Coffee Dates: Pantser or Plotter

Good Morning, Creatives!

Friday is finally upon us! How was your week? Any new ideas pop up, or old projects wrapped up and tied with a neat bow? Friday is the perfect time to wrap things up, or to birth a new idea when you have all weekend to indulge in a little daydreaming or extra journaling.

This week’s question is about just that, and it’s an age-old question for writers everywhere! Are you a pantser or a plotter? In other words, do you plot your stories out beforehand, or discover them as you go?

My Process

I used to be a die-hard plotter. I would cover my walls with sticky notes and plan out every scene verbatim. But eventually my characters started to rebel, and I found myself drawn into new territory every time I sat down to write. Now, especially with new books upon me and new ideas taking shape, I have been forced a few times to slow down and plot a bit out beforehand. I always like to know the quarter mark, halfway mark, and three-quarter mark, and what starts the climax. Other than that, I usually let it unfold as it comes!

My Struggles Within That

I don’t always know what’s happening next! World-building catches me out fairly often, and I’m forced to push pause on writing and figure out what’s happening in my head. Sometimes that slows the process down a good bit, and sometimes it changes the direction of the story so drastically that even I scarcely recognize it. Life as a writer is always an adventure!

Your Thoughts

Which are you? Do you plot your books religiously before you ever write a word, or do you start with a few ideas, a stunning character, and a devil-may-care attitude that carries you through to the last page? I’d love to hear about your process, and how it’s changed over the years as you’ve grown as a writer. Tell me about it in the comments!

A Writer’s Life: Details

A writer’s life is in the details.

Have you ever noticed this? Of course, our stories are about grand adventures, life-changing events, and worlds and people that only belong in our minds.

But where the story really catches a reader—where it connects, where it makes them pause and linger because in that sentence they were there, in the story—those moments are in the details.

In the hitch of breath. In the smell of crushed grass and blood. In the silver gleam of a dragon’s scales, or the glint of moonlight on a soldier’s musket in the midst of the Civil War.

Those are the moments that catch a reader. Not the dates, not statistics, not the entire history and structure of the Paris sewers. (Looking at you, Victor Hugo.) The reader wants to see the world through the eyes of your character, and the best way to make it happen is in the details.

Details

Still, that’s hard, right? How do you know which details to write about? Because I can guarantee, if you toss every single detail in a battle scene at the reader, your scene will be ten pages long and the reader will give up in exasperation.

It’s just as bad to overwhelm your readers as it is to starve them.

Thankfully, most of us are writers because we aren’t content with the world through the eyes of a nine-to-five job.

We know what we want to see. We know what snatches us into the scene, what makes us pause.

Except when we don’t.

Sometimes it feels like some kind of witch’s brew that we forgot to get the recipe for. A little lighting, a little sound, maybe the creak of an old oak in the wind. Oaks creak, right? Or an owl. We could stick an owl in there—if owls live in that sort of environment

After a while, it gets a little desperate, and the details we throw in end up taking away rather than adding to our scene.

How To Make It Happen

So how do we know what belongs and what doesn’t? How do we find the details that matter, that catch a reader, and avoid our characters talking in white space, or worse, spending ten pages describing the Paris sewers instead of telling the story?

So how do we find life in the details?

Because you can. I do. The details are my favorite part of a story, and when I find them as a reader it always, always catches me into the story.

As a writer, I revel in them. I’ve made my mistakes (too many to count, actually), and I’ve found my rhythm.

I do it with two truths, three tricks, and one breath.

Truth #1

Magic is everywhere . . . especially in the mundane. Everything around us is moving, shaping, telling stories that will probably never be written down. Everything is story fodder, everything has the details you’re searching for.

And you won’t find them in front of a blank screen and a blinking cursor.

Writers need to live. They need to go for walks, sit in coffee shops, go to plays and movies, walk through crowded rooms. The more you notice the details—especially the ones that catch your eye and feel important—the more you’ll be able to project that into your writing.

Truth #2

If you haven’t made a mistake lately, you aren’t growing.

My delete key is my best friend. I have deleted probably ten times as many words as I’ve ever kept and never felt bad about one of them. If a scene is going wrong, and I feel like I’ve missed the details that matter, I’ll start over.

It drives my sister nuts.

Every word I write is teaching me, whether I keep it or not. The mistakes you make in pursuit of the details are your apprenticeship. What you delete will teach you more than what you keep.

