Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Writing Types

According to her Blogger profile, Katie Ganshert is "a wife, a mother of two (one is black and furry, the other is more human looking), writer, and 5th grade teacher in the good ol' state of Iowa." Her life's ambition is "to stay home, raise babies, and write all day long." Katie and I share a dream, but with two young boys I have to admit that the raising babies and writing all day long bits don't always coexist. ;) Maybe her little one is better behaved than my two! Katie has also recently signed with Rachelle Gardner at WordServe literary agency and her first book is being shopped around to publishing houses. Exciting stuff!

Katie's question is: I'm curious...what kind of writer are you, Nicole? Do you outline, or do you just sort of wing it as you go?

I'm a bona fide SOTP (seat of the pants) writer with a nasty Plotter streak. Most authors will agree that there is a sort of writing spectrum, with most people falling somewhere on the line between "I wing everything" and "I plan every detail." For my first two books, I was as far to one side of the spectrum as I could possibly be. I quite literally winged the whole thing. I had NO IDEA what I was writing when I began After the Leaves Fall. I wrote one chapter, liked it, and wondered where to go from there. Every new chapter was an adventure with Julia's story unfolding itself before me. It was an exciting, surprising process that also managed to give me an ulcer (no joke!). Unfortunately, I didn't learn my lesson with Summer Snow, and wrote my second book much like my first (ulcer and all).

When it came time to start The Moment Between, I knew that I had to do a bit more planning. I hoped to pull off a complex, three-tiered narrative, and I wanted every section to have the same emotional/thematic punch. It was staggeringly complex to my puny mind. So I planned as I went, always looking a few chapters ahead and trying to see how everything would pan out as my story continued to unfold. The best way I can describe the process is to liken it to weaving. I'd braid a few strands (chapters) together, then revise, pull them tight, go back if necessary, and slowly move on. It worked great.

After The Moment Between, I started to feel guilty about my slapdash approach to writing. I thought that if I wanted to pull off a really great book, I'd better do it the traditional way: plot it. So I spent a couple of months doing character diagrams, researching setting, outlining my plot, and graphing every chapter and scene. I wrote 60,000 words of a book that I hated. I abandoned the project and started over from scratch.

Now, with four books under my belt and a fifth well on it's way, I've accepted my writing style as is. Like I said, I'm a SOTP writer but I can't stop myself from plotting a bit. It helps me immensely to know at least some of the foundational elements of my story--it helps me work neat elements like symbolism and metaphor into my books from beginning to end. Also, I think that adding a little structure and forethought to my work makes for a tighter, more intricate book. When I have an idea, I ask myself: Where is this going? How do I see this playing out? How will it affect my characters (short-term and long term)? By taking my inspirations seriously, I can make them work for me in the book instead of becoming nothing more than a nice scene or a throwaway line of dialogue that could have been integral to the rest of the story.

Writing Tip:
While SOTP writing is fine if that's what works for you, know that publishing houses and agents are not going to be interested in a book that is "yet to unfold." If you hope to secure an agent or turn the eye of a publisher, you will have to have a full synopsis of your book including the entire full-disclosure ending. Many would-be writers start books, but few finish them, and people in the industry want to know if you have what it takes to bring a story to it's conclusion.

Your turn:
What type of a writer are you???


  1. Hey, Nicole!

    I'm mostly a panster. Usually a couple chapters in I get an idea of something. The idea of plotting scares me because stories just don't come that way for me! Right now it's working, but I'll deal with changing it up if I have to (hopefully I'll have that specific reason one day).

    It was cool to hear about your process! Thanks!

  2. I love writing short clips of memories. Not a big plot person...

    I'm glad you're answering writing questions, the process gives us a window into who you are-- which is a great way to appreciate your books even more!

  3. Not qualified enough 2 comment.But reading above compells me to ask following questions to you, which you may like to answer sometime later :-
    1.Does writing make you more curious/observant or sensitive to the human side of things?
    2.How do you warm up yourself for writing?
    3.Does writing flows to you naturally @ all the times or do you also get some serious writing ruts @ curcial stages like outlining a plot or diagraming your characters?
    4.Are you sensitive/biased about gender roles in your stories?

  4. Nicole, this is great to hear! It seems several have been talking about SOTP writing of late, and that's where I fall, with some attention to planning. I like that we each find our own way, that there's no pressure to stick to one method.

    Great post!

  5. HA! I had to laugh when I read the beginning about writing all day and raising babies not always co-existing. Maybe I should update my profile. I wrote it when my little man was a wee little babe and spent the night crying or nursing and the day sleeping. I got a lot of writing done on my maternity leave, with my guy sleeping in his car seat next to my computer desk. Now, with my lovely little terror of a child climbing on every thing...not so much. I should change it to: Whose life's ambition is to stay home, raise babies, and pray they all nap at the same time so she can write. :)

    LOVED reading about your writing process. It's so crazy how God creates us all so differently. To think that you wrote The Moment Between without having a detailed outline absolutely, 100% boggles my mind. I am completely in awe. Seriously. I am a ridiculous plotter. I wouldn't be able to write a story without one. So reading about your process is very intriguing!

    Thanks for sharing, Nicole! As always, it was a pleasure.

  6. I love seeing where people fall on the spectrum... Kristin and Janna are SOTP and Katie plots. Our friend at the Yellow Door is a word photographer (short clips of memories). I love it. Someday I'm going to write (and finish!) a book that I've carefully plotted. Until then, I hope my pants hold up. ;)

    Katie, I have to admit I'm relieved to hear that your little man is a "lovely terror." That's exactly what mine are, too. I'm with you: "pray that they nap at the same time!"

    Neetu, thanks for the questions. I'll answer them upcoming!

  7. I'm a life-long, unpublished, from-the-heart writer. At some point in the last few years, God showed me that I write consumable words. They will likely never be preseved but rather chewed, swallowed and forgotten but leaving a hint and desire for more soon. (like doritos or chocolate truffles). I have written poetry since I was a child and have very few copies to show anyone. I have journals and lists and metitations all over the place and they will probably never find one spot to land. Like the winds of the Spirit, the words just blow around.