Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Throwing Up That First Draft

I quite enjoy reading the writing process of other people. So today, I thought I'd give you a glimpse inside my head. Hold on tight, cuz it's sort of a wild ride.

I relate writing my first draft to vomiting. I know, I hope you haven't recently eaten or taken a drink of something.

For me, it's just word vomit. I don't outline. I don't have whiteboards with post-it's. There are no snowflakes going on at my house.

I'm pantsing my way through life. (Hey! I could totally change the words to the Wicked song. "Pantsing through life...")

In my defense, I usually think about my story/characters for a little while, but I have no character sheets done, no pictures in my head, sometimes not even names.

Some of you are spasming right now, I can tell. Sorry. If you're looking for "organization while writing" you won't find it here.

I decide that hey, it's time to do this thing and I sit down at the computer. I open a new Word document, and feel this tiny tremor of terror at the blank page. See, I'm not so good with blank pages.

I am a better rewriter than writer. But I can't rewrite what I don't have.

So I flex my fingers--no, really, I do--and I start typing.

And word vomit comes out.

At the end of my writing session, I type notes for what might come next. Usually my notes are longer than what I've got on the story. I do organize the notes into chapters and scenes, so that when I come back the next day to write, I'm ready.

My notes change constantly. I'm always deleting old ones and typing new ones, because my story evolves so much as I write. So, so much.

At about 10,000 words, I usually hit a wall I have to navigate around. Or over. Or through. Whatever. At about 20,000 words, I take a break and write the query letter and a loose synopsis. This helps focus my writing on the end goal. At this time, I identify the two "pinches" in my story, and align them with the end of part one and the end of part two. See, I write in sections--usually 3. So I position my "pinches" to come at the end of those sections to keep the reader moving along.

Once I have that, I'm ready to write again. Nothing is set in stone, and my pinches change, the notes change, the story changes as I actually sit down and vomit up the words.

I can usually pound out a 75,000-word first draft in 6-8 weeks. (Side note: I just wrote 37,000 words before I realized I couldn't use any of them. So I abandoned the project and have started it over. No, really. This is the writing-life of a pantser. Or maybe just me...Crap!) And it's so, so, so messy that I can't stand to open it again for a while. I mean, the stench alone keeps me away. So I usually re-visit my query and synopsis and shine them up.

Then I get to rewrite. But that's a story for another post.

What about you? How do you write your first draft? Are you an outliner or a pantser? What works for you? What doesn't? How long does it take?

132 comments:

Matthew Rush said...

I've only written one novel, so I'm not sure I have the right to even comment on this but here goes ...

I wrote the first scene, the opening that had inspired me to write a novel in the first place, and then I made a loose outline.

Then I proceeded to vomit just like you Elana, only my problem was that I vomited way too much. 355k words too much.

Now I'm learning how to revise as I go along.

Amie McCracken said...

I'm a pantser. But my problem is that I get to about 10,000 and reread it and decide it's crap. I've only gotten through 50,000 words once and that's because I promised myself I wouldn't reread until the end. After that I've done two more flops. I'm trying to get myself to vomit another long one.

Shannon said...

I outline with one pant leg on.

Basically, I have the general story in mind and storyboard it (I like to draw using pretty colors) and then I write like mad. I also type a lot of directional notes. I edit a bit, but have to suppress the urge.

It's organized chaos. :)

Maria Zannini said...

Plantser: I plot and pant.

No wait, that didn't come out right. LOL.

My outlines are very sparse, maybe two lines each, just to get the thrust of the scene installed.

Then I start writing and unleash hell. :o)

JustineDell said...

Oh, and here I thought I was the only one who didn't do pre-plotting with graphs and post-its and tons of notes written down all over. I'm like you, the story is in my head (not all of it...yet) and then I just sit down a type it. I normally hit a wall at 40K.

I don't know if I have the word vomit, pretty much everything I write stays. But besides maybe some interesting facts about the place I'm writing about, nothing gets written down beforehand. Afterhand is a different story. Then I find myself writing down MC names and such so I don't have to flip through the MS later and remind myself.

~JD

JustineDell said...

Oh, and here I thought I was the only one who didn't do pre-plotting with graphs and post-its and tons of notes written down all over. I'm like you, the story is in my head (not all of it...yet) and then I just sit down a type it. I normally hit a wall at 40K.

I don't know if I have the word vomit, pretty much everything I write stays. But besides maybe some interesting facts about the place I'm writing about, nothing gets written down beforehand. Afterhand is a different story. Then I find myself writing down MC names and such so I don't have to flip through the MS later and remind myself.

~JD

India Drummond said...

I loved this... I feel like such a voyeur, peeping into other writer's heads to see how they make their magic. It's all so individual.

I tend to write a few pages and maybe even a chapter to experiment with tone and pace and see what proves interesting. I do outline, but that usually comes after I've done a little playing around first.

For me the outline is the frame, but those first few pages are the foundation.

Candyland said...

You're totally just described my process! Thought totally organized in life, with writing, not at all. I practically vomit the whole way through.

Brenda said...

Post-it notes? I didn't even know they made those anymore. :) My process is just like yours, although I flush a lot away in the end. I guess it helps me to get to know my characters. I also oddly problem-solve a lot of my storylines while brushing my teeth. No word yet on whether this will pay off at the dentist.

