But I get up again

My writing has been sluggish of late. I’m putting the time in, doing a lot of staring at sparsely populated pages, outlining when the pantsing doesn’t work, and pantsing when the outlining fizzles to ash. The result? Some days seven hundred words, some days five hundred words, some days a paltry couple of hundred–and I’m grateful for each and every one of those two hundred, let me tell you.

I try not to worry about it too much, because, hey, at least I’m spitting something out. In the past, I’d have been starting to wonder if it was time to change my writing space (add a hammock, perhaps), dive into another book on craft, or maybe take a break and let the ideas regenerate. Yes, well, we all know how those strategies turn out, don’t we? Not that there isn’t a time and place for hammocking, learning and percolating, but when I’m mid-project, they tend to be code for “Hey, I know! Let’s procrastinate! Wouldn’t that be fun?”

So, my new strategy is to keep on keeping on. Instead of succumbing to the urge to skive off or beating myself mercilessly with the Oh-My-God-You-Suck stick, I’m planting my butt in the chair and my fingers on the keyboard, and keeping them there, however drecky the resulting output. Or, in the immortal words of Chumbawamba:

And, for the record, tonight it’s a whiskey drink. Very unusual for me, but what can I say? We ran out of red wine, and my perseverance during this creative drought will only take me so far without a modest drop of encouragement.

But, speaking of changing writing spaces. I’m pretty darned sure that if I lived in one of these converted water towers, I’d never whinge about writing output again. Ever.

Plotting, pantsing, blah, blah, woof, woof

alejandroescamilla-bookDisclaimer: If you’re not a writer, this post is likely to bore your socks off, for which I apologize. I also refuse to take responsibility for your sockless state, so please don’t harangue me about your cold feet.

Lately I’ve noticed quite a few posts weighing in on the great pantsing versus plotting divide. I wish I could say that this was something new, but if you’re a writer connected even very loosely with social media, I think you’ll have to agree that this debate rears its woolly head at least once a month, sometimes once a week. Being a sucker for punishment, I read quite a few of those posts, and at the risk of being tedious, I thought oh, what the hey, why not chime in with some of my own (possibly obnoxious) observations.

Have you noticed that there’s a pejorative connotation to the term “pantsing”? “Plotting” and “outlining” sound so much more…professional, organized, efficient, planny. (Shut up, planny is perfectly acceptable English, thank you for your lexical concern.) “Pantsing,” on the other hand, with its implication of a writing process that leaves one’s ass hanging in the breeze, implies that the writer is careless, sloppy, disrespectful of her craft.

The Slam:
I’ve read a lot of posts slamming “pantsers.” Sometimes the slam is an up front, in your face declaration that pantsing is just plain wrong-headed, that pantsers will necessarily end up taking far longer to finish their novels than the the more disciplined outliners. (This may be true, I don’t know, but (a) since when did this become a race? and (b) I’ve read posts where people talk about having spent months on their outlines too.)

Sometimes, and this is more the norm, the slam is more subtle–just as slammy, but slammy in an “everybody has their own process, of course, but clearly some processes are more delusional than others” way. The poster will say things like, “of course, a lot of pantsers are plotters/outliners and just don’t realize it.” Or “we all have to find what works best for us, but beginning writers will find the journey much smoother if they use the outlining method.” Or “there’s no right way to do this, but as a former pantser I can tell you that outlining really does streamline the process and saves no end of grief.” The old it happened to me therefore the experience must be universal perspective.

The Finger-Pointing and Mockery
I’ve also read a lot of posts that talk about the defensiveness of pantsers, their stubbornness, their unwillingness to try a different method. Oh, and then there are the mocking posts: “Pantsers say that outlining sucks all the creative joy from the writing process. Poor delicate flowers. Maybe they should find another hobby.” “Pantsing is like setting out on a journey with no map, no compass, and no idea where you’re headed.” Like that’s a bad thing. Pantsers are accused of pursuing a “romantic vision,” (again, like this is a bad thing), and being

Utter Idiocy
You may find this one hard to believe, but one blogger suggested that a writer who lets her/his characters dictate the direction of the story meant that the writer was  stealing other people’s ideas, because clearly her/his subconscious would be incapable of coming up with any original ideas. Seriously. I read that. With my own boggling eyes.

So What?
You’re probably going to tell me there are a bazillion and forty-two posts out there extolling the virtues of pantsing and slamming plotters, and perhaps you’re right. Maybe my Twitter feed is skewed in one direction, who can say? All I know is that, from my reading, the trending opinion seems to be that plotting and pantsing are both valid approaches, except pantsing really isn’t.

For me the bottom line is this: there are as many ghastly novels penned by plotters as pantsers (I know, because I’ve read quite a few of them), and there are as many roads into a story as there are stories. If one approach works for you, rock on, my friend, but please refrain from trying to convert your fellow writers to your interpretation of the creative gospel. By all means share your successes, because those are always delightful to hear and may be instructive to others struggling to find their own paths. All I’m asking is that you make some small, genuine effort to accept that there are other, equally valid paths, and to forego the sneering because, honestly? It just makes you look like an asshat.

