Writers in the Storm

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February 4, 2015

Writing Process Throwdown: A Mess in My Pants

Mine is the last of our writing process throwdowns (or in my case, throw up). In case you missed the others, here they are: Fae, Orly, Jenny.

I’ve been dreading this. Not because I’m embarrassed - I’m of the school that if it works, DO IT! I’m been more worried about how to explain my total pantser mess.

First, the good part: 

No haters, now . . .  I'm done in one pass.  I write anywhere from 500 - 1100 words a day. The next morning, I review and tweak what I wrote the day before. When a chapter is done, I turn it into my critters, and when I get it back, I edit based on their input.Then I'm done. I don't go back and do second and third edits. I never read the whole thing again until I get suggestions from my editor. 

Linda Howard spoke at our our local RWA  years ago, and that's how she does it (only she doesn't have a crit group). I'm really happy with this part of my process. The thought of skipping ahead, or writing out of order Freaks. Me. Out. (Yes, I'm looking at you, Jenny.)

The other parts: 

The Beginning

photo credit: UNE Photos via photopin cc

photo credit: UNE Photos via photopin cc

 I tiny heartthis part. I start with a character. A person I’d like to know more about. Timid? Stubborn? Angry? Guilty (a go-to theme of mine . . . let’s leave it at that, unless you know of a meeting I can attend?) I understand who this person is, and their misunderstanding of the world (fatal flaw) before I start. I know the first scene, and spend a lot of time getting it just right. Then I'm off and running, deepening the character with backstory, introducing secondary characters, setting up the world.

In a word: Playing.

I'm having a BLAST! This is going to be a work of untold brilliance. My protagonist is as sparkly as a glitter explosion. Seriously, Atticus's kid, Scout has nothing on my character.

The DUM-DA-DUM-DUM,  Middle

photo credit: MattysFlicks via photopin cc

photo credit: MattysFlicks via photopin cc

When did my amazing protagonist turn into a whiny, boring, mumu-wearing, cigar smoking, biotch?

Where did my plot go? I swear, it was just here!

From  33% through 62% of of the novel (not that I keep track or anything),  the novel is a wasteland. I know the ending. It's the glimmer over there on the horizon. But between my brilliant beginning and that glimmer? I've got nothing. And I mean nothing.

I know what has to happen. My protagonist needs to move along her arc, in logical, small steps. But those steps seem dry as Midland, Texas dust to me (and after a year of living here, I know Midland dust). I HATE this part. I call and whinecomplain, beg for help from my critters. Thank God for them. They calm me down (okay, they laugh) and remind me that I do this every single book (which I forget, every time), tell me I'm not delusional and I will live through it. This book WILL get done, and it'll be good.

Then they help me plot my way through the wasteland, laying stones in the mud as we go. Honestly, I don't know what I'd do without them holding my hand and laughing at, encouraging me.

 It's here! It's finally here! 

Somewhere after 62.5% (not that I'm counting), as quickly as my brilliant plot dissolved, it reappears. My protagonist is the sparkly character I first envisioned, only better, because now they've resolved their issues, and the plot threads are woven together by bluebirds who sing a happy song while they work. It rocks on until . . .


photo credit: fliegender via photopin cc

photo credit: fliegender via photopin cc

Let it be known: I do not suggest, recommend, or in any way endorse this method. It will add gray to your hair and lines to your face.
Your ass will spread, and your skin will sag.

Do not try this at home.

So, WITS readers, seriously, is your process this challenging?

*  *  *  *  *  *

About Laura

Author Headshot SmallLaura Drake is a city girl who never grew out of her tomboy ways, or a serious cowboy crush. She writes both Women's Fiction and Romance.

She sold her Sweet on a Cowboy series, romances set in the world of professional bull riding, to Grand Central. The Sweet Spot (May 2013), Nothing Sweeter (Jan 2014) and Sweet on You (August 2014). The Sweet Spot won the 2014 Romance Writers of America®   RITA® award in the Best First Book category.

Her 'biker-chick' novel, Her Road Home, sold to Harlequin's Superomance line (August, 2013) and has expanded to three more stories set in the same small town. The Reasons to Stay released August, 2014.

In 2014, Laura realized a lifelong dream of becoming a Texan and is currently working on her accent. She gave up the corporate CFO gig to write full time. She's a wife, grandmother, and motorcycle chick in the remaining waking hours.

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42 comments on “Writing Process Throwdown: A Mess in My Pants”

  1. Interesting, fun and funny post, Laura! I love reading about your writing process. And I agree--that middle third is the worst! Wishing you continued success and all the best.

  2. Thanks Lori, thank God I'm through it on my current WIP - into the roller coaster to The End, so you know I'm happy!

    So are you a pantser, too?