Scott said...

I'm pantsing through life right along with you! But, in a way, you are doing a bit of outling along the way, Miss Elana! Yes, you are!

Oh, and thanks for the visual. Now, when I'm writing that first draft and my partner ask me what I'm doing, I can respond with conviction "I'm throwing up, thanks for asking!"

Amie B said...

Elana - you, me...yeah, we're like kindred spirits man.

Wendy Paine Miller said...

I write out a skeletal outline and then jump in. My time frame is similar to yours.

Sometimes that means the first draft is laughable, but hey...it's there.
~ Wendy

Crystal Cook said...

I am so, so glad you shared this. Because I used to feel like I had to know exactly where I was going, so i did lots of outlining and character sheets and then I realized something. All that work was keeping me from just jumping in and writing out my crappy first draft. I think I was scared of just how crappy it would be. So, now I'm pretty much a pantser :)

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Okay, this is where you and I are COMPLETE opposites. My writing is probably the only place in my life where I'm organized. Super organized.

For my wip, it took 5 weeks to write the first draft, but I went unplugged for most of that time. It was before I started getting into blogging and social networking.

Stephanie McGee said...

I'm a total mix. I get a story idea and then I have to do the world-building. I need to know the setting, know the rules of sorts, etc. Then I define my major characters and do bios for them. Where they're from, siblings, etc, etc, etc. Not terribly detailed, but enough that I have an idea of what might have gone on in their past that will influence the present.

Then I do a rough outline.

It's usually this:

1- Derek gets ...
2- The poop hits the fan
3- The poop hits the fan again
4- Antagonist introduced in full (usually antag's POV)

Etc. I get more detailed in the real thing, saying what sort of major events happen. But I don't want to give too much away.

Then I can write. Usually I'll hit some sort of snafu like "Why is this that way?" and have to go revisit the worldbuilding and add something in. New ideas will crop up all the time in this early fermenting stage. I write them down and think about whether they can actually work. (Usually while continuing to write myself into a corner.)

As for time? It varies. And I'll have more time starting next week to write and do all the things I need to do.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I outline. I usually play the whole story in my head before committing any of it to paper, too. So, no barfing here!

Cheree said...

I usually spend a bit of time on character development and world building, and maybe a little on what I want to happen in the story.

Then, I just write. I would rather get the story out of the way before I concern myself with questioning the amount of description that's in it or if there's a massive gaping plot hole in the centre (which there usually is).

Time usually varies. Can take 1-3 months or longer if my characters are being stubborn.

Adam Heine said...

I'm such an engineer about it. I constantly revise my process to minimize the amount of work I have to redo (editing I can accept, and I consider it different from rewriting).

At the moment, I outline to the chapter level, usually with pages of notes and ideas for what goes on in those chapters, before I draft.

Anna said...

I'm also much better at rewriting than at drafting, so I try to whip through a first draft rather quickly. I don't outline, but I do jot down ideas as for what might come later in the story. I'm a bit of a perfectionist, so I can't help revising as I go, but I try to keep pushing forward until I have a full draft. THEN the real fun begins. Because I dread first drafts so much, I've started doing NaNoWriMo every year - it helps me get out of my head and just WRITE.

TerryLynnJohnson said...

I do a rough outline, then when I start to write, it doesn't usually follow my outline, but I let it go where it wants. I speed through my first draft so I can get to the end and see if it works. Then I can go back and add. My first drafts tend to be very skinny.

Jessica Nelson said...

I'm pretty much a pantser like you. Open up Word and start. I've never scrapped wordage though, not that much. *shudder*!

Aubrie said...

I love that expression, "word vomit!" I begin a novel by pantsing it, but by chapter 3 or so I need an outline or it all turns into crap! I wish I could be more like you!

Ian said...

I love writing the first draft. I do a little outlining, but mostly it's all vague. Sometimes I have characters I want to use, and others they develop as I make it up.

All my outlines start at the top level, with broad comments. Then, about half a page down, I get more excited about an idea and I fall into roughly describing scenes and descriptions - practically writing the thing.

I'm working on being a better rewriter these days, but that's something that doesn't come naturally to me (grammarphobe that I am)

MissV said...

I work a lot like you. First draft isn't even done, but it sucks. Total word vomit. Glad to know I'm not alone.

It started with an idea, and so I began writing a rambling overview/narrative just to get the basic plot points down on paper. This looks like what I'd say to a friend after reading a fantastic book, highlighting clues and twists along the way. Once I was done with my narrative (which is barely recognizeable now), I just jumped in and started writing.

At just under 40K, I find I really need to stop and do some character sheets. I'm forgetting eye colors, last names of minor characters, and crucial bits of back story (especially ages and other milestone dates). Haven't done them yet...maybe when I'm done with the first draft I'll pull it all together so I can fix it in the rewrites.

Great post! I enjoyed the sneak peek into how you work.

Falen said...

ugh. the idea of ditching 37K makes me want to vomit.
I used to be a pantser but gave it up for more pre-planning. It works better for me

Jonathon Arntson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bish Denham said...