Three Tricks

  1. Notice everything. When you’re out walking, when you’re at the mall, and especially when you’re traveling. Keep a journal just for the things you see and smell and taste and touch. The more you immerse yourself in the details, the more you’ll understand which ones are important and which can be tossed aside.
  2. Find what you love and write about that. The rain. Wind. Coffee shops, sunshine, pine forests. If you love what you’re describing, it will come out that much more vivid. My stories always include rainy nights—because I love rain, and I can immediately capture the details that matter to me.
  3. Take special care of the small things. The larger something is, the more time it will take to describe and the quicker you will lose your reader. So describe your huge cities and palaces that reach to the sky as briefly as possible, then show the reader the swinging sign above your character’s apothecary, the cat lounging in the window, and the steam rising above a bubbling beaker. Those are the details that will matter.

One Breath

As I’m writing this, I’m sitting on a picnic blanket in a neighborhood park with a view of Pikes Peak stretching out in front of me.

And I’ll be honest, it’s far easier to focus on the kids that are chasing each other around the park or the clutter of things we brought with us or even the work I’m struggling to get done rather than enjoying the fact that the peaks are gray and blue today and crowned with snow, that I’m sitting under the most beautiful spruce tree, or that the wind smells like spring at last.

That needs a pause. One breath. A moment of mindfulness. That’s where the details are found.

Good luck, dearest writer! May your tea be hot and your dreams wild.

What are your favorite kinds of details to use in a story? Tell me about them in the comments! And stay tuned for next week, when we will be discussing perfectionism and toxic effect it can have on a work-in-progress.

A Gathering Of Souls

I went to a writing conference this weekend.

The Young Women’s Writing Workshop, if we’re going to be technical about it. I’m just going to call it a gathering of souls.

It was the best thing I’ve done for my writing and my soul all year.

I think. I’ve done a lot of things for my soul this year. But this one was particularly relaxing and inspiring, so we’re going to say it was the best thing.

Or one of the best.

I’m going to shut up now.

Seriously, though, this conference was the most invigorating, inspiring thing I’ve done for a long time. When writers gather together, especially in small, tightly knit groups, things happen, man. Things. Happen. Ideas flow, people cry, books are built, fears are overcome, and dreams are realized.

I am not exaggerating.

The conference is held every year in Glen Eyrie, Colorado. And every year, I tell myself that I can’t afford it this time. Then I book a last minute room because I can’t bear to be left out when all my friends are gathering together. Oh, and the venue is a castle.

Like, a real castle.

I think it’s the only castle in Colorado. Certainly, it’s the most beautiful castle in Colorado.

So who can resist that?

The conference lasted for three days, Friday to Sunday, and the weekend was a kaleidoscope of classes, conversations with some of the most interesting people you will ever meet, and ideas. Our mentor, Nancy Rue, is one of the most brilliant and beautiful women you’ll find out there, and her love for her craft and zest for life is catching. When she gets excited about something, it’s impossible not to get excited about it too. More than that, she is committed to speaking God’s heart and bringing his spirit into the room while she teaches. Which accounts for how powerful this weekend was for all of us.

So, Nancy, I thank you for being your own wonderful self. We all needed it this weekend.

If I had to detail out everything that happened this weekend, I could probably ramble on for a few hours and never get to the point of it all. Instead, let’s just say it was a weekend of good food, beautiful scenery, tears, ideas, play-dough, dreams, books, tea, and good people. So, the best kind of weekend.

I can’t wait to go back next year.

(And, yes, I did say play-dough. I’d explain, but . . . I think I’ll just let you wonder.)

Have you ever been to a writing conference? Would you like to? We’d love to see you next year and include you in our gathering!

 

 

Coffee Dates: Process

Good Morning, Creatives!

It’s Friday, my friends! The week is over, a weekend of rest is (hopefully) ahead of us, and for some, maybe a little extra time to write! This week I have been thinking a lot about the process behind a writer’s routine and how different it can be for each and every one of us. I spent some time talking with a friend this week who is a songwriter and a musician, and it was so fun to compare our processes and see the similarities and the differences! What a cool parallel!

My Process

I’ve spent a lot of time developing my process over the years. What works to get me writing, what helps, and what distracts and discourages. I’m nowhere near perfecting my process by any means, but what I’ve learned has helped me so much!

