Is Planning Creative?

Writers often self-select themselves into one of two categories:  plotters or pantsers. If you haven’t run across those terms, they refer to the amount of planning the writer does before beginning a project.

Some writers can’t start until they know how a story will end and all the plot points they will cover. Pantsers are horrified at the thought of outlining and start writing with only a vague sense of where they’re going. The fun for them is learning the story while they write.

Both methods work. My first novel was written without an outline. I had no idea about plot points, inciting incidents, turning points, or how a novel should be structured. That was okay, because I was so nervous about writing it at all that I didn’t dare stop to plot for fear I wouldn’t finish. I re-wrote the novel at least six times before I was satisfied with it.

For my second novel, in progress, I swore I would educate myself more thoroughly about fictional structure so I didn’t have to go through that again. And I have. I read many books and talked to many people about plot and dramatic structure. I learned a ton, and have also calmed down about writing, so I was able to create an outline, in three-act structure, no less, that guides my writing. It is not written in stone; I change it frequently, and I don’t feel at all hampered by it. In fact, knowing my plot points makes it easier to write the scenes that need to be there.

If you’re writing anything longer than a short story, planning can make your life easier, and does not have to reduce your creative impulses one whit.

You can learn about dramatic structure from many of the fine books available. I am currently reading Write Your Novel from the Middle by James Scott Bell, and what a revelation that was! I never realized that the emotional epiphany of the POV character occurs at almost exactly the midpoint of a well-plotted novel. I found myself searching through some of my recent favorites to find it.

K.M. Wieland’s excellent, concise, and easy to digest book on plotting, Structuring Your Novel is also worth reading. For you fantasy writers, there’s The Hero’s Journey, Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogel. If you’re into something a bit more complex, Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee (the principles work equally well for novelists) is invaluable. Another book I like, A Story is a Promise is by Bill Johnson, who talks about the promise of a novel being about the emotional journey the POV character takes.

Some simple things can help you be more organized, and more creative with your writing time.

  • Set manageable goals. How many words can you write in a day? Keep track. Try to increase them. When I track my productivity, it goes up. Set goals for how many pages or chapters you will complete in a week or a month and put them into a chart or spreadsheet. If you consistently fail to meet your goals, change them. The idea is to succeed, not beat yourself up.
  • If possible, work at the same time every day. There’s a lot to be said for routine.
  • If you can’t write when the floor is dirty or the dishes are piled up, do your chores first. Turn off the phone. Get a program like “Freedom” which keeps you off the Internet while you’re writing. When it’s time to write, do that and only that.
  • Take consistent action. If you need to do research, write something unrelated. Research is not an excuse not to write. Don’t stop writing to research something. Make a note what you need to find out and keep writing.
  • Trust yourself to know when to plan and when to write without stopping. You do know what you’re doing.



Publishing Opportunities

TU BOOKS, the fantasy, science fiction, and mystery imprint of LEE & LOW BOOKS, announces the second annual NEW VISIONS AWARD. The NEW VISIONS AWARD will be given for a middle grade or young adult fantasy, science fiction, or mystery novel by a writer of color. The Award winner receives a cash prize of $1000 and our standard publication contract, including advance and royalties for a first time author. An Honor Award winner will receive $500. Deadline October 31, 2014.

In recognition of October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the greater community is invited to add their voices through the “Stories of Resilience” contest. Submissions are sought that reflect the broad impact of abuse — through stories, personal essays or poems. First prize of $500 and two second prizes of $100. Deadline October 20, 2014. We are interested in a wide range of submissions, from very brief to a maximum of 1,500 words. Survivors, friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, children – all perspectives on the effects of domestic abuse are welcome.

The winner will receive publication in The Feminist Wire and $200. The 1st runner up will receive publication in The Feminist Wire and $100. Deadline October 1, 2014. Submit up to 3 poems (no more than a total of 5 pages)


Mothering Through the Darkness: A Call for Submissions and a Writing Contest

The HerStories Project will award $500 to one submission for Best Essay and $100 to two runners-up. All three essays will be published in the book, and each winner will receive a paperback copy. Previously unpublished stories between 1,500 and 3,000 words. Deadline December 1, 2014. Mothering Through the Darkness: Stories of Postpartum Struggles will be a unique anthology with the goal of breaking that silence.