I write a very lose chapter outline. There may only be a sentance or two per chapter, or there might be something more detailed. I usually have very clear pictures in my head of my characters and a strong idea of where I want my story to go. I work on the details as I go. I've found if I get too detailed at the beginning that I get to feeling restricted which can freeze up the flow.

So I guess I'm a mix of a pantser and an outliner. I also tend to edit and revise as I go, as I seem to have an aversion to doing revision.

Jaydee Morgan said...

I just wrote about this too - although, I'm the opposite. I need an outline.

I can't imagine having to throw away 37,000 words either. I wonder if that's the difference. I'm an outline writer and usually have to struggle to make my word count. Are pantsters more likely to have to slash and cut to make theirs?

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I'm a careful planner and outliner!

storyqueen said...

Ohhhh, 37,000? Seriously? ouch. I usually don't get that far in before I realize I can't use it...

But such is the life of a writer...I think even outliners have probably had to do that at some point as well.

Shelley

P.S. Maybe some of it is savable?

Jen said...

Disgusting analogy but I couldn't agree more!!! That's exactly how I write! It makes for crazy rewriting and revising but it's well worth it!

I sit down and open my laptop, have a cocktail and write my heart out! In five weeks I finished my novel at 82K words. I am now in the middle of revising and that's where I've hit the wall... Ugh, deep breaths!!!

Alison Eckel said...

Okay, I see the chaos, but I also see a system. You have an Elana system and it works for you.

I like the idea of thinking in three parts and having pinches at the end of part one and part two. Thanks!

Kristi Helvig said...

Oh, you write like I do! I'm a total pantster but find that writing the 1st draft is incredibly fun. Sure, the rewrites and revisions SUCK, but the feeling of getting that new story down is amazing. Downside: I wrote my last novel in 6 weeks, but I'm still revising it 5 months later!

Lisa said...

I'm a complete and total panster. I usually have an idea of what needs to happen and where things are going before I sit down to type. Once my fingers hit the keys, things just take off and not always in the direction I thought.

I tried outlining once. It ended badly, lol!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

As much as I loved you before, Elana, I now love you one hundred times more! We are soul sisters of organization (or lack of) and writing styles. :-)

Elana Johnson said...

Shelley, I am going to use some of it. A lot of the same scenes and stuff. I've switched POV characters (something I'm still wondering about), but the same stuff can happen. So I'll be able to use a lot of it.

I usually write my whole first draft, print it out, and proceed to rewrite it with red pen anyway. I never truly know my characters/world until the first draft is done.

Alison -- an Elana system! Yes, I have one of those!!

Everyone has to do what works for them. The tricky part is figuring it out and not feeling bad that you don't do it like Stina (love you girl!) or Person B or whoever. You know?

Zoe C. Courtman said...

Yep, fellow pantzer here. And yep, I start full-speed and run into the 10K wall. Although mine usually happens at about the 30K line, after I've had all the fun of hinting and asking interesting questions. Then it's, CRAP!I have to make a PLOT outta this! And that's where the shenanigans happen. Then it's timed writing to force myself to just move forward, during which point I enter notes throughout the MS. Lather, rinse, repeat until "The End."

Michelle Stephens said...

I do have a rough outline I follow during the first draft, but it still seems like vomit.

Maybe it's the vomit of a planned out 7-course meal, but still vomit.

Janet Johnson said...

That's how I wrote my first novel. These days, I start with a character who wiggles into my head. I plot out a rough outline, and proceed. All the interesting stuff (twists, etc.) seems to appear in the writing. So in a way, I'm a panster, too. But nothing compared to you. :)

Writing is so individual. Such an amazing process!

Solvang Sherrie said...

I start with the title and a one line idea. Then I think about it, mulling over the possibilities for weeks. Then I sit down and type up everything I know about these characters, maybe pound out a scene or two. Then I have to figure out the names. For some reason, knowing the names and the meanings really helps me figure out the character and their motivations so I can write their story.

Taryn Tyler said...

Writers who talk about their methods flabbergast me. For me every book has its own individual method it wants to be written and I listen to what it wants in hope that it will appreciate my cooperation and be fabulous.

Karen Lange said...

What fabulous visual images you provide! :) Sometimes I outline; sometimes I'm a pantser. Just kind of depends on what I'm working on and what kind of mood I'm in. How's that for consistency?

Courtney Barr - The Southern Princess said...

Oh Elana I am the hybrid...with a tendency to lean more towards pantser.

I can sit and pound out a story like there's no tomorrow (hence why I enjoy my Wednesday's Written Word segments) but with long pieces I sometimes find myself around chapter 5 seeing the shape of the story in my head. Don't get me wrong, I don't truly outline the rest of the story, but in my mind it is kind of there... so sue me - I like to be a hodgepodge ;o)

Great post & so glad to hear you enjoy word vomit as well ;o)

Visit My Kingdom Anytime

Theresa Milstein said...

Your method does sound completely panster.

I'm a mix, but more panster. I get the first line, first paragraph, and then a general direction of where I'm going. Then I stop and write - not an outline - but a summary of what I know will happen and maybe some backstory. This makes me recall what I'm doing as I keep writing. I write the whole thing in about 6-8 weeks.

Then come revisions. Sometimes I take breaks and do some revising during the first draft when I'm not sure where I'm going next. This makes it more solid when I actually do a rewrite.

