What this writing coach said

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  • #656269


    This is what Nancy Erickson said. If you see any factual errors then please let me know. The analogy with a house is spot on IMHO.

    And this seems totally congruent with the approach that WD makes their profits teaching. Is WD mistaken with pushing their approach to planning ?

    Make a plan, write your book
    Some people just sit down and start writing. But they soon discover that all the ideas that have been rattling around in their head have no form, no shape.

    What comes out is a spaghetti mess — a bunch of unconnected threads. They have a message, but they don’t know how to get it down on paper. The problem with the “write-first” approach is that it’s like trying to build a house without any plans. You have no blueprint to follow, no foundation poured; and you don’t know what the house will look like when it’s finished.

    I don’t know a lot about building, but I do know that you don’t put up the walls first. The walls have to be attached to something solid. Before you build anything, you pour the foundation. But even before that, you need a comprehensive plan — a blueprint that shows where each room will be and what features it will have. Before you pull out your hammer, you have to have a plan.

    The same is true for your book. If you want to save time, energy, money, and frustration, you begin with the end in mind. You take the concept for your book and turn it into a concrete plan. To do that, we start with the foundation. You may know the topic of your book, but do you know what you want your book to accomplish? If the book doesn’t have a purpose, why write it?

    If you don’t know how to write a book, that doesn’t mean you can’t do it. After making a decision — a commitment to share your story — you just need a plan and a process.

  • #656294


    Again – and not wanting to get back into the tiresome planning versus organic argument – but building a house is not like writing at all. Writing allows editing, at any time and to any extent. It also allows much more creativity, building worlds and people who could never exist on the plane of reality.

    Planning a story will work well for some writers – for others it is the kiss of death. Let’s just leave it at that – people can always look up the old arguments if they want further junk on it.

  • #656295

    Rob Vargas


    The either/or argument. It works. Or it doesn’t work. My way. Or the highway.

    The truth here is that WD is neither right NOR wrong. WD teaches something that works for a lot of people. Some people will never get it. Others feel it drain all the art out of writing. Or all the creativity out of themselves.

    Each of those attitudes is right. And each of those attitudes is wrong.

    Maybe outlining helps more writers than any other writing methodology. Maybe not.

    I don’t care.

    I DO care that some people seem so invested in “their” way that they denigrate, diminish, sometimes outright attack any other way.

    Writing is a deeply personal, intense process of creativity (notice how I don’t say other arts aren’t?).

    Try it. Outline. Try it. “Organic” or “seat of the pants” writing.

    What I think most people are going to find is that some combination of the two is the right formula for them. SOME planning, and SOME pantsing.

    Can we PLEASE stop worrying about who is right or wrong, and just do what’s right for each of us as individuals?

  • #657728



    Nobody said my way or highway except you.

    The OP made the case for planning. So make your case for pantsing unless all you can do is antifa the OP.

    Instead of denigrating the OP it would be more edifying if you could post or point to resources that elaborate on how pantsing works and is preferable.

    Can you post anything positive to support pantsing?

  • #657729


    Here is an article that is objective from both sides and is realistic:

    The Pantser’s Guide to Story Planning – Part One
    The Minimum First Tier Things an Organic Writer Needs to Know About a Story Before It Will Work

    The first installment of a two-part series.

    Over the course of this debate about story planning versus organic, seat-of-the-pants story development, I’ve come to realize several things.

    Most notably, that we are all in the same boat, planners and pantsers alike.

    First, pantsers don’t want to hear about it.

    For some reason the very notion of planning out major story points before you actually begin working on the manuscript is judged as either offensive or unworkable. At least for them.

    This is, in my view, much like someone claiming they can’t fly in an airplane… because they’ve never set foot on one. And so they choose to drive.

    The truer statement is that they won’t fly in an airplane. It’s a choice, a preference, rather than a statement of fact.

    Great analogy, that. Multiply the time it takes to get there via air by a factor of ten, and that’s about the same ratio of completion efficiency in comparing story planning to beginning a story with no idea where it’s going.

    And guess what – both vehicles get you there in one piece. It’s just that the long way might cause you to miss the very thing you came for.

    Here’s the second thing I’ve learned.

    Not about the issue – I’m very clear on that – but about what it means.

    Everybody who writes a story engages in some form of story development. There’s no escaping that, no matter what you prefer to call it.

    If you pants, if you just sit down and start writing with no clue what comes next, and then when you get to the end of a chapter you just keep writing and making stuff up from your gut, chapter by chapter… then that, too, is story planning. Even if you don’t like the term.

    In that case pantsing, or organic storytelling is your chosen methodology. And we all must live with the consequences of our choices, in writing and in life.

    Pantsing actually can work.

