Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Learning New Tricks

I have a really clear memory from high school which begins with me panicking minutes away from the bell ringing for second period English class. All at once, like a douse of cold water,  I remember a) I didn't do my vocabulary homework and b) I didn't do my vocabulary homework so the test I'm taking in 3 minutes will be an excruciating fail.

Like the heroine I usually am in my own mind, I grabbed my friend Joyce's homework, copied the words (kids, don't try this at home. It is CHEATING.) into my book and at the same time committed those words to memory. I aced the vocab test. And ever since, procrastination and last minute inspiration has been my modus operendi much more often then it should.

I write the same way. Pantser. No outlining. No editing during the first draft. Going where my story takes me. I guess you could say I do well under pressure. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad I can problem solve, turn on a dime, find a replacement staffer a half hour before show time, pull out a plot twist seemingly from thin air.


I'm not sure it's completely working for me. While I was traveling last week, I ran in to some trouble with a scene I was writing. It was stalling. Just kind of sitting there, looking pretty but not going anywhere. I decided to do something I've never done before - write out of sequence. (I wrote about it here on my writing group blog.) I know lots of people do this ALL THE TIME. I know lots of writers who can't even conceive of writing in order and who look at me like I'm certifiable when they hear how I write. But for me it was revelatory.

I don't think the scenes I wrote, which were far down the road in my book, will remain. But they were excellent for taking me out of the very narrow confines which I'd barricaded myself into and giving me distance. I saw that I was meandering. I was word painting. I was effing around, if you must know.

So what's my solution? Do more uncomfortable stuff.

Even though I'm only about a third of the way through this book I'm going to stop drafting and start thinking. My plan is to use Donald Maass for all he's worth (I hear that's quite a lot.)

For the next few weeks I'm going to subject FIND ME to The Break Out Novel Workbook. It's going to be carnage. And it's going to make me slow down and think. I may have to (gasp) outline. I will absolutely have to do some work on my characters before hand, instead of discovering who they are at the end of the book. There will definitely be blood - or ink - spilled. But I'm feeling a little reckless. Like a change is a good thing. And I'll share my experiences with you starting on Thursday with Adding Heroic Qualities.

So, how do you learn new tricks?


  1. When I was high school, there was a trick to the vocab tests. I don't remember what it was now or how I learned it, but if you knew it, you never had to study for a test. I knew it and consequently, I never studied for a vocab test...

    Good luck with your outline...

    1. Seriously, M.J? You're going just put that out there and NOT tell us the trick? that's cruel!

  2. Man - I am feeling the need for new tricks. For sure.

    1. I think we all need new tricks, every so often. Even when things are working well, a trick, or exercise or different direction to approach things - basically, always delivers insight that I'd either forgotten or didn't have. I'll share all the tricks I (re) discover!

  3. I really struggle to know what type of writer I am. I normally write for as long as I can without having an outline (usually about 20k), and then I freak out and outline.

    I recently started using the Write or Die program. It works like this: if you aren't writing fast enough, your screen flashes pink (then red, then blood red, then... well, I'm always too scared to let it get past that part), and it also plays scarey noises (crying babies, demonic violins, I think there is an apocalypse option there, too). And, finally, because I thrive with positive reinforcement, it trumpets whenever I hit my daily goal.

    I like the trumpeting part best.

    Good luck with your WIP!

  4. I free-write during the "thinking" stage, but after a couple of preliminary chapters I do at least rudimentary outline. Otherwise, I end up wasting a LOT of time. This I learned through trial and error!

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