When I was thinking about this post, I visited the The Paris Review Interviews site to see how some highly regarded published authors work their writing mojo. Unsurprisingly, there is no agreement on on process. I didn’t do a head count, but a healthy percentage of those authors outline, a healthy percentage say “never!”, and another respectable percentage adopt(ed) what the kids are now calling the “plantser” approach–a hybrid, best of both worlds reconciliation of plotting and pantsing techniques.

And, in the interests of full disclosure, that brings me to my own process, which is exactly that, a great wodge of pantsing leavened by the judicious addition of plotting when I get stuck. It’s not relevant to the debate, though, and if I’m ever published, it still won’t be relevant. We all have our own processes, and what works for you, or me, or Stephen King, or Cormac McCarthy, or John Irving won’t yank the next newbie writer out of their quagmire of a plot hole if their own unique process keeps dragging them in a different direction.

Now, if I was going to behave myself, I’d end this post with the usual “so, tell me, are you a plotter or a pantser,” but to be brutally honest, I couldn’t really give a toss. All I care about is that you’ve been able to find a process that works for you. The nuts and bolts of that process are your business.

So, instead let me ask you whether you think this ridiculous debate is ever going to die, and, if so, what can we do to hasten its grossly overdue demise? And, yes, I do realize that this post isn’t exactly doing its part to let the issue die. *shakes fist at self*

A bouquet of linky goodness

I called this post a “bouquet of linky goodness,” but given that I’m sharing only three links, “nosegay” might have been a more accurate description. Seriously, though, would you have read further than “A Nosegay of Linky Goodness?” I thought not. Sounds too much like someone has managed to get the interwebs caught up in their sinuses or something, doesn’t it?

Be that as it may, I have a very tasty collection of links to offer you today, carefully culled from my webby perambulations this week and gift-wrapped in tissue and bright blue ribbon. Or at least proof-read and pell-checked. Sort of.

Screen Shot Listen to Wikipedia

Listen to Wikipedia, image by Stephen Laporte.

  • First up, maybe you’re already familiar with Hatnote’s Listen to Wikipedia site, but it was new to me until my daughter and her boyfriend recommended it. Essentially, Hatnote maps a visual circle every time Wikipedia is edited and assigns a sound to each edit. Bell sounds represent additions to Wikipedia articles; string sounds are deletions. The result is a remarkably soothing, zen-ish soundtrack and a mesmerizing, constantly shifting map of circles. I think I may have found my perfect background music for writing–and how inspiring to know that every chime and strum is the result of other busy typing fingers, flying over keyboards with their edits and (sometimes questionable) facts.
  • Next we have an admittedly pretty silly quiz from The Guardian, the Pets in Literature Quiz. Silly is okay, though, right? We can’t be serious and intense and vitally important all the time, or we’d drive ourselves (and our friends and family) wiggy.
  • And, finally, if you’re a writer and you haven’t read Delilah Dawson‘s guest post over at terrible minds on 25 Steps to Being a Traditionally Published Author: Lazy Bastard Edition, I can’t even begin to guess what you’re waiting for. Apart from the irreverence, honesty and hilarity, all of which Delilah rocks and then some, this post is also a straight-to-the-point, practical roadmap for getting where you want to go–assuming you want to test the traditional publishing waters. And if you’re not a writer, go ahead and read it anyway. As I said, hilarious.

And now I’m off to plug another plot hole in my novel-in-progress, and maybe throw a few more complications at my protagonist. Let me know what you think of Listen to Wikipedia, if you decide tocheck it out.


You know, I like my ebooks as much as the next person (well, maybe not quite as much, but hush, it’s not a competition) and I buy them with more frequency than my credit card would prefer. As one does. But much as I love their highly portable virtual selves, ebooks are never going to occupy the same cozy place in my heart as do their three dimensional counterparts.

And why is that? Is it the heft of a book in my hand? The heady whiff of paper, new or fusty? The glee-inducing sight of them standing in  tidy rows or sprawling in wanton stacks, flaunting their motley covers? The fact that I don’t need to worry about my hands and eyes becoming obsolete and rendering my book collection unreadable?

Or could it be the shenanigans that tangible books get up to in their off time, as evidenced by this charming little video from Type books?


Any and all those reasons are amply compelling, I would say, but if you’ve already given up your own collection of hold-them-in-your-grubby-paws, velum-leather-cloth-cardboard-bound, physical books, you can always get your fix by adding a few of the following destinations to your bucket list:

And while we’re on the subject of books and bookishness, have you seen Jeremy Norman’s Book History Timeline Outline: From Cave Paintings to the Internet? It’s fascinating–a complete time suck, too, so make sure you have a bit of time to spend poking around. If you love books, you won’t regret a second.