    It’s like exploratory surgery versus a targeted operation. The exploratory surgeon doesn’t know what she’ll find inside, and when she gets in there she does what seems right, making precise and critical judgments in real time. The pre-planning surgeon, however, enters the O.R. with a stack of MRIs, blood tests and a certainty about what’s waiting for her, and she goes straight at it, with a minimum of time under anesthesia.

    Good analogy, there, too. Because until we know what we’re doing and why, we’re unconscious and in jeopardy.

    Even if the result is the same – the very same tumor in either case is located and extracted – the pantsing surgeon takes orders of magnitude more time, and at greater risk, than the planning surgeon.

    In this case, both doctors know what they’re doing. So both procedures will work. But that’s not always the case with writing a story. Sometimes – often, in fact – the author has no real idea what they’re doing.

    Here’s a fact, accept it or not:

    The more you know about what makes a story work, about what goes into it, what goes where, and why, the more likely the writer will be – the more compelled the writer will be – to execute at least a minimum level of story planning before they begin the actual narrative process.

    In other words, the less you know about story structure, the less likely you are to plan, because you don’t (for lack of a better way of saying it) even know what to plan.

    And whether you plan it or pants it, if the requisite story milestones and the dramatic arc don’t unfold properly, the story will fail.

    The key there is recognizing that there is, in fact, a proper unfolding to be had. And this very thing, the rejection of that notion, is the undoing of many pantsers.

    Organic writers sometimes drop names of successful authors who swear by the pantsing process. But here’s the deal – those famous folks are in complete command of the principles of story architecture.

    If you’re a pantser, here’s the $64,000 question for you: are you?

    Again, the more you know about it, the more accepting you’ll be of the need to plan out at least a few elements of your story in advance.

    Because you can’t, you won’t, write a successful draft until you know precisely how your story will end.

    Let me say that again. If, for example, you’ve unleashed a story organically, and then at the 60th percentile finally come to realize how it should end, and at that point begin pointing your narrative toward that goal… your story won’t work.

    Your only viable option at that point, now that you know the ending, is to start another draft. One that puts all of the moving parts and contextual elements into their proper place. Retrofitting rarely accomplishes the goal, and when it comes close, it’s usually less than clean and elegant. It’s compromised.

    It’s impossible for story milestones to be in the proper place, revealing just the right things, until you know your ending.

    There’s good news for writers that are scared to death of this truth:

    You actually can do both.

    You can continue to write your stories organically – which is another way of saying, to develop them organically – but with a wildly improved chance of success…

    … if you’ll understand, plan and implement nine specific things ahead of time.

    In the scheme of things, that’s not all that much. But they are the nine most important things you need to know about your story, whether you figure them out ahead of time or during the writing itself. They are essential, unavoidable (and if you do avoid them your story will fail), and they don’t discriminate between planners or pantsers.

    I’m not suggesting you plan out all sixty to ninety scenes of your story. Some planners do just that – I’m one of them – but you can slash your writing time by more than half (by writing fewer drafts) and significantly boost your odds of success if you’ll just plan these nine key elements first.

    Next up, Part Two of this series: The Nine Things You Should Know Before You Begin Writing.

    For more information, check out these two ebooks from Storyfix that go deeper into issues of Story Structure and Characterization.

    The Minimum First Tier Things an Organic Writer Needs to Know About a Story Before It Will Work

    The second installment of a two-part series.

    (Read Part One of this series here.)

    The Nine Things You Should Know Before You Begin Writing

    This reminds me of that old Steve Martin joke: How do you avoid paying taxes on one million dollars? Okay, first you get a million dollars…

    Insert nervous laugh here.

    The nine things you need to know break down into two categories: the four sequential parts of your stories, roughly defined as quartiles… and the five essential story milestones (story points) that chart your course.

    Again, if your story is to work, you will discover these nine things. Either within a plan, or within a draft that will require significant rewriting.

    The suggestion here is that you really can discover – and should – each of them ahead of time. When you do, the organic process you apply to the manuscript will turn your metaphoric car into a high speed bullet train.

    Not quite nearly the speed of sound, like that airplane, but orders of magnitude more efficient than writing blindly from the jump seat of a car.

    The four contextual parts of your story.

    You can’t really go deep into these until you know the five story milestones, but this is what you’ll be shooting for when you do. Each of these is comprised of about 12 to 18 scenes, and eat up about 25 percent of the total length of the story.

    – a Part 1 set-up – scenes that introduce the hero, the context and stakes of the story, all before something huge happens (the First Plot Point) that really ignites the hero’s journey, need and quest, which is what the story is really all about.

    – A Part 2 response to their new journey – whatever their life course and need was before, it’s either put on hold or altered because of a new calling or need, as presented and defined by the First Plot Point.

    – A Part 3 attack on the problem – whereas the hero has been reeling and reacting and fleeing and rebounding, at the mid-point of the story they begin to fight back, to move forward to seek a solution.