Query and synopsis are often saved for when I'm done, but sometimes those first notes help for the synopsis.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Great post...I think a lot before I write. I don't do a traditional outline. I write down phrases, scenes, and things I want to happen in a note format. Then I start writing...scene by scene...

Jennie Englund said...

Like you, I regergatate the first draft. But I'm psycho about revision: I go deep and far, as fearlessly as I can.

But I don't have the "Wicked" songs like you do.

Starting today, I'm "Defying Gravity."

madeleinerex.com said...

I am DEFINITELY an outliner. Well, I could probably wing something, but I outlined my current WIP.

It took me about three months to plot and three months to write. Now, I'm taking a break before beginning edits in May.

Patti said...

I'm very similar to you. I think of a concept for quite a while. Then I'll brain storm some scenes and just get started. To me that's the fun of writing, to see what will come. I tried outlining once and I hated writing because it took all the surprise out of it, but it does make for a lot of rewriting work.

Jana Hutcheson said...

I write my first draft grudgingly, tears streaming down my face, crying the whole time "I can't DO this! It's too hard!" while my critique buddies rub my back and say "Yes, you can. Keep writing."

Steena Holmes said...

I'm at the 10,000 mark and obsessing about my opening. I'm trying to remind myself that it's ok to 'vomit the words' but I can go back and clean it up later. LOL

Jonathon Arntson said...

Elana, ooo, I just discovered your name is really fun to sing in a really bad opera voice.

elana elana aaaaa laaaaa naaaaa

Um, okay.

Your posts are always awe inspiring, but one of the most important things you've shown me is to give your story lovin and help IT FORWARD when it's stuck. No banging my head on the desk, I have bookmarked this post and officially created an 'Elana' folder on my bookmarks bar. Yay.



aaaa laaaaa naaaaa a a a a a aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa a

Tracy said...

I'm a pantser who usually likes to write from beginning to end. When I'm stuck, I may jump ahead a few scenes and then go back and fill in the blanks. I also just like to get that first draft out, but it's pretty neat and tidy already because I'm a decent editor and major flaws make my hands shake until I have to fix them. (I've tried leaving those alone during first draft, but I. Just. Can't.)

Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) said...

I'm a pantser. I have the idea for the beginning, middle and end in my head but I like to discover the bits inbetween.
My first draft I wrote in six weeks and then added extra scenes in as they came to me. Now I'm editing and revising which has been a longer process but I know it will be worth it.

Tara McClendon said...

I'm a panster who would like to be organized in the attempt to save time. However, the organization has yet to kick in.

Jessica said...

I don’t outline. Outlining scares the bejesus out of me. The first book I wrote (the one I’m editing now) it came in spurts. I wrote the beginning in like two days. Then I skip around from there. I have certain scenes in my head that I have to get down, even though they change a lot of the times. Then I fill in the blanks.

Overall I know what is suppose to happen, it’s the in-between stuff, to get me there that sometimes give me fits.

I also have what I call a character board. I find people that remind me of my characters and past them on a big board, sometimes scenery from where the book is located.
Other than that I just wing it!

Scary, like you, I know.

Nicole_Hadaway said...

I make a loose outline of the major plot points, then pants my way from scene to scene. I write/vomit my first draft, researching when I need to, or maybe saving my research for later, just writing down what I need to and I can go back and change it later. I basically get my ideas down on the page and go back and re-write, re-write and -- did I mention that I re-write? ;-)

Great post, Elana -- I thought I was the only one not using noteboards and snowflakes!

Roni @ FictionGroupie said...

I blogged about this today as well. I'm definitely a pantser and am learning to accept myself as such. You actually sound a lot more organized than me, lol.

Christina Lee said...

OMG are you livig inside of my head??? I described my 3 step process oncce on my blog. It equates to (1)vomit, (2)go back and make legible words and sentences, and (3)go back and beef it up!

Lydia Kang said...

Word vomit definitely describes my first draft. I do both, plotting and pansting, though I thought I was a total planner. Turns out I'm not!

Sara B. Larson said...

Wow, that is very interesting! Isn't it amazing how different people's processes can be so different? I've had people try and tell me to change my creative process (because they think I write too fast), but I don't think you can ever try and make someone change that. What works for you, works for you, and what works for me... well, you know. :-)
My process also changes with different books. Some I have to outline first to make sure I get all the details right in the first draft. (I try to make my first drafts as clean as possible. I know. I'm weird.) BUt sometimes it's very organic, and I just have to let it flow out as it comes. I've written a first draft in two weeks once, and a different one took me about 3 and half months. So... it's always different. But I sure do love that stage of excitement and creativity of a new WIP...

Tina Laurel Lee said...

Love your style. I believe a lot of people need to hear about how awful some things begin. It takes a lot to get to that final product. Helpful post as always! I like the pinches, good term for it.

L. T. Host said...

Pantser, definitely. My current WIP has a list, which is by far the closest I've come to outlining. It's just not how my brain works, generally. I'd rather be in the thick of it than outlining about it.

Also, holy 1000+ followers and 60+ comments already batman! Way to go, girl!

Shallee said...

