October 16, 2013

Writing Club Wednesday: A Pantser Edits

In the writing world, we talk about two approaches to writing novels: plotting, which involves creating some kind of game plan, structure or outline before beginning, and pantsing, which is basically writing by the seat of your pants. I am the later. I have no idea what happens before I write it. For example, in my upcoming release THE ART OF FALLING, I didn't know the main character's motivation until I wrote the fourth chapter. It's a huge, life-defining moment, a catastrophic loss that colors her entire perception of life. It explains why she dyes her hair and where her scar came from and it took me by surprise.

As you can imagine, life as a pantser can be chaotic and exciting and frustrating. I envy the control plotters have and the fact that they KNOW WHAT HAPPENS. When it came time to tackle my official edit letter for FALLING, I knew I need to implement some kind of structure or I'd never get through. All of that improvisation that worked so well in drafting needed some rhyme or reason in edits.

So I sat down at a desk (I KNOW! A DESK! LIKE A REAL PERSON!), pulled out a pile of sticky notes and index cards and I actually created a game plan.

Organization does not come easy for me. I admire it. I strive for it. But it is a constant battle. Creativity I can do. Spontaneity I can do. Structure? Order? That's a lot harder.

My editor, Meredith, gave me three major, specific notes, all her small inline notes and three over arching ideas to address. To tackle these, I first made sticky notes with each of those three over arching ideas. I stuck them at the top of my board so I could see them at all times. Because they're the big ideas, I want to reference them as I worked on everything else. Then I took those three major, specific notes and made a index card for each one with a few ideas about how to tackle them. As I worked through edits, I added or crossed out ideas under each heading.

With everything set up, I started on chapter 1, page 1, addressing Meredith's inline notes. Most of these were small (Is there a more romantic way to say this? Maybe try this word?), but a few required more finessing. When I started editing, I hadn't even opened the manuscript in two months. Going through the inlines helped refresh my memory and get me reacquainted with my story, my characters and my world. I think that's where the real work happened because I was checking with those overarching ideas at each step.

After finishing inlines, I specifically took on the three major, specific notes. I had made tweaks during the inlines, but I reread those three sections with a specific eye for Meredith's notes.

With all of those edits taking care of, I sent the whole manuscript to my Kindle, put it in a sans serif font (since I write in times and wanted something that looked different), went back to the beginning and read it from beginning to end, making highlights when anything struck me as unpolished. That read through is my "as a reader" read through. I try to shut off my writer-brain and just be in the story. I was still thinking about those over arching themes, but not trying to rewrite every sentence.

After my read through, I found all my highlights on my Kindle, made my tweaks in the document and sent it off to Meredith.

And you know what? It wasn't that hard. I felt a little rushed the night before my deadline because the kids refused to sleep and I just wanted to finish, but breaking it down, creating small steps and developing a plan of attack made what could have been overwhelming totally manageable.

Now, I'm still a pantser at heart. I like to surprise myself too much. But for editing? It's nice to have a plot.

How about you, dear readers? Are you plotters? Pantsers? Hybrids? Do you approach editing differently than drafting?


Leandra Wallace said...

I'm a hybrid! I do a bit of both. Outline, but nothing too rigid so I can still go wid' da flow, ya know what I mean? =)

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