Plotter or Pantser

If you’ve been writing for some time the chances are high that you’ve heard of the terms Plotters and Pantsers or at least understand what both are even if you didn’t know there was a word for it. This post at The Write Practice explains both concisely.daniel-mccullough-146145-unsplash

I’d classify myself as primarily Plotter with some Pantser elements, although I’ve approached novel writing in a variety of ways. I had a general idea of the plot for my first novel and constructed around that plan.

My second novel all I started with was the end, as it was a prequel to the first novel. A great example is Rogue One to Star Wars: A New Hope. The writers of Rogue One had the exact ending in mind (even to the point that its last scene immediately precedes the first scene in A New Hope) but had to create most of the entire backstory. For me, that was Pantser in reverse, and a methodology I will not return to. I posted about the process and lessons learned in late 2016.

My third novel, Leaving Darkness, I meticulously planned out every chapter by  first roughing out the three acts, then dividing each act by two and repeating until I had 24 chapter synopses. While the end result was not exactly 24 chapters as I opted to separate POVs per chapter after mapping out the story, I stayed reasonably true to the outline. I wrote about this process that served me well two years ago.

For my WIP, with the working title of Fatherhood, I’m blending the two much like my first novel creation process but with a much greater experience base and many more tools available. I sketched out the three acts – I think that, for me, is an absolutely necessary process, and have completed the first chapter (in addition to a 10,000-word, five-chapter prologue that I intend to release for free as promotional material at the proper time).

Thus, at this point, I have the story framed and the main characters defined. Each act I’m approaching with a heavy dose of Pantser. I enjoy the freedom to create new character and scenes that fit the moment without being constrained by a detailed outline, all while keeping within the guardrails of the plot (yes, that’s a cliche but I like it and besides this is a blog post not a novel).

I’ve concluded that the best process is whatever works best for you is appropriate, but it’s worth dabbling in both styles with different mixtures of Plotter and Pantser to find what is an individual’s best combination. I’ve also allowed myself to be flexible and change that recipe as I desire. After all, writing is supposed to be fun, right?

Leaving Darkness is available at https://www.amazon.com/Leaving-Darkness-Greg-Schaffer/dp/1973644118/

Photo by Daniel McCullough on Unsplash

Slow Down!

Slow down, you crazy child
And take the phone off the hook and disappear for awhile
It’s all right, you can afford to lose a day or two

-Billy Joel

Yesterday I wrote about discipline. A few hours later I ignored my own words. In a perceived rush, I deviated from disciplined driving and made an error that could of had disastrous results. It didn’t, but the rest of my journey I mentally slapped myself for momentarily losing discipline.zach-meaney-249436-unsplash

The funny thing is I wasn’t even running late. I was invited to speak to a class of graduate students about information security and had plenty of time baked into the drive. As it was, I arrived about 35 minutes early. Not smart.

We seem to live such rushed lives nowadays. I yearn for simplicity. Part of that involves just slowing down. Whether that be driving or anything else including writing, we sacrifice the great gift of the now when solely focused on the end goals. I’m sure everyone’s experienced driving to work with much on the mind and maybe running a bit late, and when you arrive at the office it’s difficult to remember much of the drive. Why would we remember anything? All of our focus was landing in the office.

Goals aren’t bad, rather they are like any other tool – beneficial when used properly, detrimental than not. My writing goal as I work on a 10,000 word novelette is 1,000 words per day. Today I was halfway through my goal when I wrote the line of dialogue “That was then, this is now.” Sound familiar? It did to me. That was a Monkees hit in the 80’s.

Ah, the Monkees, that silly made-for-TV 60’s group that actually churned out some good popular songs. I remember watching the show as a child, laughing at the antics of Mike, Davy, Peter, and Micky, and singing along to the opening theme (“Hey hey we’re the Monkees…). I hadn’t thought much about them recently until last month when Peter Tork passed away.

Maybe that still lingered in my mind when I wrote that line. I had a desire to stop writing (egad!) and  find the video for the song on YouTube. I did, and the next four minutes I was transported back to 1986 during their “reunion” tour (only Peter and Micky).

I didn’t need to slow down and stop writing, and certainly distractions while writing can be detrimental to progress. But we don’t need to go to extremes (another Billy Joel reference – yes!). Take a break every now and then, maybe to recharge, but certainly to remind yourself of this wonderful world around you, beyond the word in creation on the monitor.

Photo by Zach Meaney on Unsplash

Novelette

I’ve never written a novelette before but read somewhere that creating one for a book is a great way to market a book and your brand. I’m working on building my email list, something honestly I should have done several years ago when I wrote my first book, Forgiveness. Live and learn.ben-white-197668-unsplash

I’m working on a new novel tentatively titled Fatherhood and will share more about that book as it develops. Childhood is the novelette I’m developing as a prequel to Fatherhood. Fatherhood is told from the father’s point of view (POV), while childhood from the mothers. Childhood, as the title implies, presents how the couple met as children and the development of their relationship through college.

My main purpose for writing Childhood is to have a freebie to give away in exchange for a mailing address to build my mailing list. I understand that agents and publishers look closely at that as part of the author’s platform (a term I did not know of until my first writer’s conference a week ago, the Mid South Christian Writers Conference). Therefore, my plan is to create this 10,000 word or so novelette (complete with professional editing of course), add a nice cover, and self-publish through Ingram Spark as I have done with several other works. It may even generate some revenue, but it’s email addresses I’m interested in.