I am sort of a lovechild of pantser and plotter. I have to have the basics of world (I write SF), character, and plot sketched before I start, but then I just write. It's a good way for me to know where I'm going, but have enough freedom to explore. I've actually blogged about my process for both writing and rewriting on my blog (shalleemcarthur.wordpress.com). It was interesting to read yours, and I'm looking forward to seeing what your rewrite process is like. Thanks for sharing this!

I'm attending Storymakers as well, and looking forward to your class!

JEM said...

I made the jump to outlining when I had to scrap 40K words on my current outline. Your method looks shockingly like mine, although your word count output puts mine to shame.

Southpaw said...

I’m both. I have the basic ideas and characters before I start. Then I just write, sometimes not in order because I have to get certain ideas out or I can’t go on. Around a quarter of the way through, I start to understand where I’m going and then plot it out.

Readerly Person said...

That's totally me! My issue is that I'm usually an uber-perfectionist, so if I don't force myself to do the word-vomit thing, nothing would ever get written!

Brenda Drake said...

I had to laugh at your analogy. It's nice to know that someone else is a word bulimic too!

lisanowak said...

Wow, I couldn't handle writing the way you do. It would make my Type A personality jump off a cliff.

I outline everything (this can take up to a month, depending on what else I have going on in my life) then I start writing. As I write I do a lot of editing. I don't go on to the next chapter unless I'm fairly satisfied with the one I've completed. I usually get the first draft done in about 8 weeks. Of course in a way it's a second draft, because the outline is a first draft of sorts (that's where I figure out if plotting is going to work and change things). By writing this way my first drafts are usually pretty solid.

Carolyn V. said...

I do a little of both. It depends on what kind of book I am writing. I just finished a book where I outlined everything. I figured out my character's goals...put in the pinches. It went better than I thought! But just winging it is fun too!

Tracy said...

"I am a better rewriter than writer. But I can't rewrite what I don't have."

This explains it perfectly for me. In my first draft I don't care if I use words like very, that, etc like I got them at a 10-for-1 sale. I also don't care if I use the word angry every time a character is upset, or someone's eye, hair, height, sexual orientation is bound to change from beginning to end of the first draft.

I just have to get it out first. I can worry about making it purty later on.

Eric said...

I'm right there with you on Pantster Island, Elana. You're way more prolific in a shorter time period though, than I am. But my writing process is generally similar to yours except one thing. I have yet to write a query and/or synopsis, which maybe I should do that. Well first I need to buy your e-book, and then I can write the query :)

T. Anne said...

I'm word vomiting right now as well. I'm almost at 80K so the end is near! I'm a panster in as much as I don't really know what the end is. If I plot too much I kill my story.

~Nicole Ducleroir~ said...

I'm working on the second first draft of my first novel. Groping in the dark over here!

It's fun to read how others approach the process. Thanks for sharing!

Amalia T. said...

I am a pantser! I am also a rewriter! When I get the beginning of an idea, I start writing what I call "Source material" which is basically just scenes as they come up. These scenes may or may not come in a proper chronological order. They also may have variable levels of internal consistency. I may contradict myself completely between one scene and the next, as the idea evolves in my mind. It will often have a lot of holes and gaps in time between scenes that I have no idea what goes on during.

Once the idea grounds itself though (consistency keeps up and things start coming reliably in a chronological fashion), then I go back and start writing the book! I don't really look at the source material a lot as this happens. Mostly I just ignore it and stare rewriting hugely. This is the first draft! Once the first draft is over, I usually rewrite a second time from scratch, and it's that second draft rewrite that I revise and edit from.

okay. that was a long comment. But Yay Pantsing! And yay rewriting!

paulgreci said...

I'm a mix of writer, and my process keeps changing, and it's different for every manuscript. Part of it depends on how developed the story is in my mind, or how developed the MC is in my mind when I start.

Angie Paxton said...

Elana, your process sounds chaotically familiar. I'm so glad to know I'm not the only one who is this much of a pantser.

Nichole Giles said...

Oh my gosh, I'm so glad I'm not the only pantser I know! My process is very similar to yours. I have a couple of ideas, and usually a character or two, and off I go...

But I'm not nearly as fast as you at kicking out a rough draft. For me, it has to gel a lot longer, so when I hit those walls, I tend to stall for a long time. Then I work on something else for a while, and come back to the first project a month or two later. But I'm a finisher, so eventually, they all get done.

Nisa said...

I guess I'm somewhere in between. I start the story and write maybe a third of it. About 25k (though it varies), then I get stuck and I have to sit down and outline the rest, thinking out each scene before I can write it out.

Dominique said...

I'm an outliner/pantster hybrid. I make plans and am capable of ignoring them or taking a more circuitous route than planned if that's what I decide is called for.

Rewriting, it seems, is going to be an important part of my writing process, though, since no matter how much you plan or improv, if it's not right, it's not right. Either way, revisions are inevitable.

Liz H. Allen said...

I start with word vomit but that's where the plotter steps in. It's weird because I am not an organized person but I am highly meticulous with writing.

So, I spend a day or two writing everything I know about the story. It's like a giant freewrite. At this point, I either continue or place it in a folder to work on later. Its my way of getting it out of my brain so that I can focus on whatever I'm working on.

