For years, I’ve considered myself a slow writer. I can sit at my computer for an hour and knock out three sentences. Even on the days when I manage to write a couple of thousand words, I end up deleting half of them and then rewriting them, and then cutting and pasting them into another section of my manuscript before deleting them again. SIGH.
Like every writer, I strive for constant improvement, including around how long it takes me to write. My debut young adult novel WHEN THE WORLD WAS FLAT (AND WE WERE IN LOVE) took about five years from conception to publication. IN THE BEGINNING THERE WAS US took about three years. My manuscript currently on submission (which is my first completed manuscript that I plotted properly) took eighteen months, which means my next manuscript should only take a year. HOPEFULLY.
I’m generally a monogamous writer—usually only dedicating myself to one manuscript at a time—but I have a full-time and relatively demanding day job, which means writing is relegated to after hours (when my brain’s about as effective as mashed potato soaked in gravy) and on weekends (when not hanging out with family and friends or stuck doing chores). Sometimes I feel like just giving up, particularly when I catch up with one of my very talented and extremely prolific author friends who manages to write over one hundred thousand word manuscripts in the space of three months (and I’m talking FINAL drafts, as in READY TO SUBMIT to an agent or publisher). GRRR!
I must have AT LEAST a hundred unfinished manuscripts which will only ever be read by my virus protector on my computer—some a few hundred words (more so ideas than manuscripts) and others a few thousand. I’ve finally come to the realisation that in order to finish a manuscript I actually need to plot my stories. As a pantser (someone who writes by the seat of my pants), I end up writing a first chapter and then poking and prodding it like a dead carcass washed up on a beach, before finally rolling it back into the depths of my hard-drive.
The other benefit to plotting is that it reduces the number of revisions. I must have added at least another TWO YEARS to my drafting of WHEN THE WORLD WAS FLAT (AND WE WERE IN LOVE) because I kept adding new storylines. This included a COMPLETE CHANGE of the genre after the first draft—from contemporary fiction to science fiction (and just between you, me and the lamp post I’m doing another revision right now to see if I can tempt a traditional publisher to publish it again).
While I do love letting a story evolve organically, the flip side of that coin is that it would take me about fifty years to have less than a handful of manuscripts finished. If I were writing literary fiction it would be completely justifiable, but I write commercial fiction—as in purely for entertainment—AND I WANT TO PERFORM IN MORE THAN ONE SHOW IN MY LIFETIME.
My last unfinished manuscript—working title: THE DAY WE LIVED FOREVER—is the first novel I EVER plotted from go to woah. I can literally hold the entire story—scene-by-scene—in the palm of my hand (I use palm cards). I highly recommend it—and any online program that replicates this method—like Scrivener.
My newfound penchant for plotting worked PERFECTLY for my manuscript currently on submission (which is what distracted me from finishing THE DAY WE LIVED FOREVER). I even got SO into it that I revisited some of my creative writing lessons from university—specifically where we covered the Monomyth by Joseph Campbell—commonly known as the Hero’s Journey. This is a common template used by writers of adventure stories (novels, films, video games…). I’ll be sure to dedicate a future post to using this method.
Even though I love the palm card method, I currently find it easiest to plot on my phone, because when you are thinking about a story it follows you EVERYWHERE. If I suddenly work out the call to adventure while sorting through potatoes at the supermarket, I want to be able to record it IMMEDIATELY. I also want to be able to use those times when I’m waiting for a bus (never happens because I never catch buses, but you get my point) to review my plot and revise it accordingly.
SO, we come to the moral of the story—if you’re a pantser who’s struggling to finish a manuscript, I can HIGHLY recommend you try plotting. We all know the problem with plotting is it can be so BORING, BUT if you look at it as a chance to legitimately stare out of the window or lay down on the couch and call it work, it suddenly sounds much more exciting—at least to a daydreamer like me.