My Pantser Writing Process | #18

In this episode:

  • What I do before I start writing
  • Tips that help me write
  • Quick draft techniques I use
  • How I edit as a panster

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Pantser Writing Process
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[00:00:00] In this episode, I'm giving you details about my pantser writing process from start to finish. Whether you're a plotter, a pantser or somewhere in-between, there may be some tips to help you so please keep listening.

[00:00:35] You may write alone, but you are not alone. Inside the Writer's Soul focuses on how personal experiences can inform your writing and help you speak from the soul to really connect with readers and other authors as well. Your writer's soul doesn't need to take the writing and publishing journey alone. Join me, your host M. Khan, and let's move forward together.

[00:00:36] Hello and welcome! Today I'm gonna be talking about my pantser writing process. So I'll talk about what I do before I start writing, different tips that help me write, I'll go over a few quick drafting techniques that also help, and I'll also go over how I edit as a pantser.

[00:00:52] So before I start writing, there are four main tasks that I do. So the first is setting up my book file. So I use Microsoft Word and I actually have a template book file set up that has sort of my front matter and back matter, so that's what you find at the front of the book - you know, the copyright page, the list of other works by the same author, sort of template page for the book name, for the dedication. I also like to keep synopses or descriptions in my books as well because I always find it annoying when I'm in an ebook if I can't remember the full description, then I have to navigate to the store page to find it, and that annoys me. So, for my own books, I always like to keep the description or what you might consider the back cover copy in front of the book as well. So I just kind of keep template pages for all of that. And so I'll just copy that file and I'll just make a new book file from that.

[00:01:50] Now, in addition to that main book file, I also set up what's called a "parking lot" file. This is a term-if you've ever worked kind of in corporate America or any kind of corporate job anywhere in the world, you've probably heard of the phrase parking lot. So if you're ever in a meeting and someone goes 'You know, that's a good idea. Let's put it in the parking lot for now.' Basically, what that means is that you have an idea, but you can't use it now, so you're going to kind of put it off to the side. You're going to put it in this parking lot where you can access it later on when it might be more relevant. So I also do that for my book files, because even as I'm writing, as I'm editing - and I'll talk more about that in a few minutes - I might come across different lines or different ideas or different things I might want the characters to do that I don't know where they fit in the book yet. Or I might have this great line that I really love, but I realize it's just not going to fit in this chapter, it's not going to fit in the scene, so I'll take that line out and I'll just paste it into this parking lot file for the book.

[00:02:50] So that way, as I'm writing and I think, oh, you know that line I left behind, I'm gonna go grab it and put it here and tweak it because I think it's going to look really good in this scene. And it's just a great way to keep things that you don't want to fully delete yet because you think they might be useful later on. So especially since I'm a pantser I'm not outlining my scenes, I'm not plotting out the full arcs of the characters before I start, this is a really great tool that helps me keep on track and helps me pull things in at different times.

[00:03:23] A third thing is I set up is my notepad, which is a legal pad, and I'll talk more about how I use that legal pad in a few minutes as well.

[00:03:31] And then the last thing I do before I start writing is I actually-well it's not before I start writing because I'm writing my synopsis. But it's something I always like to start the book with before I write the full book, I always like to write the synopsis first. Now, there are times when I just have a scene in my head that I just have to get out on paper and, in those cases, I'll actually just start writing that scene first. A lot of times, for example, the opening scenes for books for me always tend to be really vivid. They always come to me early on sometimes even before I know character names. I have this scene in my head that just needs to get out on paper. So in those cases, I will write those scenes first. But generally, I like to write the synopsis first.

[00:04:16] The synopsis helps me tease out some of those details about the book that I may not know yet. It just helps get my creative juices flowing. It helps me to start thinking about this idea I have for this book in these characters, for this book in a slightly different way, in a more structured way, which for me as a pantser is really helpful to me. Though I'll think about, I mean, the synopsis is basically kind of like your back cover copy on a book that would entice the reader, even though the words that I write in the book are usually different from the copy on the back of the book, it can, it's just a way to help me thinking creatively about where do I want this book to go? What challenges do I want the characters to face that I can reveal now before I start the book to kind of help set up the book, and what challenges do I want in the background that will be revealed or peppered throughout the book as they read it.

