Magical Pantsing and Finding Your Creative Flow

I put up my Halloween decorations yesterday – and brought in the hummingbird feeders at the same time. That felt like a symmetrical seasonal changeover, all happening in the due course of the seasons.

So, on Monday, in a fit of frustrated eye-rolling, I fired off this tweet:

To my vast surprise, this tweet has received SO MANY likes and responses. Clearly I wasn’t the only one feeling this frustration. Quite a few people wrote back about feeling the pressure to learn to pre-plot. I’ve felt it, too. There’s a strong opinion in the writing community – and maybe in the world at large – that outlining and pre-plotting is the best way to write. That it’s faster, more organized, requires less revision later.

The thing is: it’s just not true.

I mean, sure for some people, that process works. It’s certainly the one we’re taught in school (for the most part). But I was the student who hated trying to write an outline before I wrote the paper. I tried, but it was agonizing. Finally I figured out to just write the paper, then make an outline from it, and turn that in. If the teacher or professor had comments or tweaks (which almost never happened), I could add them in. Though those were the days before word processing, so I’d have to retype the paper. STILL, doing it that way was faster for me, and produced better work.

This is key: we must find what works for each of us individually and honor that process. Those people who insist that we not only CAN learn a “better” way, but *should* – and I can vouch that a few people popped into my timeline to say things like “No offense, but you have to learn this if you want to sell books” – are not being helpful. (Also, I really think that if you feel compelled to start a reply with “No offense, but…” or “Honestly…” then maybe you’re not engaging in a  positive way.)

But “Pantsing” – derived from the phrase “fly by the seat of your pants,” and not my favorite descriptor by a long shot – is a way to access creative flow. I prefer to call it Writing for Discovery or Gardening. (I talked about this more on yesterday’s podcast, but for those who don’t listen, I’m reiterating a bit here.) For me, getting into the trance of writing opens up portals to other places, and the story flows in from there. “Gardening” is an analogy with a similar feel, where the beginning of the story is all planting seeds, the middle is nourishing the garden, and the ending is when it blossoms – and you discover what you’ve got.

Writing this way is absolutely an act of faith. It requires giving up conscious control of the story, which feels most uncomfortable to many people. It’s really the opposite of the academically taught methods, which focus on a cerebral approach. Sure, I get that many of my author friends access creative and subconscious flow in pre-plotting a story and writing the outline. Sadly, those conscious brain activities open no portals for me.

Several responders made the point that perhaps more pre-plotting and story-planning classes are taught because those methods *are* eminently more teachable. Which is a super valid point. In some ways, teaching someone to give up control and leap into the creative flow is nearly impossible. It’s so individual.

BUT, I think we can teach that this is an absolutely viable – and magical – way to access stories. We can make it clear that many, many authors who sell books (myself included) write this way. And we can talk about ways to open those portals, and how to keep them open. Also: not to panic.

So, I think I’m going to try this. I’m seeing about setting up a class. I’m also considering podcasting daily during NaNoWriMo with tips on pantsing your way through the month-long challenge. (There is, apparently, a podcast version called NaPodPoMo.) I’m also considering getting the author coaching set up and providing personalized support for writers during NaNoWriMo. If any of these ideas sound good to you, please let me know!

 

How to Talk to Authors at Parties*

This slightly sodden morning glory was the last before the freeze, so I had to take a pic. Until next season, tender flowers!

So, last week I was at the nail salon. I go every-other week and see Ruby, who is a Mani/Pedi Goddess. I’ve been seeing her for two years now, so we know each other fairly well. She was asking me about Halloween and my plans – and I said I had Costume Pressure this year. I’ve been invited to a Big Shindig, hosted by George R.R. Martin’s assistant. Lots of Science Fiction and Fantasy types will be there.

Ruby asked if I didn’t have costume ideas, and I said sure, I could put something together, but I don’t really do Cosplay the way a lot of these people will be. A client of one of the other gals, overhearing, turns to me and says:

“Just go as one of George R.R. Martin’s characters. From what I’ve seen, all you’d have to do is roll around in the dirt!” And she cackles at her wit.

“I doubt George would find the humor in that,” I say, imagining the scene where I, a greatly junior author, turn up in dirt-covered rags and cheerfully announced to George that I’m Arya Stark. No no no.

