Pantsing vs Planning in the First Draft Stage

To my fellow writers,

If you are having trouble getting your book written —  if you want to tear out your hair, burn your notebook of ideas and give up to become a circus performer, this post may be for you. I won’t beat around the bush or sugarcoat anything. You deserve honest advice. I was lucky enough to have it passed onto me by the stellar Melissa Jackson.

A little background about my particular writing style:

I am a planner. A plotter. In the writing world, that basically means two things: 1. I am a perfectionist, and 2., I spend (spent?) more time thinking about my story than actually writing it. While this is an excellent trait when it comes to world-building and figuring details out, none of it matters unless I put my nose to the grindstone and write the damn thing! So I’ll be blunt; dearies. The same truth applies to you!

It will not matter one little bit how amazing, how stupendous, how magnificently brilliant your story is unless…you get it down on paper.

Let that sink in for a moment.

I know it’s hard. There are a hundred reasons why thinking about the story is easier than actually writing it. Trust me, I am an expert at “productive” procrastination. Truly, I am. I have two binders and three notebooks full of research, jotted ideas, lists of names I like for potential or planned characters, profiles on races, pages of country histories, and plot timelines.

…My binders are even color coated to the favorite color of the main character.

I know how difficult, how scary, how overwhelming it is to attempt to translate the awesomeness that is your story onto a computer screen. And for many months, I did a bloody fine job of dancing around the actual book writing. I’m not saying planning isn’t important; for writers who aren’t pansters (the lucky little bastards that can pull ten pages of great writing out of their behinds in just a few hours), planning is a key part of the book development process. I owe a great deal to my obsession with details…but eventually, I admitted to myself that it wasn’t enough. My complete and utter lack of book began to make me even more afraid than the intimidating prospect of actually writing it, and one day, I sat down and started typing.

Little did I know, my writing woes were far from over! They had really only just begun.

Because every sentence I wrote, I second guessed myself. My perfectionism was suffocating my triumph. Not gonna lie, it was pretty bad. It got to the point where I couldn’t tell if the sentences I was writing were golden or total dog doo doo. That’s where Melissa came in, for probably the third or fourth time, mainly because I was a mess. But this time her advice sunk in. (She’s a pantser.)  If I didn’t just let myself write, if I didn’t stop judging myself before I had an actual body of work to refine, I would also never get it written, because I would drive myself insane and give up!

“All first drafts suck,” she said. “Editing is your best friend. Let yourself write.”

It has taken me several months, multiple pep talks and a few re-readings of my current pages, but I have finally fallen into a comfortable place — into a happy medium between pantsing and planning. Gasp! Plotting isn’t everything? No, it isn’t!  Changing details, making things line up, perfecting sentences, rearranging chapters — all of that is a luxury meant to take place after your page count is substantial. Do not cheat your characters out of getting their story told all because you can’t let go of your own insecurities long enough to actually record it!

Writers, have faith in your stories. Believe in your characters, and rely on your own ability to edit the manuscript after you have something to actually edit.

Above all, know that you can let go. If I can, you can.

Happy writing,

The Madhatter

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The Vehicular Blunders of an Enfeebled Heroine

I could start by saying, “The liquor store took pity on me.”  I could tell you that my GPS, Garmin, is a conniving little harpy. Or I could explain how in only three hours, I managed to get lost in the mountains — with a dead cell phone — and then ran out of gas. But this is the kind of story that needs every unlucky, foolish, embarrassing detail. Sometimes you have a day so hilariously horrible that there’s nothing you can do but shake your head, laugh about it, and tell everyone you know. Of course first, you cry. In my case particularly, the crying was done in a sketchy-looking parking lot during rush hour while I waited to be rescued.

So how did I get there in that parking lot, scared and hungry, defeated by evil mastermind electronics? The answer is pretty simple. I was just trying to be a good friend.

I was visiting my parents in Tennessee. It’s warm and pretty there and the people talk funny. They all basically just wear a lot of orange and go to church. It is in a small town a solid twenty minutes out from the center of Knoxville where the misadventure at hand began. Believe it or not, despite being thoroughly weird, I do have “friends”. Peeps. Bribed strangers. So this girlfriend of mine, a fellow bookworm, had devised a plan to meet me at McKay’s — a magical book warehouse fifteen minutes up the interstate. See?

I can read in red, I can read in blue; I can read in pickle color, too! I can read in bed, and in purple, and in brown — I can read in a circle, and upside down… — Dr. Seuss

New books, old books, ugly books, silly books. And good books. Every book.  Sometimes the books are falling apart, with thoughts scribbled in the margins, and sometimes the books have never been cracked open — but all of them are cheap. So as poor college kids craving some words, plan we did to meet there. Things went as usual: I was running late and my friend wasn’t. I guess, let’s call her Hermione. They’re both ridiculously smart with a tendency to be surprised (but pleased) at exhibitions of their own badassery. Ref: Hermione Granger punching Malfoy in the face.