[00:05:09] Now, before I get into some quick draft techniques, I'm gonna go over a few tips that actually help me while I'm writing. The first tip is music. So music is something that motivates me 100 percent. I actually develop a playlist for nearly every book I write. Sometimes I'll put together a few songs before I start writing and I'll add to it as I go through the book and other songs start to resonate with me. Other times I'll stick to an instrumental playlist I've developed over time as well.

[00:05:40] Another tip is to write at my optimal time, which is generally mornings and often weekends just because I have a day job so trying to get writing done in the mornings can be challenging for me on a weekday. If you need help determining your optimal time, check out my free writing challenge, which you get when you sign up for my newsletter; the links in the show notes.

[00:06:01] The final tip that helps me write is to keep my distractions at a minimum. Now this is probably one of the most difficult. There are different apps you can use on your phone that basically put it into a kind of focus mode where you can't use any of your apps or anything like that. You could try putting your phone on Do Not Disturb, or you could even just put it in another room. I use Microsoft Word and Word actually has a "Focus" setting which can help you. If you have an open Word document, if you look at the very bottom of your document, there's a little bar at the bottom that has like the zoom and different view settings and things like that, there's also usually a focus setting there. And if you can't find it, just Google how to find it, but that is also really helpful if you're trying to keep distractions to a minimum.

[00:06:47] Now here are a few quick drafting techniques that help me. One is don't write to chronologically, jump around to different chapters and even different scenes within chapters. Now I keep track of what I'm writing, where I'm writing on the notepad or legal pad, which I'll talk about in a minute. But this is one of the keys that helped me finish books so much quicker because I don't feel like I need to get through a scene that I'm not feeling creative about. I can jump to another scene that's in my head that wants to get out, and I can come back to that earlier scene later on.

[00:07:23] Now, the note pad I mentioned is a legal pad, and I basically take that legal pad page and I divide it into three columns. One column is just for things that I need to research and, because I also write series, I'll make notes of any kind of references I might need to go back and check earlier in the series in other books. Another column is to keep track of what happens in each chapter. It's usually just a quick abbreviated line that just tells me this happened to this character, this happened to the other character. Or I might just write a quick description of the scenes. I also. in that same column towards the bottom, I will list any new characters or if it's a series then I'll list characters I'm pulling from other books just in case I need to go back and reference them for any other reason.

[00:08:14] Now, my last column is actually for edits and I'll get more to that in just a second. Now, you can do a digital version of this legal pad that I use, but I like having a physical list of things that I can later cross off or check off when I'm finished completing them. I like having that sense of completion from crossing things off on a list, which is why I still use a paper planer as well. But if you want to do a digital version of this, you could absolutely do that as well.

[00:08:41] But the last quick draft technique I have and it's also a mindset technique and is just to listen to your body and your creative brain. While it's true we sometimes need to force ourselves to push through a wall to keep writing because of deadlines, most of the time our bodies will tell us when it's not feeling creative anymore. Listen when your body and brain tells you to stop and choose to stop. Because if you push yourself on that day, then the next day you might not have the energy - the creative energy or the physical energy - you'd need to write.

[00:09:15] Now I want to go into how I edit as a pantser. Now I edit as I write. This is contrary to some fast draft techniques out there, but this is what works for me. When I start writing on any given day, I'll either write a new scene already in my head or I'll go to a scene I still need to work on. I'll reread the scene so far and make edits to that scene and that will help give me ideas for what to write next, because I do jump around between scenes and within scenes. Doing edits along the way helps me keep everything cohesive.

[00:09:50] Now after I finished writing the full book, if I can, I'll take at least a few days off before I do a full edit of the story from start to finish. Depending on how much time I have before I need to send it to my editor, I may not edit everything that I need to during this full edit. I'll go back to that legal pad and start going through those notes and columns, and adding in bits of research and fixing references to older books or characters.

