Progress Report: On Creation

I’ve been MIA from the blog for a while because I’ve been writing. I participated in Camp NaNoWriMo with my critique. My goal was to write 25,000 words in 30 days. It was touch and go for a while there, but I just made it. I’m now nearly done with the first draft of my sixth novel. It’s the first that I think I’ll probably add as many words as I cut once I start editing. The world needs fleshing out, but I’m really pleased with this one. It’s a middle grade fantasy and I’ve had a lot of fun writing it. It’d been over a year since I’d started something entirely new. I’d forgotten how exciting it can be to not know what would happen until I wrote it.
In the writing community there are two common methods of writing: pantsing and plotting. Writers who plot, work out the entire plot either in notes or outlines, or just in their own heads, before they write one word of the first draft. Pantsers, aka writing by the seat of your pants, don’t have a plan. They just see what plot appears as they write it. Of course there are infinite variations of either method. I tend to work best in a hybrid of the two.
Two or three months later I begin writing the draft. At this point I’m pantsing, letting the ideas come as they may, getting to know the character and their world. I may have an idea where things are going, but I’m never more than a single chapter ahead of myself. The story happens as I write it. And what I write informs what will happen next. For example, early on in this draft I had a character give Ben a gift. I didn’t know what the gift would be. I went through a couple of options, a sweater, a board game, a hat. Nothing felt quite right. I finally settled on an empty birdcage. Then I had to come up with a reason why this character would give her an empty birdcage. I decided it was because if she put a slice of bread and jam in the cage and hung it outside her window overnight, she’d find something inside in the morning. That led me to figuring out just what she would find. The thing she found in the cage has become vitally important to book overall. Things have happened that I had no inkling of when I began writing, and wouldn’t have had she gotten a sweater instead of the birdcage.
So I write, adding in new characters and plot elements as they come to me. But usually, somewhere between chapter five and ten, the plot tells itself to me, from wherever I am in the draft all the way to the end. I then plot it out chapter by chapter and continue to write based on those plans. That’s not to say what I eventually write matches what I wrote in those chapter plans. Even after I think I know where things are going, new scenes/characters/plot elements do crop up. I guess that makes me pantsing plotter, or maybe a plotting pantser.
The only downside to this method of writing is I tend to derail when I get to a part where I know what comes after the scene I’m about to write, but not what happens in that scene. I either stop writing until I’ve come up with a way to get from point A to point C or just write anything and hope it works. For example in the most recent chapter I knew Ben would find something she’d been looking for, but there would be an obstacle preventing her from getting it, only I didn’t know what the obstacle was or how she’d eventually get around it. I knew that this part was coming well before I got to it, and I’d been thinking of what it could be for a while. Everything I’d come up with just didn’t fit or would cause insurmountable consequences (just because you’re making something up doesn’t mean you can do anything you want). When I finally reached the point were I needed the obstacle, I stopped, let mu mind rest for a few days, thought about other things, and then out of the blue I had it. The perfect B to take me from A to C. But those days when I didn’t know if I’d find a solution were scary.
I think I’ve only got two more chapters to write in this book and I’m fairly confident in what will happen. I’ve already had an idea for the next book—not a sequel to this one. It’s a bigger, wilder idea than anything I’ve done to date, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to pull it off, but I’m pretty sure I’ll have fun trying. I’m also sure I’ll be riding waves of inspiration right into big nasty walls of uncertainty. That’s how I write.
In the meantime, I’m still querying Random Acts of Nudity. Nothing new to report on that front, though that could change soon. And my critique partners are reviewing My Undead Ex this month. I’ve already gotten really good feedback on it and should get more during our meet-up. Maybe once I’m finished with the current WIP I’ll go into revision mode on Undead Ex and finally fix some of the draggy parts. The new idea needs some time to percolate before I begin writing.
I’d be curious if any of my writer friends and acquaintances are also pantser/plotter hybrids. Or if my method would make them crazy. Or if they are hybrids, but their method is entirely different. Share in the comments if you are so inclined.