I've been playing with snowflakes which I liked up until about step 5. I function better with an outline of one sentence (or less) for each scene. Character sketches. Short setting sketches and then I write. It's way, way easier for me to keep track of what I'm doing that way.

And, since it's not uncommon for me to have to take huge breaks, it helps because I know exactly where I need to come back and pick up again.

Elana Johnson said...

Dude, you guys, where were you two years ago when I was all feeling bad for myself that "everyone out there outlines" and "I'm a loser. Why can't I outline?" and/or "I'm not a real writer because I don't outline."

I mean, seriously! It took me a long time to come to terms with living in my own writing skin. I sure could've used you guys then!

Oh well. I'm super-glad you're here now. I feel so much better about my process when I hear that you all do this too!

To word vomiters!!

Palindrome said...

I'm actually posting about my process this week so I don't want to leak too much...needless to say, I used to be a pantser but now I'm trying outlining and being more disciplined in my writing process. Yes, I said discipline...and I'm a Taurus!! Eeek!!

Dena Daw said...

LOL at word vomit!!!

I vomit out my PB's all the freaking time!

Jeff said...

I go in spurts. Some days 10,000 words will flow so easily. Other days getting out a thousand is like pulling teeth

Jeff said...

I go in spurts. Some days 10,000 words will flow so easily. Other days getting out a thousand is like pulling teeth

Sheri Larsenッ said...

I'm what you'd call a skeletal pantser. ";-)

Write out a few notes that just happen to have A or 1. in front of them. Sketch out a few more and then type away. I love to see a curve or twist I otherwise would not have created had I outlined to the hills. But that's just ME.

Krispy said...

I'm a pantser who is trying to get more organized. Like you, I think about story/characters for a while and let everything stew around in my head, but when I move to write, I'm actually writing. I don't do the character sheets or outline stuff. I should probably write notes, but I tend to keep everything in my head, which is fine until I shelve a project for a long time. Then, I start forgetting stuff and it's all bad. Haha.

It's too easy for me to procrastinate with my pantsing process as it is. I hit a block and everything grinds to a halt, or I say, "Oh I don't know what's going on, so I can't continue." So I'm trying to loosely outline, or at least think things through a little further before I jump in feet first.

This post made me feel a lot less crazy though, like I'm not the only one who dives in without really looking. ;)

laurapauling said...

I'm a total outliner. I can't pantz, I've tried. It turns out terrible. But I love that so many writers work in so many different ways!

laurapauling said...

I'm a total outliner. I can't pantz, I've tried. It turns out terrible. But I love that so many writers work in so many different ways!

Kat Harris said...

You do EXACTLY what I do. What comes out in that first draft is a lot like vomit.

I don't want anyone else to see it because it would make them sick, too.

And it usually stinks to high heaven.

Thank goodness for rewrites.

John Sankovich said...

I've tried to outline, tried the snowflake, which I wrote about, but after trying them all for a few weeks and different projects, it just never worked out. I work best by just sitting down and following my characters on their journey. My first drafts are usually short and need filling in as well as maybe some plots added after I've reread it once or twice. I completely understand where you are coming from Elana.

beth said...

I never outline--it kills the story for me. But I'm much more likely to have a story's main ideas down, including the end, in my head before I start writing page one. With that, I'm able to really write faster and get the story down.

Emily Ann Benedict said...

I love that every writer's experience is so different, but it's always seems to be an emotinal one.

Personally, I'm a better writer than rewriter. Rewriting isn't my favorite thing and I'm not good at ripping my own work apart, so when I sit down to begin a new story I usually have a very detailed outline. It may need ploshing, but the bulk of the story is set in stone by the time I finish the first draft. If it turns out to be less than great, I am more likely to throw it out and just write an entirely new story. :)

ali said...

Okay, so I'm not even sure I know what you mean by "pinches." So I'm just going with my best guess.

I do whatever works for a particular story. Usually, I do a terrible run-like-crazy first draft that hasn't had any forethought beyond a very general "idea." But if I run into a roadblock (usually around the middle) then I have to back off and do a little plotting. Very general. It usually takes the form of a time line of sorts--just to make sure I've got action or tension moving the story along.

I always dread rewriting, but as long as I give myself permission to not get it right the second, third, of fiftieth time through, then I usually enjoy it.

Becky Wilson aka Valkyrie1008 said...

Rather embarassingly I'm only just starting to realise I'm writing a novel and I know for a fact I'm not near the 10,000 word mark like yourself. All started from a short story I had some small success with and then I wrote a sequel to it, and then a sequel to the sequel lol and it dawned me these are more chapters than short stories.

For me, in my premature stages of novel birth, I tend to write when the feeling comes to me, I have a vague idea of whats happening next but only so far as what completes the chapter and what's going to occur in the next chapter. I do have some notes but I usually only write them down if I daydream a scenario and to help me work out where the start/middle/end are in each chapter.
I tend to only go back and edit and rewrite the chapters when I hit a stage where I'm forcing myself to write on the current piece so I just go back to review the rest as well as make notes.
I too like you only have little info on my characters, usually just the names and background stuff but not very detailed.

I must say I'll be lucky if I get to 10,000 words like you do as I don't think I've ever written a proper serious manuscript of that length before.