  3. Just what I needed to hear. I'm a pantser too and just reached the 33% mark in my first draft--it's like running full-speed into a brick wall. And even though this happens with every novel, I still think I'm going to die.

    But maybe it's just a broken nose from hitting the wall.

  4. Great blogpost. You're so funny!! And a high-five on those percentages! Only a former number-cruncher like me can understand why you have those figures down pat. My story-line process is similar, and those characters I knew so well somehow transform into zombies by mid-story. Then in the end, they return. Go figure. Thank God for another round or two of edits. Always works out the kinks.

    1. Oh gosh, Sharon, it's not only mine that go away? Strange how we forget, every time what it's going to be like... but it's probably a blessing. Who would walk into that KNOWING what's going to happen?!

  5. Laura, this is all so true--especially the part about repeating the self-doubt in the middle of every book, where it seems like the various brilliant threads we've been trying to weave together suddenly seem frayed and knotted and impossible to untangle. For me, it's more like vomit on the page than a mess in my pants--as in, I have to get the chunks tossed in order to sort through them. There, how's that for a lady talkin'?

  6. Wow! What a fun post and I can relate to every single word.
    I'm a pantster but have evolved into a "pantster plus" type of writer. I always have the opening and I generally know the ending (sorta), but instead having a big fat blank in the middle- I now try to have 8- 10 things I want to happen somewhere in the book. I don't know the order or even why I want those things to happen, but they go somewhere on the page. I just finished a book using this method and it worked like a champ!
    I got stuck less often because I had a variety of events to pull from and my critique partners appreciated me not whining so much every time my character decided to join a convent that took a vow of silence!!

    1. I do something similar, Stacey. I write out 10-20 things that will happen to my main character during the book. Small or large, doesn't matter. Then I post those on the wall and as I'm writing, they help keep me from going totally off my rocker. 🙂

  7. I start off exactly the way you do, but I do a full read-through when I hit the end. No matter what, there's garbage that sneaks in when I hit "save." Right now I'm doing my "before I send it to my editor" read through. I run the entire MS through Smart Edit and dang if all those crutch words I know I NEVER put into the manuscript don't show up again. I don't have TOO much middle muddle because since I don't plot, I don't know that I'm actually IN the middle. What happens to me, is that at about 60-70K, I think "This book is going to be too short; I have nothing more to say," but somehow, they all end up between 90-100K.

    1. Jerk. No, not you, Terry - that's one of my go to words. My critters wouldn't recognize it as my writing if I didn't throw in at least 5 'jerks' per book.

      I just can't read it over one more time. Almost like I'm afraid I'm going to find out that it IS a mess in my pants - and I'd rather have my editor tell me, than have to look at it. (another 'ewwww' comparison, I'm afraid).

      Oh, and I'm right with you on word count, too. I'm coming into the black moment at 72k, and thinking it'll NEVER be long enough - and yet, it always is!

  8. No fair, Laura, you made me snort coffee. Although my computer screen needed cleaning so I guess, thanks ????? 🙂

    You forgot all the BS sessions along the way. Where would we be without our brainstorming? Slowly dog paddling up that murky middle.

    1. Orly, that's what I meant by us laying stepping stones through the mud. It always amazes me - I'm totally dead-ass stuck, and when you and I get on the phone, you give me some of your plotting brilliance...and pull me out of the mud!

      Until the next time...

  9. What a fun post! I start off much like you do with a character and a first scene. But I usually have to rewrite that first scene several times before I get it right. I was a total pantster but wrote myself into to many corners so after taking several plotting workshops I'm now able to come up with a vague outline that's subject to change but at least I have something to fall back on when I lose the plot. My middles are like yours and luckily I have people I can count on to help me brainstorm and get back on track. But I confess I'm not always a linear writer and will skip ahead if I get really stuck. That helps me go back and figure out how to get to that scene I've written.

    Thanks for this fun and witty post!

  10. I have a similar process. I can't write out of order, either. I hate, hate,HATE the middle. But no way could I send it to anyone until I'm done. I write with the door firmly closed, as Stephen King would say. Well, I don't exactly have a door or an office. When I'm done I read through the entire thing on my Kindle before I send it out.

    It's worked for me on the first three books and I'm just now to the point where I think I will actually finish my fourth book.

    1. Awesome, Kristin! WTG! You're stronger than I - if I kept the door closed, soon they'd have to lock it....then would come the padding on the walls...

      It would not end well. Thank God for my critters!

    1. Debbie, I can laugh NOW - because I'm through the middle! When I'm in it, there's a lot more whining than laughing, as all the WITS bloggers will tell you!

  11. Laura, I love when you talk dirty-writer-speak ... love to hear about everyone's MO. I can't plot at the beginning ... it doesn't work for me. However, once the panster in me has had her way (she is my Libra) ... I become engrossed in rewrite and rephrase and remix ... (that pain in the bum is my Virgo) ...