[00:10:15] If it's a series, I'll also start adding notes to the third column, which is the column where I put edits I still need to do. These are edits I don't have time for now, but that I'll need to work on when I get the book back from my developmental editor. It's usually nothing big. Maybe adding a little bit of backstory or fixing some references or adding more depth to a scene by doing some more research, say, on a medical procedure. So I'm still comfortable sending the book to my editor without those edits in.

[00:10:44] Now, once I get the book back for my developmental editor, I'll read her editor's letter first, which details the strengths and weaknesses of the story and different things I might want to work on. I'll come up with a game plan to tackle the book's edits and highlight different parts of her letter for reference. Then I'll dive into the actual book file itself after that and review her comments there. So I always start with her letter and then I move to the book file where she has comments throughout the book. Depending on how extensive the edits are, it may take me a few weekends or more to revise the book again because I usually only work on weekends, but sometimes I can finish it in an entire weekend. It just depends.

[00:11:25] After that, I'll then do a final pass through my legal pad and finish any edits or research or more I need to do and give the book another full read before I send it to my copyeditor. After my copyeditor returns it, I'll make more changes and, once I feel good about the book, I actually create the e-book and do a full read in e-book form. Now your brain processes information differently when viewed through different mediums, and by this point in the process, I've viewed this book numerous times in a Word document, but now I need another perspective and the e-book is great for that. So as I read the e-book, I'll make more changes and tweaks in the Word doc along side to come up with the final, final version of the book.

[00:12:09] So the last thing I want to mention are some caveats or considerations just about the writing process in general. First, I don't think anyone is a full plotter or pantser. As with anything in life, there's a writing spectrum. I may be more pantser than plotter, but I still do plot out a few things, such as when I write my book description which is doing some general plotting of the book. In the last book I finished writing in 2019, I actually ended up plotting much more of it than I had with any book previously, breaking down chapter by chapter what I wanted to see happen because that's what worked for me on that book. The book I'm writing now, I'm more on my "usual" way of writing in that I'm mostly just sitting down to write without any idea of where the story will go or only a basic idea of where I want a chapter or scene to go.

[00:12:59] It took me several books before I understood my own process. In the early days of my writing, I tried to be a plotter because I was told only plotters are true writers, but it is bullshit. We are all writers. We are all creators. My brain wants fluidity to explore the story creatively and I have so much fun writing as a pantser right now. But you may have more fun writing as a plotter, and either way, or both ways, is okay.

[00:13:26] It will take you time to develop your process and it will change as you go through life and write more books, and that's okay too. My process could change and my brain might decide that being more of a plotter is better all the time, and so I would change with that. I've spoken before in other episodes about the need to flow with your creative energy and, while it might be a struggle, will I transition to being a plotter? I would still do it if that's what I needed for my creative process. It's supposed to be fun to write a book, don't forget that.

[00:13:56] Something else to remember is that there is no wrong way to write. There are just different tips and techniques that can help you write more efficiently or give you a new perspective on the process, and I hope I've done that with today's episode.

[00:14:09] Now I want to hear from you. Share what helps you write and any tips you have, whether you're a plotter, pantser or somewhere in-between. Head to the blog or join our community on Facebook to let me know; the link's in the description. I'd also be very grateful if you could leave a review for this podcast wherever you like to listen. Thank you.

[00:15:03] Thank you for listening to this episode. Check out the show notes for links to my blog and our community where you can get involved in the discussion and support others. While you're there, don't forget to sign up for my newsletter to get to free and powerful tools to help you. One: access to my growing library of free resources for authors; and Two: you'll also get access to my exclusive writing challenge "How to Write Faster in 14 Days" where I share all my tips and techniques that helped me finish over 20 works in five years. Check out the show notes for all the links and thanks again for being part of this community.

M. Khan

M. Khan has authored over 20 novels/novellas/short stories under a pen name, and is now working on a fantasy series under her own name. She teaches others how to plan holistically to get all the things done, and provides guidance and coaching to fellow authors.
Pantser Writing Process
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