Unfortunately, disaster rose up against Hermione’s usual top marks punctuality when she discovered she’d locked her car keys inside her car. “Drat, bollocks, dash it all, Danica!” she said to me, sounding very distressed over the phone.  “I left my wand laying on the back seat, too, so I can’t exactly Alohomora this problem away. Will you do me a great big favor and swing by my parent’s dental practice to get my spare key?”

I set off to Hermy’s parent’s place, my cell phone sitting in the cup holder next to me. I had charged it all night and the battery was full. Sitting in traffic, it started to ring. I answered, heard someone’s gargled voice, and a second later, it shut off.

And refused to turn back on.

Well. Okay then. Screw you, phone. (Or the universe. Whoever’s in charge of spontaneous phone suicide…I do not like you!) Someone or something had performed some seriously messed up voodoo on my cell phone right then, and there was nothing I could do about it. I was already late and Hermione needed her keys. When I got to Muggle Family Dental, they told me Hermione had roped her sister into letting her use her car and would be meeting me once again at McKays; I no longer had to drive through the confusingly laid out inner-city Knoxville streets and deliver Hermione’s keys to her at her apartment. Delighted our plan was back on track, convinced all I had to do was press the little button on my GPS touchscreen that would direct me to McKays, I left twirling Hermione’s keys in my hand. There was a little bounce in my step; a little swing to my hips.

Actually there was just a pebble in my shoe, but for me they probably look like the same thing.

I typed in “McKays”. My GPS presented me with the corresponding address and I set out on the open road, Garmin snapping directions at me in an increasingly frustrated British accent. I sung badly to the radio. All was normal. Until I got to McKays. Because, you see, McKays wasn’t there.

Sitting in its place was a steakhouse. And next to it, a shoe store. Across the way, a dollar general — a sushi place, a hair salon. It was nearing the end of the work day and traffic was swelling to a ridiculous volume. Where was it? I drove around in circles with a confused look on my face for ten minutes before pulling into a drugstore to demand an explanation. Because, you know, drugstore cashiers are in control of this sort of thing.

Some important context. When I get lost, I am overcome with this unstoppable feeling of intense panic and anger. So as I approached the counter, I felt like my eye was twitching and there was an evil Voldemort glow to my gaze.
The cashier stopped mid-greeting.”Oh,” he stammered. “Do you need…ah, help?”
“Yes,” I twitched again. A spurt of fire shot out of my mouth, singing his eyebrows. “McKay’s. GPS. Hermione’s wand!”
He blinked as some of his burnt hair floated down onto the drugstore counter. “Of course. Absolutely. Stay right there while I call the police, okay?”
Right, so that’s not completely truthful. What really happened is he tried to help, explaining that McKay’s had moved locations several years ago and that my GPS had taken me to the wrong place. Normally I’d have used my nifty-difty smartphone to look up the new address, but it was still mysteriously dead. Naturally, I asked for directions to the new location.
“Sure,” he told me. “It’s not far from here. Turn right out of here and it’s two stoplights up the road. Turn right again, up a long hill — you can’t miss it!”
Couldn’t miss it, he said! Right? Wrong, so wrong, you false information giving dude.
I did exactly as he said. Turned right out of the lot. Drove past two stoplights. Turned up a very conspicuous long hill, kept going…
And ended up in a place that looked suspiciously identical to Fangorn Forest.
Garmin promptly informed me that she had “lost satellite reception”.
And since it looked like this, I really wasn’t surprised:

Come at me bro!

My cell phone was dead, my GPS was useless, and any minute now I expected Orcs to leap from the treeline and bite the tires off my car. I was in the middle of nowhere, driving around slowly with a look of glazed-over panic on my face. I didn’t know what else to do, so — I just kept going. For thirty minutes. Hermione’s keys weighed heavy in my pocket; or maybe that was just the guilt I felt at being an hour late. It was about then my low fuel light came on.
I freaked out and immediately started driving in a random direction, trying to find an opening in the trees. Eventually my GPS lit up again and told me, in a metallic Londoner accent, that it was “recalculating.” I programmed it to take me to the nearest gas station, and it steered me out of Fangorn Forest via a long roster of twists and loops, eventually spitting me onto a dusty country road that looked as if it hadn’t been driven on in several decades. By now I was starting to wonder if I had accidentally driven into a horror movie.
But slowly, buildings started to rise up on either side of me. Industrial buildings. Most of them empty or otherwise untoward looking. I bit my lip and kept an eye ahead for the gas station. After another minute, and to my delight, Garmin had managed to lead me to a real address of a real gas station. There was only one problem, though; it was abandoned. Boarded up and dry as a half-assed Thanksgiving turkey.

