Inspired to write again by a new story idea, I tread carefully with the choice between plotting and pantsing. I’m traditionally a pantser, but diving into the story with no direction felt risky. However, the idea of planning my book felt mechanical, academic, boooring.
So, how to deal with this conundrum?
I incorporated both. Here are some tips I learned:
1. Create 3 Acts. I don’t like the word ‘outline’. It makes me think of dry research papers on dull subjects. 3 Acts, of course, reminds me of theater and that resonates with my creative center. The 3-Act Structure is a simple W-shaped path that can be as little or as heavily plotted as you want. I’m a sightseeing kind of a traveler. I can’t remember route names but I can remember landmarks. That’s how I am with writing. Scenes come to me like snapshots, and I know that they belong in my story but they don’t come to me sequentially or fully developed. When I mark these scenes along my W-shaped path, then I can see the beginning, middle, and end more clearly.
2. Write scenes as they come. Unless you can turn off your muse like a faucet, she/he is going to be sparking with ideas in the middle of your prepping stage. I don’t tell my muse to go away just because I’m not ready. I craft whatever she gives me. Then I put it aside; I don’t incorporate it yet. This satiates my need to spill words but doesn’t interfere with my foundation.
3. Write a hook. A hook helps remind you the two big ideas that need to carry through the story from beginning to end: inner story and outer story. Stick this hook somewhere around your workspace, so that it’s always visible while you’re prepping your book.
4. Research big points. Some research may be needed before you can write the conflicts, turning points, and resolution. If any part of the plot is based on actual facts, then you may need to do some Googling. Try to do just enough to make sure your book can proceed as envisioned and don’t bother with the nitty-gritty. Detailed research can wait until your next draft.
5. Schedule writing time. Once your prep is done and you’re ready to begin your rough draft, plan a schedule to write. Make it easy on yourself. Mark your writing time on a calendar, put a sign on the door of your study, announce your writing time to family, do whatever you can to prevent being interrupted.
6. Word count. How much should you write for your rough draft? Keeping in mind that you’ll have to write another draft, you have two viable options.
A.) Write more, then cut. If you like to work with more material than you need and you have no problem cutting, then overshoot your anticipated word count of your final draft. For example, write 150,000 words for a 120,000-word fantasy knowing you’ll be slicing ‘n’ dicing.
B.) Write less, then build. If you’re like me and you love to develop with description and literary devices, then save that detail work for your next draft. Write below your anticipated word count of your final draft. For instance, for an 80,000 commercial fiction book, write about 60,000 words for your rough draft.
7. Make deadlines. Figure out how many words a day and how many days per week you can reasonably write on a regular basis. Then multiply to come up with a deadline. For instance, maybe you can write 500 words 5 days a week to equal 2,500 words per week. For a 60,000 word rough draft you’d need approximately 24 weeks.
I like to give myself a grace period of about 5 days to factor in unforeseen Life events. This way I’m not stressing out. If you overextend yourself you run the risk of burnout and writer’s block. If you don’t challenge yourself however, you can lose your passion for your story.