Pantsing redux: or, now I’m confused

Welp, after The Great Outlining Disaster of 2014, I went back to pantsing it. Going along great, words are flowing, not sure about Chapter 4, but I keep plowing along, and then, first slowly and then with increasing speed, the further I get, the more the derailed cars pile up. Scenes go nowhere. Characters say the weirdest things. Events that should happen from one POV are muddled because they are observed by someone whose goat is definitely not being fucked. (What? It’s a thing.)

So the upshot is….(mumble)

What, Patrice? What was that? (Hand to ear)


I can’t hear you!


Yes. Mea culpa. I am outlining. And (big sigh). It’s not so bad. I am going a bit slowly, but I can start the rewriting fairly soon. The outlining itself is helping me see the main story arc. I’m still having trouble trying to figure out exactly what the plot is (I know, right?) but this way when I throw out a chunk that goes wrong, it’s not 20,000 words.

I am probably going to discard at least 20,000 words (well, maybe not that much. And by discard, I mean put in my cut file. Always keep a cut file, children. Even if you are one of those damn outliners.)

So. Crow pie anyone?

Lessons from the Writers League — Part I

Lessons from the Writers League of Texas conference.

I spent Saturday at the Writers League of Texas Agents & Editors Conference and came away with a lot of practical advice and information. Everyone was eager, professional, and wonderful to talk to and work with. My panels, on historical fiction and alternative worlds, were well-attended, and panelists and audiences had plenty to share.

Chuck Sambuchino‘s keynote address. Chuck is an editor at Writers Digest and he writes a Guide to Literary Agents blog that is one of the most popular on the Web. As Chuck says, there’s so much the writer can’t control. So what does a writer have control over? (Note: I have made plenty of these mistakes.)

Chuck Sambuchino’s Top Things You Have Control over as a Writer

  • Always write the best thing you can. Polish, edit, prepare. It’s not someone else’s job to fix your errors.
  • Investigate all publishing options and research them carefully. This means self-publishing and traditional publishing. Don’t get blindsided. Know what you are getting into.
  • Create and develop a platform and always be visible in the marketplace.
  • Keep moving forward. This is the number one thing, according to Chuck. Don’t stop after one rejection or two or multiple. Keep writing the next thing, keep developing the next project, keep going.
  • Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Agents always want to know what else you are working on. They don’t want to take on one-book authors.
  • It’s okay to write for money.
  • Don’t believe everything you hear.
  • Don’t give agents a reason to say no. This goes back to writing the best that you can.
  • Steal from yourself. If you have an old idea, repurpose it for articles, short stories, novels, etc. Maximize the value of what you write.
  • Success comes from rejection. Keep going forward and find the right publisher.

And the number one secret to writing. Are you ready for this?

Drum roll, please…

  • Put down the remote control.

Bandit Girls second draft complete

tesarajalanaThe second draft of Bandit Girls is now complete. One more pass — or half-pass — should do it before I send it to my beta readers.

What have you learned, Dorothy?

I learn something with every book I write and this one is no different. In this case, I have a better understanding of what I want each part of the book to do. Every scene has to have multiple purposes; it must advance the plot and our understanding the characters and the world in which they live. While this may appear formulaic, the point is that it’s not about me and what I want; it’s about what will engage the reader and pull them through to the end.

Writing the ending

I’ve often said that I usually know the ending of my books about two-thirds of the way in. In several books I’ve written the ending, and then gone back and written toward it. Bandit Girls was a little different; I didn’t write the ending in advance, but I knew where it had to end up. And lo, although at that point I was writing organically, it all came together with a great satisfying conclusion.

Outlining vs. Pantsing

I am beginning to see the virtues of outlining. I’m not saying that I will do a formal outline for my next book (although I’m leaning that way), but with the minimalist outline that I did for BG, I could see where it kept me going on the right path instead of allowing the story to deviate from where it should go. The proof is in the pudding, or rather the cut file; it’s probably my smallest cut file to date. Note to aspiring writers; save everything you cut from your working draft in a cut file. It’s not a question of if you will need it, but when. A small cut file means that these deviations are fewer, saving time, and making the first draft go more smoothly. As a former died-in-the-wool pantser, that’s the kind of improvement I can get behind.

Does an outline make a work less imaginative? I used to think that, but talking with friends who are staunch outliners, and reading their manuscripts, I have changed my opinion on that. Their work is wonderfully inventive.

Writing The End

The two most important words a novelist — especially an aspiring novelist — can write are: The End. It signals a project completed and a commitment kept. You learn more from completing a novel that doesn’t work very well (note: there are no “bad” novels, just novels that don’t work very well) than from dozens of fabulous novel starts. Remember that, even when the middle-of-the-book-suck has you in its merciless grip.

But when it comes right down to it, The End is just the beginning. It’s the beginning of the editing process, the redrafting, the polishing, and possibly, the publication process. No matter how many novels you write, The End is a mighty accomplishment. Embrace it! I do.