The Week of the Writer: Why and How I Write: 80% Pantser, 20% Plotter, 100% Heart

Welcome everyone to day #1 of The Week of the Writer!

A little over a month ago, I decided that I wanted to get as many writers together as I could, put them together on one blog – in one week – and ask them to talk about the why and how of their writing. I have to say I was incredibly elated when I got positive responses from the amazing writers I asked to join me this week. Last week, I was on cloud nine each time a new article for this week was in my inbox.

Then I got a little dumbstruck when I realized something: I don’t think I’ve ever really been asked ‘Why do you write?’ Now, I know that my memory isn’t the best – truth be told – but I honestly can’t recall being asked that question point-blank. Not by my parents, my sister or brother, my husband or my closest friends. And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, because it makes me feel like my reasons didn’t have to be explained. Everyone who knows me knows that I have a vivid imagination, an imaginary friend that’s now known to all as my Muse, a deep love of the written word, and an obsession with music. So I guess it seems as though writing wasn’t something out of left field, huh?

Now that I’m actually sitting here and asking myself the same thing I asked from my guest writers, I’m actually at a loss for words since I’ve never truly vocalized my reasons for writing. Similar to my Muse, I have a plethora of thoughts that like to spill out at once, making it hard for anyone who doesn’t really know me to make sense of them.

But here I go anyway….and I hope it makes sense to you all……

Why I Write

  1. I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life. Yes, I have a full-time job that I love and enjoy, but there’s more to life than working 40+ hours a week, coming home, cooking dinner (on most nights), watching TV then going to sleep. There are husbands (or wives for the male-readers out there), family, kids, friends, books, music, movies, etc., all of which inspire me each and every day to a point where I have to use that inspiration in some way, shape or form. Writing allows me to do just that. I can’t imagine not being able to write every day, even for just 10 minutes, for the rest of my life. It just isn’t possible. My heart won’t allow it – much less my Muse.
  2. I love getting lost (and secretly hope I’ll never be found). Back in middle school, we had to read Where the Red Fern Grows. That was the first time I allowed myself to get lost in a book. And I’ve never looked back. I remember trying my hand at writing for the first time a year or two later and getting in trouble when one my teachers caught me editing my story. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t think to save the work on my dad’s computer – afraid he’d read it – and I haven’t seen that story since. But the feeling I had when I was writing and editing that story sixteen years ago has never left my soul. I have that same feeling to this day – it’s just on a larger scale and understood a bit more. I had a rough go at life when I was a child and getting lost seemed to be the only way to make it through everything. So I’m still getting lost to this day and refuse for anyone or anything to anchor me to reality 24/7.
  3. I honestly don’t have a choice. On a regular day, I’ll be sitting at my desk in the office, caught up on all my reporting and waiting for the clock to read 5:00pm. During those down-times, my mind – or Muse – comes alive. I can only guess she figures that I’m not going to use any brain power on finding something to fill my time with then I should just write, right? So until the phone rings or another project comes along (give that the office is already in tip-top shape), I take a small break from the real-world and dive into my land of imagination. Every time I do, there’s a new scene to be written, a new character to discover, or an entirely new story to be told. Lately, things at work have been pretty hectic, so there hasn’t been any down-time at all, which means that when I get home, I’m too tired to do much of anything. But my Muse – gotta love her – will slap me across the face then hold me at gun point until I get the ideas that entered my head throughout the work day either on the computer or in a notebook. So you see, I really don’t have a choice on whether or not I write. Every day I’m writing when I’m not writing – a lot of time, I just don’t know it until I get home and find myself staring down the barrel of a gun.

How I Write

My writing process is completely the opposite of how I live my life. I fly by the seat of my pants when I write, but I plot, plan and prepare in real life. Odd, huh?

When a new idea lodges itself in my brain, I just start writing. I pour every last drop from the kettle until it’s dry. Then I go back, read what I’ve written, and try to figure out where the story’s going. I’ll start the plotting process, but will only allow myself to go so far. I personally believe if you want your reader to be shocked by a twist, the writer should be shocked themselves.

For my latest WIP, I don’t think I stopped to plot anything until I was already 15,000 words into the story. Then I stopped and plotted what I think was the next 10,000. But before I moved onto writing them, I told my husband and best friend about the story and got their feedback on it. They both helped me figure out the ‘grand scheme’ of things and helped me brainstorm possible characters, outcomes, plot twists, endings, 2nd and 3rd books, and so on.

From there, everything flowed. I never stopped and plotted again either. Sure, I talked about where the story was with my husband and bestie, but we never had one of those loooong brainstorming sessions again – at least not until it came to the end of the book and it was time for edits.

Based on this latest story, I’d say I’m 80% pantser and 20% plotter ß I gave myself a little more on plotting because I think there were moments here and there where I was mentally plotting without knowing it. You know, those moments where you’re in the shower thinking about the next scene you’re going to write and you get so excited about it that you jump out of the shower, rush to your computer and type until your hair’s completely dry? No? Fine….the cheese stands alone on that one. 🙂

Now that I’m on my third round of edits – the next step is to send my MS off to my CP for more edits – I’m going back to write the outline that was supposed to come first. After all, I was being held at gunpoint the entire time, so it’s not like I could’ve stopped to follow the rules.

Now I’d like to hear from you: Why and how do you write?