The upside? Parking is free…

I practically started crying in the middle of the road, but felt exposed and scared out in the middle of nowhere, so I kept pressing forward, hoping to hit some city again. And I did. You’ll be happy to know I hit some freaking city all right. In fact, I hit a particular piece of city road that dumped me onto the interstate…heading to Kentucky.

Something tells me you’re really not going to make it on time now, hunny…

Yup. I was almost of gas, over an hour late, with a dead phone and a traitorous GPS — headed to Kentucky.
But folks… That’s really not even the best part.
The best part is that during this whole crapstorm, during this downright silly shit mix of events, I had the flu.
Not only was I lost, I was lost with snot running down the back of my throat and a dead, miserable expression. My posture was hunched and drooping. My throat scorched with burny germs. My eyes watered and leaked, and my head was pounding like a jackhammer. I also really, really had to pee. But I was supposed to be a good friend, dammit! I was determined to get Hermione her car keys (and maybe just to get home, please? Please?). I abandoned my unplanned road trip to Kentucky and managed to follow my GPS’s orders back to the area of town I’d gotten bad directions from.
I think we all know what’s coming next. What else was there to do but find a liquor store and drink away my sorrows?
I parked right up by the door and just waltzed in. Stumbled. Whatever. A woman in a nice pantsuit was putting stickers on things at one of the registers. She was chatting seriously into a headset. I just stood there,waiting — staring like a homeless guy about to mug someone. Finally, she looked up at me. My eyes were shiny and my lip trembled.
“Do you need help?” is what she asked.
I’m not sure what I said in response. I maybe said, “Give me all the vodka you have or else!”
But it may not have been even that coherent.
It maybe went like this:
Me: *twitch* *sniffle* *sob* “Phone? Now?” Pause. “Meow!”
Manager: *terrified look on face* “You can dial as many long distance numbers as you want, just please don’t hurt us! Dial 9 for outgoing calls!”
I dialed Hermione’s number, sniffling and twitching. When she answered, she was angry. “Where are you?”
“I’m lost and I don’t know. I just want my mommy. I want to die.” I started to cry. A few rough looking alcoholics in my general vicinity walked away quickly, looking scared.
“Tell me what you see, where you are. I’ll come to you.”
“Uh…uh…a dinosaur statue? And that place where they sell….you know, wedding clothes?”
“David’s Bridal?”
“Yes?”
“Crap. Okay. Go to the nearest bank parking lot. I’ll find you.”
She did find me. She found me, and laughed at me. But then she hugged me, took me home to her house, and fed me stew and muffins. Seriously, I’m not even kidding. Her mom is an amazing cook.
The morals of this story are simple, so heed them well, readers:
1. Have a phone battery that works.
2. Have gas in your car.
3. Don’t put all your trust in GPSes.
4. But if you must get lost, wear nice clothes so the ladies at the bank don’t think you’re a hobo and will let you use their restroom after you’ve had to pee for two hours.
5. Also if you must get lost, call your best friend when you need rescued. She’ll hug you and then feed you stew.
*Disclaimer: No cashiers or innocent managers were harmed during the making of this disastrous day.

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Creative Ramblings and Marcel the Shell

For awhile now, I’ve been considering a second degree in film. Naturally, I have no idea what sort of concentration I’d pursue beyond that, because the closest I’ve ever come to directing is acting…in high school play. The closest I’ve ever come to screenwriting is writing my book, which I assure you, is nowhere near finished or presentable — and the nearest I’ve ever come to animation, even in mock form, is by scouring the internet for free gif creators. I keep battling with  myself over one particular issue: would a degree in film ruin the magic of movies for me? Because I love movies. Be it a cutting edge, original masterpiece or a classic black-and-white, it makes no difference to me. I eat the heart-attack-buttered popcorn until I’m sick. And suck rudely on the straw for the last bit of Coke, and whisper conspiratorially about the previews. I’m addicted. And there’s nothing worse than ruining a perfectly good addiction. But the go-getter part of my personality protests, “You write, and you still love reading!”  Touche, self. Touche.

So without further adieu or use of the French language, I present to you a short film so adorable, so silly, so endearing, so hilarious and so confusingly relevant, that you will probably watch it twice.

Meet Marcel the Shell. He’s got shoes on.

You’re welcome. All credit goes to the video’s director, Dean Fleischer-Camp.

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