Other Lady: Oh no – I’ve met George R.R. Martin and he has a *great* sense of humor!

Me: Yes, he does, but not so much about Game of Thrones.

Other Lady: That’s not true! When I met him at a party, my daughter wanted me to ask him to stop killing off his characters. So, since it was important to her, I did. I marched right up to him and I said “my daughter wants me to ask you to stop killing off his characters.” And he laughed!

Me: ~cringes in chair~

Other Lady: And do you know what he said? He said, “Tell her not to worry because I’ve got plenty more where those came from.” Isn’t that just too funny??

Me: ~nods politely~

Other Lady: So see – he *does* have a sense of humor about Game of Thrones. So you should just go covered in dirt, say you’re one of his characters, and he’ll think it’s funny.

Me: I’ll keep that in mind.

***

It occurred to me to share this story, because I get asked a lot about Dos and Don’ts when meeting favorite authors. Is it okay to ask them to sign a book? Will they get mad if I ask when the sequel is coming? That sort of thing.

My usual advice is that most authors LOVE to meet readers and are happy to sign books and talk about them. I really love to hear which characters or stories are favorites and why. And sure, authors hear a lot of the same questions, but that’s generally okay. We also have standard answers for them. Good on George for being able to laugh as he delivered his standard answer to something he hears All The Freaking Time. 

It totally amazed me that this lady could be so tone deaf that she had no sense of that – or how her dismissal of his characters as all covered in dirt wouldn’t be insulting. 

So, how do you talk to authors at parties – or anywhere, really? Like you talk to any human being. With kindness and consideration. 

 

*with apologies to Neil Gaiman’s “How to Talk to Girls at Parties”

You Know You Want It

Talavera Jack O'LanternOne of the great things about living where I do – in Santa Fe, New Mexico – is all the fabulous and fun arts. Including these wonderful Talavera Jack O’Lanterns. Talavera is this particular style of ceramic glaze, introduced to Mexico by the Spanish Moors. It’s one of my favorite styles and the first time I saw a Talavera Jack O’Lantern, I snapped it up. And bought one for my mother, too.

This year, I decided to buy one for you guys.

I’m giving it away to one of my newsletter subscribers. (Okay, yes – this isn’t ENTIRELY selfless on my part.) The first newsletter goes out this Friday, October 31. Sign up by Thursday, October 30, Midnight Eastern Time, and you’ll be automatically entered in the drawing! The sign-up form is on the right hand side of my home page. This newsletter will also contain a free prequel story to The Twelve Kingdoms, previously only available in an anthology.

BETTER THAN CANDY CORN.

(Okay, for those of you who hate candy corn, that’s not saying much, but you get the concept.)

Also, only a few days remain to get a free copy of The Tears of the Rose from my fabulous publisher via Goodreads. That giveaway ends October 30, also. So many things drawing to a close as the Veil thins…

*tosses candy corn into the air in celebratory style*

Life Cycles – or How I Became a Teenager Again

002 crop House is decorated for Halloween! Always makes me happy. I’ll even be home for Halloween night this year, for the first time in a couple of years.

I’m over at What the Cat Read today, with a variety of quotes about writers and cats.

The post ahead might be a bit TMI. Fair Warning.

I’ve been hitting a funny place in my life lately. Now that I’m in my late 40s, I’m looking at the whole menopause thing, though I’ve had blessedly few symptoms. More in the radar sites right now is dealing with my blood pressure. It’s just a little high. “Pre-Hypertension,” they call it. Not high enough to medicate, but high enough to be of concern. So far, I’ve been doing about everything I can. My diet is good – low fat, veggies, no fast food. I exercise. With the treadmill desk I’m walking 7-8 miles/day. No caffeine. Trying various herbs.

I recently switched practitioners and she suggested that I should go off the birth control pills, as a next step. It’s funny because I’ve been on the pill for over 30 years. I started on it when I was 16 and had met the guy I wanted to lose my virginity to. And I’ve never looked back. Taking the pill every night has acted as a calendar for my adult life. Likely what I’ll do is get a copper IUD. I still have my biases left over from the IUD horror stories of the 80s, but apparently they’re tons better now. Funny to me that I never tracked those changes.

