for the path to be your own and not someone else's.

  3. LOL, Gail. Well, if you tend to start with Chapter 5, I tend to start with Chapter -5. I usually start my story way too early, and then have to cut and cut and cut to get to where the action is.

  4. Lydia,

    You are so right. There are many ways to write, or do anything for that matter. Everyone processes and creates in different ways. For me, the key is to try something different every once in a while, because it unlocks my creativity. And I'm not talking about trying something different in writing only. Maybe it's listening to new music, trying a new recipe, taking time out to watch a movie, creating something artistic -not that I'm any good. :) In fact, writing this comment sparks an idea for a future blog.

    Love your writing and can't wait for the new book to be released.

  5. Catherine,

    I've heard that same thing from several authors. Those first five chapters you end up scrapping have information that YOU need to know, not necessarily the reader. But once you do know it, then you're good to go. Thanks for posting.


    Thanks for your sweet words. I can always count on you to be the kindest person in any group. I am curious - what is the best idea you've gotten from changing things up in your life? And what was the cause - a new recipe? A new song? Do share.

  6. Great post, Lydia. I tried to be a plotter because I went to a workshop where they said this is the way to be a successful writer, but trying to plot killed my creativity. I'm a panster, but I would never think to tell someone else how to do it. Each one of us has to figure that out on our own.

  7. While I think I will always be a panster at heart, the way I write has changed with the more I write. I used to go straight from beginning to end. Now, little scenes will pop in my head and I have to type them out and go back and put them in somewhere. And, there are times when I am not sure how to get from point A to point B in a story so I will leave a big blank area with bold words "PUT SOMETHING HERE". Once I've written more of the story I usually know what I need to go back and add in the blank spot. Not one book as followed the same pattern and basically I am all over the place.

  8. Julie,

    That's amazing! Your suspense plots are so intricate. That just goes to prove that you can be a pantser and write a plot driven book. I'm glad you finally realized what process works for you. :)

  9. Amy,

    That is so interesting. We've switched processes. That's exactly how I used to write. Now I start at the beginning and work my way back.

  10. I was a pantser for many years and I would start and stop tons of stories. I would write myself into a corner and I couldn't figure out how to get out of it. So I tried to plot and it worked for me. I've never believed there is a one size fits all in writing but I do believe you should always try something new and then figure out which way works best for you.

  11. Absolutely, Melissa. Everyone has their own path, and they just need to determine what it is. No process is better than another, only what is better for YOU.

    Taking classes, going to workshops, buying writing books - all of those should be tools in helping a writer determine what works best for them.

    Part of the journey is making that discovery.

    In everything, you should take what works for you and throw out the rest.

  12. I am a panster and I'm PROUD to be one!! Actually, I tried to do it the other way just because I heard it might work better...but for me it didn't. Once I plotted my story, I didn't want to write because my muse figured the story was finished. lol There have only been a couple of books I've written where I had to figure out some kind of outline only because of the many sub plots in the story. I never thought of it was plotting...just helping me to go in the right direction. But seriously, I want to be surprised when I get to the ending. I don't want to know what's going to happen before I get there. (grins)


  13. A friend of mine once told me I go get all the research and study something before I make up my mind and do whatever I want.

    I've taken plot classes (at Nationals and online) and I'm still mostly a pantster but I do some prep work from the plotting side of things to make sure I have some idea of most of the high points I need to hit in the story.

    I've moved off the plot wagon and onto characters. Still haven't figured out a good system for them yet. But doing long characters sheets is not for me. :)

  14. Beth,

    Well, 1 process down - 999,999 to go. Let me know when you find the magic combination that works.


    I've done the same thing. Especially when you get closer to the end - just to make sure all the loose ends get tied up.

  15. Great post, Lydia, and I completely agree. Like Gail said, my process is so bizarre, I could never tell someone how to do it. I half plot, half pants, and I teeter-totter between the two throughout the writing of the manuscript. Plotting a chapter might inspire the writing of said chapter, and that chapter might inspire another chapter that I have to go back and add to the ever-expanding outline, and while I'm outlining, I'll think of the next chapter, which I'll jot down in the get the picture, right?? LOL! It's kind of like "If you give a mouse a cookie," which, ironically enough was my favorite book (and still is) as a child :)

  16. Funny, Jerrica. I can see pages flying in every which direction from your description. :)

  17. Lydia,

    I wish I had a good example. When I listen to new songs, sometimes a lyric will resonate with me. Most of the time I don't hear the lyrics to songs I listen to all the time, so a new one will grab my attention better. Anyway, the lyric usually sparks a visual image for me, sometimes more of a mood, which then leads to a scene in my head.

    I know this isn't a very good explanation. The main thing is doing something new forges new neural pathways in our brains, so if you are blocked, it might help. Also, sometimes the distraction in itself takes away the pressure, freeing up our creativity.

    Actually, I came up with a wedding breakfast scene in Maid for Seduction while gardening.