Friday, May 30, 2008

Think before you write


For anyone who has followed any of my thoughts on writing, you have likely heard me ramble on and on extensively about the plotter vs pantster argument. You know exactly what I am in terms of my beliefs. You should plot.

I don't care how much you do. I don't care if you are a full outline person, or someone like Cherry Adair that uses post-it notes (which personally I love but just can't swing it myself), or you simply create a huge list of the major events in the story, you need to plan.

Let me go into this a bit further...

One thing I always hear writers complain about is the lack of time to write. They love that afternoon when there are no interruptions and they can get something done. Many writers spend their life balancing their work, their kids and the up-keep of a house (including spouses) and their writing. This means that the time you have to write is just a precious as the time you spend with your family. We're talking quality vs. quantity time.

A motivational speaker once said, "You have to know where you are going. If you don't you will end up in some place you might not want to be." This is so true when it comes to writing.

I have seen a lot of manuscripts come across my desk that writers have clearly spent a lot of time on. Many have spent months and even years, and frankly, I read that and figure that is time they will never get back again. And it was a waste. I can clearly see that the writer simply did not sit down and plot, or in many cases, think about what this story was about or why this story was happening.

A writer needs to think before they write. If you think about your story, is it truly marketable? Do the characters really belong together? Will anyone really want the story? Look writing something new and original is fine, but if it is something no editor would ever want to read, or an agent could never market, is a complete waste of time, energy and money.

So, your project today. Before you sit down to write, think about your story. Figure out first of all if the story is really ever going to sell. Be realistic here. I don't care how much fun the story was to write, is it something that can honestly sell? If you really don't know, then stop what you are doing and start researching. You have to have an idea of the market you are writing in. That was part of the whole discussion of category vs single title that I ranted on and on about. People just don't get it.

Figure out where you want to go today...


And by the way... if your writing group is interested in learning more about this, have them get in touch with me. I might be able to help out at your meeting or at a small conference.


  1. The way you're putting all this into blog-format is great, because it becomes an archive. Old posts stick around forever and become reference material.

    Thank you, I'll sit down today and think. Not about characters and word count, but marketability and plot. And time issues and priorities and...lots of things.

    Great posts, thank you. :)

  2. The reality of marketability is a good point. I think, or would hope at least, that it's something a writer takes more seriously after she has spent twelve months or more pounding her heart out into a wonderful but weird story that no one can place. Perhaps that little realization is a part of growing into your career?

    But the plotting/pantsing issue is terrifying to me. I've always tended toward pantsing and I feel it slows me down, causes more grief than is necessary. BUT when I decided to seriously plot this new story, I got a little ways into it and then started writing. What is working right now is to spend an hour or so over the weekends making a list of scenes I'll need to get down the following week. Then I can write those scenes every day. It does mean that every day I have something I know I have to write which is GREAT. But, even though I know what the end looks like, I can't seem to make myself plot more than a little way ahead of my writing.

    Perhaps a good idea would be a twelve-step program for pantsers?

  3. Just discovered your blog, Scott, and great post.

    But I have to say that time spent writing something that ultimately won't sell isn't wasted at all, from my point of view. I had to write many such works; it was what needed to happen for me to learn my craft.

    Young doctors, inexperienced doctors, learn through their mistakes; the patient becomes the teacher. I have many dead manuscripts, works that I have killed through inexperience, and their bodies are on a shelf in my office now. I visit their graves occasionally, and honor their contribution to my writing career.