For the time being, however, we’re using condoms. The other day, I went to the pharmacy and bought a box – for the first time in my whole entire life.

Because, back in my youthful, non-monogamous days, STDs weren’t emphasized so much. AIDS really became a major concern by my junior year in college. But even then, we tended to think in terms of exposure and whether or not we’d been tested. Because I was on the pill and reasonably discriminating in my lovers, we just didn’t use condoms. In fact, I never had sex with a condom until I met David and I was on antibiotics at one point, that could interfere with the efficacy of the pill.

So I never had that rite of passage until just the other day. And yes, I felt totally like a teenager. Plus, with my ovaries and uterus waking up from their long sleep and positively throbbing, I feel like I did when I first started getting my period when I was 12. Also, “they” seem to be right that the pill suppresses desire. While I never felt like I didn’t want sex, now… let’s just say I’m feeling teenagerish that way, also.

Not really what I thought I’d experience in my late 40s, but also cool in many ways, to revisit my youthful feelings. I feel like I’ve come full circle.

And that’s a nice place to be.

How to Keep Zombies Fresh

I’m over at Word Whores today talking about how to write in new ways about old things – like rotting reanimated corpses.

And if you need a palate-cleanser after all that talk of death and would like to taste the opposite side of the coin, I’m participating in a fun little sale of erotic books. Sister Word Whore Carolyn Crane is also playing. You can check it out here.

Waffles for Breakfast

Quote of the Day from Crazy Lady at the Gym: “This frosty weather is messing with our gardens – it’s not natural.”

I had no words. Which is saying a lot for me.

My spooky Halloween decorations look cool at sunset though, don’t they?

Clearly I’m feeling quite rambly today. I’m looking at my list of potential blog topics and none look interesting. My writerliness might be getting sucked into this new story I’m working on. It’s called (right now) “Sapphire” and it’s an erotic contemporary romance. An editor requested to see it, so I’m getting it all finished up. It’s interesting how, because it’s contemporary, I seem to be getting more into the thoughts and emotions. My modern career-gal, Taylor, has far more neuroses and hang-ups than virginal Amarantha did. Of course, they both get ravished just the same. Some things transcend era.

The big question is what to write next. I’m trying this schedule of spending three months drafting a long work, setting it aside for a month to “cook,” writing something short, then spending a month revising, then another short. October sees the end of this “writing a short” month. (Okay, I’m running about a week behind -have been since July. You can dock my pay.)

What this means is: time to work on the next big project. And I’m not sure what that will be. Oh yes, I have a list. I have several manuscripts in various phases from a jotted-down idea to one that’s 36K complete. Allison asked me which is tugging at me and I confessed it’s still The Body Gift. I haven’t quite cut that umbilical cord.

Of course, if I get an offer on it, I’ll almost certainly be diving back in with revisions. That’s pretty much inevitable. I know that, so that might be feeding in.

At any rate, I’m contemplating going back to a nonfiction project. Part of me thinks that, since I don’t have any other strong tuggings, I should pick the project that’s most marketable. Then I think, who am I kidding? If I was good at picking marketable projects, I’d be Nora Roberts. KAK has a vote in for me to finish the 36K one, which I might. It’s also probably the most unsellable project under the sun, so I’m waffling…

See? I warned you I’m in a rambly mood today. Say, I don’t solicit comments often, but let’s play Vote on the Next Manuscript!

Here’s the list: (I’m keeping each description brief, so as not to unduly bias my judges.) (And, no Marcella, none of these are good loglines, I know.)

The Daughters (36K done) – Fantasy, lots of sex magic, about girls being manipulated by a cult

Writers Group story – Nonfiction, 12 intertwined stories about women in my first writers group and how they ended up

St. Johns love story – contemporary romance, a woman travels to St.Johns because she falls in love with a singer’s voice

Wendy story – literary fiction. 30 yo woman living in small-town Wyoming with parents

Sorority book – Nonfiction, intertwined essays (yeah, it’s my thing right now) about women from my sorority, then and and the ensuing years, what sorority life was like

Papa book – narrative nonfiction, from the divorce scandal that banished my grandparents from theater mecca to the ashes of alcoholism

Post-apocalyptic vampire story – could be expanded?

Okay! What do you all think? Feel free to say you hate something, too. All suggestions welcome!