As I’ve written the first draft the past few days (5000 words, so about half done) I’ve realized another important benefit. I’ve progressed significantly with the development of the characters and the world building. I see this as such an important offshoot of the novelette exercise that I will probably continue to do this for all of my future novels. When I began five days ago (my goal is 1,000 words on average per day, so I’m right on track) I didn’t even have names for the two main characters. Now I have that, their background, some personality traits, and a great foundation for the conflict that Fatherhood will create.

I’ll announce here when the novelette is available. I don’t have a timeline, as I need to ensure its quality and therefore don’t plan to rush its release. But the process of creating Childhood has certainly been positive and exciting.

Interested in a freebie now? Receive a free copy of Forgiveness at https://dl.bookfunnel.com/kc5ix83t35

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash 

Time to Write

What is your best time to write? Without doubt, I find the early morning to be when my creative juices flow best. I’m not sure why that is, but I’m sure it’s in part due to being a morning person. I routinely wake up before 5 AM and am often in the office before seven. Incidentally, this is a complete flip from my college years. I joke that now I wake up around the time I used to go to sleep.federico-respini-314377-unsplash

I have daily writing goals measured in words, as with most authors, when I’m working on a novel. For me, since I have a full-time job (I own a small virtual CISO firm), I don’t have the luxury of time to have lofty goals of 5,000 words or more. No, for me if I can reach 1,000, on average, for weekday mornings that’s fine. Weekends I relax my goals somewhat; if family time permits, I’ll get in some time to lay down words, but if not, that’s fine. Balance is key.

Sometimes people assume that my job is highly technical but that’s not the case. Yes, there are technical elements for sure, but more so I focus on strategy and my clients’ business goals, not the minutia of what most people think about with regard to information security (firewalls, antivirus, and so on). At times I’m called on to invoke my writing skills as well, mostly when crafting policies and assessment reports. However, I  don’t get a chance to exercise my creative side, at least not in the creating fiction sense.

I think that’s a prime reason why I am a morning writer. By the time I’m thinking about, say,  how the GDPR may affect a client’s operation, my brain has shifted its creativity to security and privacy strategic mode. It’s more difficult for me to shift to creative writing in the middle of the day than to start at it fresh in the morning. Plus, and I have no proof to back this up, just a feeling, creative writing to start the day seems to fuel my mind for the other security and privacy tasks at hand.

Therefore, I try to block the first hour I arrive at my office for creative writing. It’s quiet as I’m usually one of the first to arrive at my office suite. I don’t have the distractions of writing at the home office. So long as I can resist the urge to check work email, if I can give myself an hour of uninterrupted time before tackling the day’s duties, I usually meet (or often exceed) the 1,000 word goal.

I wonder if a study has been performed to see when fiction writers prefer to practice their craft, and why – anyone know?

Photo by Federico Respini on Unsplash

A Long Day and a Beer (Or Two)

I’m sitting in a pizzeria located on the first floor of my office building, drinking a beer (Atom Bomb IPA or something like that), trying to unwind from a 12-hour workday. I’m exhausted not because I don’t like my job, but because I love it. It’s a blessing to be doing what you enjoy and getting paid for it.

Still, I have a hard time shutting down. I’m in this eatery with this IPA because I’m not done with work, but the shared office space I use is hosting a meeting of a political party. People mingling about my cube is not conducive to reviewing a SOC report (not that a pizzeria is much better, but at least I can order a beer here). For those uninitiated to the wonderful intricacies of information security, a Service and Organization Controls (SOC) report is a summary of an audit on controls of a business to protect information. It is also documented as an effective cure for insomnia.

About 14 pages into this 75 page SOC report (and about halfway into my IPA) I lose what final thread of interest I had in the SOC report. My report on the report to my client can wait a bit longer when I have fresher eyes and a reinvigorated spirit tomorrow. Besides, I have writing on my mind.

The manuscript for Leaving Darkness Leaving Darkness Cover Conceptis in the copy edit phase. That means that I am paying to fix errors caused by all of the times my attention wandered in seventh grade English. I’m fine with that because working with a competent editor helps to sharpen the writing skills I have and introduce others I missed along the line.

But a manuscript is a deeply personal creation, and the thought of someone else changing it in any way is unsettling as well. I have all the confidence in the word that the result will be fantastic, nearly ready for the publisher. Then I will feel relief. This project began over a year and a half ago, and I’m ready for it to be over.

I don’t mean that in a negative way, though I am a bit burned out from the process of countless revisions. Isn’t it amazing that you can read the same sentence dozens of times and miss a glaring error that you should have caught in seventh grade? Oh, yeah, those times of gazing out the window during Mrs. Klein’s English class coming back to haunt me 40 or so years later.

If you’re waiting for the point of this blog, there is none, really. I just needed to get away from the SOC report and everything else information security that I have been concentrating on for my clients over the past 12-plus hours and muster some measure of a creative outlet (whatever that means). I can’t work on Leaving Darkness while it’s in another’s hands, and I’m not going to start a new project until this one is completed. I do have an idea of the next project – the only hint I’ll give is the working title is Desert Death.

Well, my time writing this lasted long enough to necessitate ordering a second beer. Perhaps that was my true motivation after all.

Note – The cover illustration is a concept, hence the iStock watermark. We may end up using that image, or something else.