It's not as simple as it sounds: Place one writer in chair, in front of glowing laptop, during standard working hours for several days and voila...a book is written.
No, it's not that easy, at least not for me...
But some writers do accomplish this less than chaos formula.
My friend and colleague, Steven Konkoly has perfected the yellow sticky note method
. You might call him a plotter but I think he's actually a combination of a plotter and a pantser. He allows for the chaos to change the organization he's created. Perhaps he's more defined as a plotter with pantser tendencies.
What do those terms mean, you ask?
There seems to be two distinct types of writers.
Plotters: Writers who outline every scene before they begin writing.
Pantsers: Writers who let the story come to them organically.
I am definitely a Pantser.
I wish I were a plotter, life would be so much easier and organized, but alas, that is not how it works for me and this post is a writing routine and how I tame the chaos as a Pantser. Hint...there's really no taming of the process here. You...or I, simply have learned to live with the chaos.
It works for me like this...sorta
1. There's this reel in the back of my mind. These flashes of images: of people, places and events. Sights, smells and sounds in my life will spark them. This is the way it's always been, ever since I can remember. I thought this was everyone's normal, but life has taught me that I get to deal with this peculiar issue. It's like having one brown eye and one blue. Only, no one knows this but you.
Why is that such a big deal?
You could be riding a boat with a friend or going to a ball game and while paying attention to the enjoyment around you, there's an entire movie playing in the back of your mind at the same time...all the time...one you cannot turn off or mute.
But you learn to function with the chaos.
You can tame it to a degree.
You learn to tell the new stories to wait...until you finish the one you're on, because they pile up back there and a few of them get impatient.
Then on a Monday, despite the insistence to work on a weekend, because we have learned the hard way...we need the weekends, we sit down in front of the glowing screen and allow the reel to play through our finger tips. And further...we go into the reel ourselves.
We are there in the scene behind the character's shoulder while he's standing behind the door of his blue pickup truck in the middle of the deserted highway in Elmendorf, Texas, on an early spring morning where the sun hangs low behind a milky horizon glowing like melting butter.
He's searching for something behind the seat. A thing he's used before, but hasn't in a long time and he knows it's there settled low against the dirty metal frame from the long vibrations of past journeys. A flash of movement catches his eye in the reflection of the door mirror, causing him to jerk around, but it was only a spot of muddy brown, likely an armadillo by the musk in the air, though they were usually settled by the cool early morning. A wad of thick stapled papers catches his index finger. A bead of blood now marks in a smear across the front. He shuffled them aside causing them to vape out like an accordion. "Dammit," he says.
Then, "Daddy...are you there?" The crackled sound of his daughter's voice comes from the CB radio on the dash.
In a flash, he throws the seat back and leaps for the handheld. "I'm here, honey. I'm coming."
A few notes about this scene...it's one that's been hanging out in my mind for some time now.
- I have no idea what he's looking for but it will reveal itself to me in time.
- If I force what I want him to look for, it will stall the story and I'll have to go back and repeat the scene.
- Besides the odor of armadillo, there's that distinct oil field aroma that I have not yet included for the same reason as above. It'll come in time.
- He's panicking over something. But I don't know what that is yet.
This will go on all day...all week...all month, for me. After I do what I need to do on the business side of writing each day, I usually begin actual writing by 10 a.m. I sometimes walk away from the desk to get coffee, tea or water, but not because I'm thirsty...it's because I'm letting the scene come to me and I might as well take a break. Same thing for lunch. I don't usually take a lunch break but at times, I need to let the scene flesh out in my mind. Then I come back to my desk and let it roll out. I usually quit writing for the day around 3 p.m. because nothing good happens after 3. That's when you're tired and you begin forcing things only to cause you to stall the story. By forcing, I mean inserting your own details. I know that sounds odd but if I don't let the story play out the way it was intended...I'm getting in the way and that's never a good thing. I have to trust the process.
Notes on the writing:
- It's better to leave a story mid scene and pick up where you left off the day before.
- I usually go over the last chapter I wrote and make any edits along the way or clarify the scene as needed before I begin again.
- If the story is stalled...it means one of two things. I forced something, or I missed something. So I go back and read through...while I'm in the story, so that I can see where I went wrong as it plays out or perhaps I missed a minor character that has a more important role to play.
- Quality beats quantity.
- Rinse repeat.
Rules I've learned to live by as a chaotic Pantser
1. You must take weekends. Except when...
I'm an insomniac by nature. I can go three days without sleep. And there are times when the reel is fast and furious and just will not quit. That's when I cannot, not write. That's when at 2 a.m. on day three of no sleep, you will find me writing in desperation to let them out, so that I can finally sleep.
2. You have to take care of yourself mentally and physically.
Because we pantsers live so much inside of our own heads...you have to get out. Take a walk in nature after working. Work in the garden, touch the soil. Toss the ball to your beloved pet. Hug your loved ones. Then cook something healthy and eat well.
3. Travel with no plans of writing. Just go.
You need breaks but you also need to see the world around you. Listen to your instincts. Take road trips. Go on long vacations with only one pack of clothes and experience the world. Live as others do and try new things. Bring the laptop with no intention of writing. it's more for security in case you need to. If it's not there...Houston, we have a problem at 2 a.m. scenario and if you have a travel companion...they will not appreciate it. lol
Be kind to yourself and remember that you have readers who love your writing and they need to read your stories as much as you need to write them. It's what you do. It's your part in life. Do it well.