Even though she still dreams of being a rock star one day, Melinda Collins is an administrative assistant by day, and an avid reader and writer of paranormal romance and urban fantasy by night. She lives in NC with an incredibly supportive husband – also known as ‘Lurch’ – an unruly and entertaining cat named Dusty – who thinks he’s a dog and can get away with almost anything, and a Muse that likes to keep her up all night with stories of Vampyres, Witches, Werewolves and anything else that goes bump in the night. When she’s not writing, she’s either reading, watching TV or movies, surfing the internet, or catching up on the sleep her Muse made her lose the night before.
You can find Melinda here on her blog, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

11 thoughts on “The Week of the Writer: Why and How I Write: 80% Pantser, 20% Plotter, 100% Heart

  1. I love learning more about you, Melinda, and comparing your process to mine. My first book, and one or two others, were written in a huge passionate rush without much plotting. Others I’ve plotted well in advance. It seems, for me, to depend on the type of story. Some demand more plotting in advance than others. Others require more editing later! 🙂

    I’m looking forward to all the posts this week. What fun! 🙂

  2. Thanks for sharing, it is always fun to hear how other writers share the same passion, but go about it in slightly different ways.

    I tell my friends the I can’t wait to get off work so I can go have some real fun. It is the only time I get to play with my characters.

    I always write first it may be only 5000 words sometimes 10, but it gives me a chance to feel out my characters, setting and any nuances I want to include, and then I plot before returning to my writing.

  3. “You know, those moments where you’re in the shower thinking about the next scene you’re going to write and you get so excited about it that you jump out of the shower, rush to your computer and type until your hair’s completely dry?”

    Yes! I am convinced that if I can event a waterproof laptop that attaches to the shower wall, I’ll hit inventor’s gold!

    I’m a plotter. Take my outline away at your peril. LOL. I think it comes from my obsessive note-taking as a student. If I don’t have my notes, I feel dizzy. So, I have to use an outline.

    On a side note, thank you so much for sharing your writing journey and including me in this Week of the Writer. I love the idea of getting writers together to talk about their perspectives on writing and I can’t wait to read what everyone has to say.

  4. Hi everyone! Sorry it’s taken me so long to reply back. It’s been a busy day at the office!

    Susan: Thanks for the comment! I can definitely see see how some stories take more plotting than others. I love it though when the rush hits and you can’t keep up with the thoughts in your head 🙂
    The rest of the posts this week are great and I can’t wait for you to read them. This has been so much fun that I’m wondering if we should do it again in six months….. 🙂

    Shain: I love hearing other writers’ processes also. I’m a little similar when it comes to ‘new’ stories. I have to just go, go, go until you get to that point where you have to sit back and look at the big picture before moving forward again. I love how we as writers are similar but different in our own ways 🙂 Thanks for stopping by and for the comment!

    Tina: Yay!! I’m so glad the cheese doesn’t stand alone on that one! Haha! You let me know when you’re ready and we’ll work together to invent that waterproof, shower-laptop! I’m totally in on that one!
    I was the same way as a student — I took notes until my hand couldn’t write anymore. But, just like life, my writing tends to be the opposite. But that’s not to say that I don’t have several docs with notes and pics in it that I’ve picked up along the way. They’re just sitting there as ‘organized chaos’ until I can get them all together.
    You’re welcome and thank you so much for agreeing to join me this week! I think you’re going to love the rest of the posts. 🙂

  5. This is a really neat post! And such food for thought.

    The way I write has changed a lot over the years. I used to be a pantser all the way. But that only took me so far. I would abandon stories halfway through when I ran out of steam or when I “burst the story bubble”. Then I started attending workshops and conference and learning about a lot of different ways. I started writing more notes. Nowadays I have a strict word count goal per day (2000 when I’m not revising). For me that really works. Also knowing that a first draft is just that, a first draft which will need LOTS of work, helps me to feel a little more at ease in what I write. I would say my first drafts are mostly pantsing with a bulldozer pushing me along to the end, but subsequent drafts take planning based on what I’ve already pantsed. Hope that makes sense. =P

  6. Hi Merry! That makes perfect sense! 🙂
    I’m a little like you in that way. I tend to pantz all the way through the first draft and when I go back to do revisions, I write the outline that should’ve come first and find little things here there that I can add to fill any holes, or give the reader a little something more. So far, this has worked for me, but like you said, our writing habits can change, so my %’s may change a little with time, but I’m sture there’ll still be a lotta pansting going on around here 😛

  7. Well, you have done it again, Melinda–that is, surprised me with your writing. And it goes on and on but actually says something! I am glad that hubby is included in the writing process. With a full-time job, that much time spent in writing, and all those thoughts running through that vibrant head of yours how easily it would be for him to be left out. That would be a “no-no”, right? right! You do have a one track mind when you get on a subject and I am sure that is what it takes to be a writer; so hang in there and one day soon I will see your name as the author on the cover of a book.

  8. It was nice hearing about your writing process, Melinda! I think I write because I am such an avid reader and I want to be able to entertain/move readers the way I’ve been moved. I was a lawyer for ten years and was desperate to do something more creative, and that’s what gave me the push to try writing. I was hooked right away. Right now, I’m trying to find that passion again. It’s hard to balance writing and promoting with a personal life. Luckily, I’m like you–a little plotting goes a long way with me. Congrats on pursuing your writing dream–keep it up and I look forward to all your success! V

  9. Linda – er, grandmommy: You are correct…if the hubby wasn’t involved then he would definitely feel left out, though we make it a point to spend time together watching a movie or TV or something else like that. I definitely have a one track mind! I think you know this better than anyone else! 🙂

    Virna: Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing your why & how of writing! I love learning more about my fellow writers, especially those whose writing I absolutely enjoy and admire (I’m still reading LOVE WRITING). I hope you find the passion again. I know finding the balance is hard, especially when you have a family, books to write and promoting to do!
    Thank you again for the comment! I will definitely keep it up! 🙂

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