    I go from "once upon a time" to "the end" without pausing. Sometimes I crash and burn and I look back in horror. Other times it's a darn hoot. I don't know where I fall in this debate ... a wonderful reoccurring theme here at WITS ... but if I had to compare writing styles it would be more like one of my fav mystery writers ... Tess Gerritsen.

    When interviewed by Writer's Digest, she was asked when she thought a novel was done. Her response is something I remind myself of daily ... she said, "By the time I am working of the eleventh draft, I feel like I'm almost there."

    Thanks for sharing and keep doing what you do. Obviously it works like a charm 🙂

    1. So glad to have you back, Florence! This throwdown reminds me of the story of the old women who brought their problems in a sack, and carried them to the well, intending to trade them for someone else's. When they got there, and took a good look at everyone else's, they all took their own sack home.

      I think we all learned that, though we may not like our own processes - we dislike them less than someone else's!

  12. Hilarious post. The only thing I can add are the months of going to sleep thinking about plot, arcs, etc. and waking up without a single new thought. Beginnings are fun. The Middle sucks eggs. Endings would be great (I would think) if I ever get their. Thanks for the relatable sharing.

  13. Actually, this sounds a lot like my process, though I'm trying to do much more up-front note-taking and provisional outlining before start. Still, those outlines are NEVER really what happens in the end!

    1. I'm going to try that next time, Erin...but my creative side hates the bossy, logical side, so it may not work. Jeez, I may have a mess in more than my pants, huh? 😉

  14. Great job Laura. You make it sounds so fun - if it just wasn't for that awful middle wasteland you must plunder through. But if it was easy, everyone would write Rita-awarding winning books like you. Your process works for YOU. Rock on!

  15. It does work, Deb. I may hate it at times, but I think everyone hates some part of the process - it's the teeter totter of totally LOVING the ending!!!! Right?

  16. This is EXACTLY my process! Except I do read it over again after I finish. You have no idea how happy I am to read this--I thought I was the only crazy person who did it this way. 😉

  17. Lol! This must be why my hair turned gray and there's lines on my face. My ass spread, and my skin has sagged. Your process sounds a lot like mine Laura. Thus my first book is taking FOREVER! Geez, I don't know when or if it will ever be done. But I do like the idea of a critique group. I don't have crits to send my work off to for critique or ideas. I'm missing what sounds like an important part of the process. I need to find some crits quick! They might even save my life. How does one find such a group? 🙂

  18. Glad you asked, Karen, because others may be wondering as well. There are a ton of ways. Are you a member of a writers organization? That's your best bet. There are tons of them out there, many genre based. What do you write? Google '**** writers', and see what comes up. I recommend a writers org. regardless - great info there.

    Then, there are online crit groups as well. One caveat - do your due diligence...they're not all created alike. If you're a beginner, Writing.com is good - I know I started with a crit group there.

    Also, you're online (I see you around!) follow other writers. Get to know them. After you're online 'friends' see if they have interest.

    This isn't a short process, because it's like a marriage; the other person and you have to 'click', and you kiss a lot of frogs. BUT - keep with it, because when you find people who 'get' your writing, they can REALLY help you!!!!

  19. I laughed too (although my computer screen is still clean). I start with a beginning and end and a few things that need to happen in the middle. I've been rather stuck this time, partly due to historical research gaps and partly not having *enough* happening in the middle. I must say that finding out that you hate "the wasteland, laying stones in the mud as we go" made me realize that I am there now - and somehow that makes me feel better. Nice to know I'm not alone! Although I did work on climax action out of order when I was stuck. *grin*

    1. Oh Jennifer, glad you're not mad at me for bringing to your attention how miserable you are! If it makes you feel better, you made me shudder at writing out of order.

      May you find lots of stones to lay through the wasteland!

  20. I have s similar process for the story, but I'm an over editor. I edit my edits and then edit them again. I'm going to try your way, Laura, at least to get the first the manuscript finished and then I'll fight the editor demon in me. I guess I'm lucky my panic doesn't start until about 74%. I love my characters and I love the storyline and know beginning, middle and then fizzle when it's time to solve the conflict, even though I know the ending. Plotting gives me hives so I'll keep my pantser self plugging along.

  21. A little late to the comment party, but I think I just found my writing process twin. Sounds a lot like what's going on over here, although, what's going on with me at the moment are false starts. I've got this great setting, but I keep re-writing the beginning. First there was psych hospital, now there's not. Then my protag was agoraphobic..., now she's not. And a few other ideas written and scrapped since. I have to believe this is because I don't really know my character/s, or story yet. At the moment, I've gone from 10,000 down to 500 with all the changes. Sheesh.

    Loved the post!

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