What was I waiting for?

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I’m not a NaNoWriMo sort of writer. And yet, I am a “pantser.” I don’t write true first drafts. I need a certain level of reassurance I’m on the right track before I can head out of the station. And yet, I love uncovering the story as if it were an ancient artifact at an archaeological dig.

For months now, I’ve been taking down notes, sometimes nearly full scenes, in preparation to write my next novel. I know how it begins, how it ends, and some bits in-between, but I’ve been waiting for something more.

I thought I was waiting for my main character’s voice to grow stronger. Maybe I needed to know her better before I could write her. But I already know her, I created her three years ago. She’s been talking to me for a while now.

I considered doing a real outline, the kind I’ve heard other writers talk about. Some novelists, maybe you, plan in such detail before they start writing that they know every scene and exactly which chapter it will happen in. My oddly disorganized organized brain rebels against all that, but I thought maybe this time I needed to do it differently.

Then I remembered that I set off writing The Brevity of Roses with only a need to explore the story idea. I had a general idea how it would end—I was wrong. I thought I knew who the main character was—wrong again. I loved the adventure of discovery, and it turned out all right.

So, I kept taking notes and writing out bits of dialogue that came to me. I opened the file and stared at the opening paragraphs for a while before closing the file unchanged. Finally, it hit me; the problem was structure. I ran it by my critique partners and we decided my original plan was needlessly complicated. After I made a new decision on how to narrate the story, everything clicked into place. I’m writing again, and it feels wonderful.

Your turn: What do you need to know before you can start writing?

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24 thoughts on “What was I waiting for?

  1. Mostly I only thing I know is I am not going to fall asleep until I get up and write that thought down, because it keeps me awake.
    For the outlining part, I see it like a movie in my head. A movie needs a minimum of ten scenes. If I can briefly describe ten or more scenes, that the outline. But I haven’t finished one into a book yet, so don’t listen to me.


    1. Thanks for your input, Mary Jean. I’m not a screenwriter, so I didn’t know the rule of ten. But I, too, see my books as mental movies. I don’t see the scenes in linear fashion though. I write the scenes as I get them and hope I make sense of them in the whole. 🙂


  2. I love that you weren’t afraid to start over or try something new. I think I’m on to my third round of the same story opening. LOL. But instead of feeling discouraged by it, I’m excited. It really is a process of finding the best way to tell a story. Glad you’re writing again!


    1. Thank you, Jess, but I’m not one of those writers brave enough to scrape a whole novel and start fresh. 🙂

      Good luck to you on finding the best way to tell your story. Sometimes you just need to get the write start and the rest flows easily.


  3. I takes notes, research, walk around with the story in my head for months, then the opening scene comes to me and I start writing. I plow forward and trust that structure will find its way into the story. I write as fast as I can the first draft, Charlie Huston call it writing with velocity. Later drafts I shape the novel, get feed back, shape again. I’ve only writer a few novel and only published one, so I feel fully aware that process may change with time. But that is how I start now, I see page one and start pounding keys.

    Josh Stallings


  4. An outline can be a map showing a beginning and not and end really but a destination. The chapters become cities along the journey and each city has a population of characters through which the plot evolves. I am not a novelist although people have said I am quite a novel specimen. As a teacher for AP history I always had them outline for the critical essay. To begin, to touch all points, then present pro/con, to access and conclude. Of course this was necessary in my time because there was no word processor enabling one to add/delete so organization was critical if you were a poor typist and had to redo over and over. .


  5. That’s good news that you’re writing again, it does feel fantastic!

    I need a few characters and a list of things that “might” happen and then I can start writing.


  6. When I began my MS, I knew the beginning and the end, in a general sense. Details filled in for me as I went along. Subplots developed as necessity demanded their existence, and circumstances grew more complex in the same manner. I don’t think I’ll win any points for organization. Does that make me a pantser? I write and rewrite and rewrite again.

    Glad to hear you are back doing what you like to do – write. Blessings to you, Linda…


  7. Such a great question, Linda. For me, it seems to change from book to book. In the case of this WIP, I need a fairly large amount of research before I can fully dive in, which is frustrating me but I am so smitten with this storyline that I can’t seem to avoid it. Other times, I dive in head first and get as far as I can before coming up for air. It really depends.
    So glad your finding your groove! It’s a great feeling, isn’t it?


    1. Interesting that you change it up, Erika. I’ve never written a research heavy book, so I’ve only done whatever research mine required during the writing. Very soon now, I think I’m going to sequester myself and see what I can accomplish in a few hours of total uninterrupted silence. And that means no internet — oh the horror. 🙂


      1. In the past I’ve started with a question I want to answer, or an image of a character I want to meet and then jumped in, but like Erika, my current WIP involves (gag) more research, so I’m having to really outline for the first time lest I drown in a sea of confusion. 😉 Happy writing, Linda!


        1. I’m lazy, Amanda. I avoid stories that require too much pre-writing work. 😉 Oh lord, I shouldn’t have said that. Now, a compelling pre-Revolutionary War character will come to me begging to have his/her say.


  8. I completed NANOWRIMO three times. Each time I had only the main character and a general idea of the scenario. I was surprised with the outcome each time. It was the desire to find out what would happen each time that kept me writing. Afterward, one of the novels required extensive reorganization and revision, but I was happy with the other two with minor editing. For the two novels I wrote outside of NANOWRIMO, I used an outline. I think both methods have their merits.


    1. I know other writers who love NaNo, osmiumantidote, but it horrifies me because it’s so opposite of the way I write. I, too, think both methods have merit. I just hate to see new writers struggle to use the wrong one for them.


  9. I’m so glad to hear that you are back to writing again. It feels good to start a new story, especially after all the hard work you have been caught up in lately.

    After trying as hard as I could to use an outline and character sheets and all that other jazz I found that I’m a complete and total *pantser*, not to mention the NaNoWriMo type too. Once I get a voice in my head I can’t stop. I will sit down during writing time everyday until the story is done, at least that first draft is done. Then comes the planning and plotting. Once I get going it’s hard to stop.


    1. I sympathize, Heather. When I first started seriously writing, I joined a group led by a woman who insisted we all do it her way — outline to death! I very nearly quit writing. I’m glad I found I could work quite well by a different method.

      “Once I get a voice in my head I can’t stop.” I love that! 🙂


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