    – A Part 4 resolution – wherein the hero conquers their inner demons and becomes the catalyst for the resolution of conflict and the meeting of their goal.

    These four parts define the context of your scenes. Even if you’re pantsing. For example, if you’re in Part 2 (reaction/response) and you’re writing a scene that has your hero acting perfectly heroic, and successfully so, it won’t work as well (because it’s out of context) and will ultimately sabotage the flow of the entire narrative.

    Again, if the pantser knows this they’re on safe ground. If they don’t, they won’t understand the rejection slip that becomes an inevitability.

    The Five Milestone Story Points

    In looking at those four contextual story parts, it’s clear that you also need to understand the transitions between them. If Part 1 is a set-up for the arrival of the First Plot Point (which is the most important moment in your story… did you know that? If you didn’t, let this be a wake-up call for you…), and if Part 2 is a response to it…

    … then obviously and with absolute necessity you need to understand what a First Plot Point even is, where it goes, what it does and why this works.

    The same is true of the other four major story milestones. Your story won’t work – planner or pantser – until they’re functional and in the right place.

    Here are those five moments that your story depends on:

    – the opening hook

    – the First Plot Point

    – a Mid-Point context shifting transition

    – the Second Plot Point

    – the ending.

    Some of these can unfold as tight sequences of scenes, especially the ending.

    Each of these is its own clinic on dramatic fiction, because they are the essence of dramatic fiction.

    The nervous pantser might, at this point, say: hey, where’s characterization in all this?

    The answer is – it’s all over it. These four parts are a roadmap to the presentation and flourishing of your character in context to the dramatic need and action you’re giving them. If you implement your characterization outside of these guidelines, your story won’t work as well as it should.

    Sometimes people reject what is true simply because it’s new.

    They’re not comfortable doing it that way. Exercise and diet, for example. Relationships. Money management. All of these life challenges depend on certain principles, and you can reject those truths until you are blue in the face, and you can do things your way if you want (the singles condo complex is full of them)… but you won’t get near any of those goals until you live according to certain principles.

    Same with your stories. Pants if you choose, but do so with an awareness that there are, at a minimum, nine things you need to understand when you do. Or you will either most certainly fail, or you’ll stumble upon them instinctively without ever really knowing how it happened.

    All nine of these story ingredients and principles can be developed ahead of time. Brainstorming, percolating, trying out scenarios and sequences using note cards and conversations over drinks… all of them are a viable means of discovering what dramatic conventions serve your story, and even your character, best.

    I wish you well on this journey. I hope, at the very least, that I’ve eased your fear of flying, and that you’ll gift yourself with this new engine of creative efficiency and productivity.

  • #657734

    Rob Vargas


    The reason for the blocking is NOT the topic. It is the behavior. Specifically, sock-puppet account creation. The creator of these accounts has been warned that blocking would be immediate and without warning.

    The creator of these accounts has refused to acknowledge his own behavior. His obstruction and antagonism is what got his first account banned. He knows that creating new accounts (aka sock puppets) in order to counter a ban is prohibited. He has been warned that such accounts will be banned immediately and without further warning.

    Anyone and everyone is welcome to comment on the topics this poster raised. *Including* those who disagree. *Not including*, as with this poster, those who’ve been banned. I’m not a pure *anything* writer. I use the tools and the elements that work for me. I’m very much an advocate that all writers approach their craft accordingly.

    This banned poster believes that outlining is the only means to writing success. He’s welcome to that opinion, and (aside from his behavior) he is welcome to express it, as is anyone else in that camp.

    He is NOT entitled nor permitted to tell others what does not work for them.

    Anyone who disagrees with how I moderate is free to contact Writers Digest to say so. As a volunteer, I try to follow their policies. If I’m failing, they can correct my misperception or remove my moderator authorization.

  • #657735


    I first started writing fiction over 50 years ago. I have tried various methods of outlining – none of them worked for me. I would start making notes – and end up with a written chapter. I would start making a formal outline – and end up with several written chapters. I started writing a first draft – and ended up with a fully edited completed story.

    I cannot write using any sort of plan. I cannot write without getting it as close to “right” the first time. I have an unfinished story on my hard drive that has, literally, been untouched for 8 years – because I was trying to follow an outline. I got so bored going over “old ground” – filling in the blanks of the outline – that I put it away and ignored it.

    I learned the technicalities of writing in grade school. I learned the basics of story-telling by reading voraciously. I write without anything more than an idea of a character or situation. It unfolds as I tell it. I edit as I go, because I don’t want to get to the end and discover I need to rewrite the last half.

    I say all this only to point out that each and every writer has to experiment with method and technique. Without experimenting, they will never know how they write best. I think I can safely say that not one writer writes in exactly the same way that another writer does. There will always be something they do that is different – because it works for them.

    That’s the most important thing – to find the method that works for you so you end up with the story you wanted to write.

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