Wish me luck :)

And thanks for your great posts and sharing your writing experience. It's one thing I know I do write a lot about - my own writing experience and the lessons I've learnt. As my BF always points out - I blog more than I write creatively - and I'm ashamed to say he has a point.

Heather Kelly said...

Oh, phew. I was just beginning to feel as though the majority of the writing world are organized outliners. I'm a pantser. I can't write any other way. Although, I have an idea of the complete emotional journey of my characters before I begin. But I love to power through to the end of that first draft. Vomiting is so accurate for me!! I'm so glad that this is the method of choice for other writers out there!!

Lisa_Gibson said...

I'm for sure more of a pantster. I've been known to make an outline or two in my time but I'm better with being a crazy pantster.

Kelly said...

I have a general plot/conflict and general ending then go from there.
I can't wait to word hurl tonight!

Talli Roland said...

I vomit all over the first draft, but I like to call it strategic vomiting. As in - it's still rubbish and messy but easy to clean up (generally).

I usually have enough of an outline - turning points, climax, etc - but I leave enough throw-up room to splatter if I want.

How's that for analogy? :)

Donna Hole said...

I fly by the seat of my pants too. And that word vomit: totally accurate for me. I just have to get it down before I forget what I wanted it to mean. Then I re-write.

I agree I'm a better rewriter than writer. Except for beginnings. Still lousy at that, no matter how many re-writes I do. Thats the only time I ever think about hiring a book doctor - just to get the beginning written.

I like your formula for getting into the work. It makes a crazy sort of sense. I finished my novel first before writing the query, but the synopsis is something that is ongoing process, and does help focus sometimes.

........dhole

Medeia Sharif said...

I use an outline, but it still appears to be vomit.

Caledonia Lass said...

Pantser. All the way. While I have a map, Post-It notes and the like, that first draft just comes up and out. Like you said. Word vomit. I've never been good at outlining. But I do use notes and have to use that map for when my characters start traveling about. I need to know where they're going. I'm a total Pantser too. :D

Myrna Foster said...

My process looks a lot like yours.

Elizabeth Briggs said...

I have a loose outline (and a sample query letter) with important arcs and plot progression but I still hate writing my first draft. I just want to go back and edit it constantly. So I have to force myself to keep going. I'm glad to know other people's first drafts are just as bad.

Kimberly Franklin said...

I am so torn between both worlds. I really, really want to be a pantser... it seems that's when my creativity comes out the most. But in real life, I'm very organized. So when my writing isn't organized and perfect it drives me crazy. Then I edit the thing to death and then I get no where! I loose focus. I need to just let the word vomit flow. Because like you, I am a much better rewriter than a writer. It's just getting to the rewriting part that's the hardest.

Danyelle said...

Um, can I say wow? 37K. *shudders*

I'm a panster too. I'm a slower writer--if I keep to my word count goals, I could write 4 novels a year at about 60-70K each. It takes me 3-4 months to get the first draft done--and usually that's my last draft. I fix things like grammar, smoothing phrasing, that kind of stuff, but the story generally comes out pretty solid.

I've tried outlining, and I just can't do it. I know that I'm spending time on something that my characters will deviate from after a few sentences, so to me, it's not worth the wasted time. I would love to be able to do it though.

*cookies*

VR Barkowski said...

Despite my OCD, I'm a pantser. I start with a blank sheet and premise.

It only bothers me because my cp is uber-organized: character profiles, outlines, field notes, the works. But I've tried this approach and it totally stifles my creativity.

Jemi Fraser said...

I tend to start with an ending image - I feel the emotion of the climax scene first and then the MC bursts on the scene. I let that all filter around in my subconscious for a few days/weeks. I don't actively think about it. Then I sit down and write.

Fun post :)

Christi Goddard said...

I'm a total pantser. I know the beginning, and I know the end. The middle chapters are begun when I go 'oh, I could have them do this...' and string it all together with a recurring plot line. Each chapter is different from the last, with new obstacles, at least one resolved for closure, but new issues popping up to keep it exciting. I don't know what's going to happen until I start typing. It's like channeling in a way, only I don't get paid the big bucks like John Edwards.

Jeff King said...

I control nothing; it comes to me as I compose... no notes, no outlines, and no pre-designs.

I write when I am inspired or find the time to set down. I am at 76k word on my first draft and it has taken me 1 year.
I could do a draft in 3 months, now, but before I realize I needed to rewrite it many times until I found the path the story was looking for.

Sarah N Fisk said...

I'm pretty much like you except I usually have the characters more fully-formed (in my head). By the time I've started writing, I've heard conversations between the MCs and I definitely pick a name. Names are a big deal to me.

DL Hammons said...

I'm a card carrying member of the Outlining Writers of America! :)

Cindy said...

You are so right! The first draft, especially at the beginning of your writing year is basically regurgitating everything that's gone through your head relating to the plot, craft and sometimes a need to dazzle everyone with how verbose you can be.

I have totally been there. I used to be a pantser but I HAD to change my ways. While I appreciate the value of rewriting, I hate its guts. So I plan. I research, write character charts, then make a chapter by chapter outline before I begin writing the novel.

Kris said...

So awesome to see how other people write. My wip started as a short story - that became basically chapters 3 & 4 of the novel. I've used basic versions of snowflake, and character outlines, but for the most part, just write the story. Pantser, here.

Thanks, Elana!

Jamie D. said...

I'm kind of a "reformed pantser". I don't want to live in revision land very long with my stories, which means I need cleaner first drafts. So before I start writing, I write out a synopsis, and a scene outline (one sentence per scene) as a guide. Then I promptly ignore the outline and start writing...enough is fixed in my head by then that I can keep on a general track, but "pants" my way through the story for the most part.

It's been working pretty good, really - and the drafts I'm doing that way are far less messy than the one I'm revising at the moment. :-)

Kaylie said...

I pantsed the first two--does that make me a pantsie? I'm trying the outline thing for Novel 3, just to be different. We'll see how it goes.

Roxane B. Salonen said...

Elana, I haven't figured it out yet. I've written several picture books (two published) and a memoir (looking for home) but now that I'm getting ready to write a YA novel, I'm realizing I'm really just discovering my process, because each genre seems to require a different approach. I'm going to save this one, because I suspect, for better or worse, I'm more "organic" in my approach. And, truth be told, hearing your process was a huge relief to me. I have to have some organization, but an elaborate outline doesn't really work for me. Or, at least, thinking about an elaborate outline stifles me. So, I think there's my answer. Thanks for the inspiration!

Roxane B. Salonen said...

Almost forgot, I talked to high school students about the writing process today for a career day event, and mentioned the vomit-first-draft method. I hope they realized I didn't mean literally! :)

Marie said...

Thanks for sharing this. I work in a similar way myself, so I'm glad to know I'm not the only one.

Christina Farley said...

You crack me up. There is no way I can write on the spur. I suppose I'm just too organized. You can thank my kids for that one. Or maybe it's because I'm a teacher and I force my students to outline, brainstorm and all that good stuff so I self inflict the same things on myself!

Christina Farley said...

You crack me up. There is no way I can write on the spur. I suppose I'm just too organized. You can thank my kids for that one. Or maybe it's because I'm a teacher and I force my students to outline, brainstorm and all that good stuff so I self inflict the same things on myself!

Blooming Eventually said...

Working up the urge to vomit (words) right now. Does this make us bulimic?

lynnrush said...

I knew I liked you for some reason. I am exactly the same way.

It drives a couple of my crit partners NUTS.

I seriously will wake up one morning with an idea and start typing. No outline, no nothing. The only constructive thing I do is a little mind map.

My characters name, if I know then while I'm writing, is in the middle with lines shooting out everywhere that have little ideas on them.

But that's about it. LOL.

It's the MOST fun. I LOVE writing that first draft. No worries about grammar, sentence structure, nothing.

I mean, I have, he said, like, five thousand times in that first draft. LOL.

Anyway...great topic. It's fun to meet other pantsters

Carol Kilgore said...

How did I miss this post yesterday? I swear I checked your blog.

I'm half and half. I know bear bones before I begin but few if any details. Must have names, but they often change.

First draft helps me learn about the characters. Plot flows all over the place.

Second draft is to rein in the plot, add finer details, learn more about the characters.

Third draft is when the work really begins.

creepyquerygirl said...

I write a paragraph about what roughly happens in the book.

Then I outline it by 'scenes' and type a little blurb about what I'd like to see in each scene in order to get from point A to point B. Sometimes I mix scenes around.

Like you, I find myself changing notes or scenes as a write and the thing just takes on a life of its own! I find the outline helps me stay focused though. And I love crossing out scenes as I write them! lol.

Laura Marcella said...

I'm a plotter! I make a loose outline and it does change as I write my story. I just need something there to help me avoid holes or getting stuck. I like having general idea of where my story is headed and how it will end.

Good idea writing a synopsis before the novel is finished. I don't do that, and I probably should. Thanks for the tip!

Emily J. Griffin said...

I've tried both ways -- pantser and plotter. No matter what way I got, I always hit a wall. A place where my vomit dries up, I refuse to drink anymore gatorade, I lie still just waiting for the nasuea to subside. I seem to have trouble moving onto phase two... Oh, the dreaded middle.

The middle is like the desert. No gatorade, no vomit, no anything-- just the far off glimpse of a mirage ont he horizon. A little glimpse of the end, but no idead how to struggle towards it.

And one more time for good measure: VOMIT (I am enjoying this metaphor immensely).

Em-Musing said...

It's Organic for me - green vomit!

Faith Pray said...

Vomit aside, you are a fastidious housecleaner compared with my writing style.
I could particularly do with a little order in the revising department and so, I'm hoping you'll post more on your self-editing and revision process to inspire the lackwits such as myself.

insidethewritersstudio said...

I feel the exact same way about first drafts. Mine are all crap. I, too, am a better rewriter than writer, and I always get so excited about reaching the final page so I can start over from the beginning and get the REAL writing done.

- Kristen

Jen said...

I outline and then expand my outline into a synopsis and then expand the synopsis into a basic story and then flesh it out. There is no good writing, only rewriting...but the bones of my story have to be there from the beginning.

Even in my current project, which is more character based than event based, the bones have to be there.

L.T. Elliot said...

I'm an outliner and it's taking me longer than it should. Maybe I should just start pantsing everything? yeah, like anyone wants to see that! ;)

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