Usually, when I start writing in the morning (because I am most definitely an early bird), I like to take a minute before I open my computer and ask the Master Storyteller to come and sit with me. God has always been a huge part of my writing routine, and I’ve found that my best ideas come when I am in line with my Creator.

Then, depending on where I’ve left off the day before, I either jump straight into writing or outline my scene in my notebook. Sight, sound, taste, touch, and a brief sequence of events all get dumped into a page of scribbling, then I feel prepared to get started.

My Struggles Within That

No system is perfect! Some of the ways I’ve struggled with getting myself started in the morning are because I spend that bit of extra time outlining in my notebook—if I finish a scene and want to keep going, I have to pull myself out of my rhythm to go back and outline the next scene. Not always convenient!

Your Thoughts

What gets you started for a writing session? Do you have a thing, or series of things, that you do to get your head in the game and get yourself moving? I’d love to hear about it, and any tips or tricks you’ve learned over the years! Tell me about them in the comments!

A Writer’s Life: Routines

Writing is hard.

And not just because I’m typing this with one hand because I’m cuddling a child in the other. I’m actually remarkably good at typing with one hand. I’m versatile like that.

No, writing is hard for a whole different set of reasons. Time constraints, previous commitments, and life tend to get in the way of creativity and our stories, and when—magically—everything lines up for us to sit down for an hour or two to smash out a thousand words, we suddenly hit a block.

Who else hates that blinking cursor?

I do. When I’m stuck, I feel like it’s mocking me.

I resent that.

My solution?

Routines

Writing is hard. It’s harder when you’re not ‘inspired’. But, writer, no one is inspired every time they sit down to write. If you wait for inspiration, you will get three chapters in six months, and a book that will never be finished.

Writing is a discipline, and you won’t always feel like it.

Working through that reluctance and learning to write anyway is what distinguishes the authors from the hobby writers. If you can write when you don’t want to, you will finish more manuscripts than most people will finish chapters.

And believe me, that’s a good feeling.

The trouble is, how do you get your creativity flowing on a day that feels drier than dust? Because writing isn’t like crunching numbers, stocking shelves, or painting a wall. Sometimes, you’re staring at the blinking cursor, determined to write, and you just . . . can’t.

How To Make It Happen

Here’s the thing.

Your brain is incredibly complex. It’s brilliant and limitless and incredibly, incredibly powerful. Day or night, there is no time when you can’t access the skills you’ve built or the stories you’ve planned.

Writer, it’s your mind you have to convince. (And yes, your mind and your brain are two different things.)

And, if you can’t convince your mind that you are totally capable of writing at any given time, in any given place, then it might just be time to resort to a little trickery.

Yep. I trick my mind. All the time. I’ve learned to snap myself from a slump into high gear and to write like the wind on the days when I am completely stuck.

I do it with two truths, three tricks, and one moment of intentional discomfort.

Truth #1

Writing is magic—and it’s not.

The magic is in you, writer. In your head, in the stories, in the effort you put into your work. There’s no mystical time of day that you have to ‘catch your muse’, no sacrifices to burn, no secret formula.

There is only you. What works for you, what tricks your mind into putting words on the page. What brings joy into the process for you.

Truth #2

There is no wrong way to get yourself moving.

Need a twenty-minute power nap before you start? A half hour of reading? A cup of coffee? Maybe you like to run to get your mind moving or have a favorite snack that triggers your writing mood. Or maybe you like to listen to the same song on repeat for an entire session—or have your space completely silent.

The only wrong routine is the one that doesn’t work for you.

Three Tricks

  1. Have a routine. A thing—or series of things—that you do before and while you’re writing that tells your mind it’s time to focus and get things done. A song, a cup of tea, rereading what you wrote the last session. Something that you do every time you write to trigger your writing muscle and get you going.
  2. Tailor it to you. Writer, you are unique. Looking up writing routines on Pinterest and choosing the best one is great—as long as you tailor it to fit. Your mind is not like anyone else’s. What will get it in gear is completely unique. So take some time to find what works best for you . . . and give it a while to start working. Habits aren’t made in a day.
  3. Know your limits. I try to write six days a week, every week. It keeps me in the zone, keeps me productive, and gets things done. For me, it works. One of my writer chums lasts about three weeks in that routine before she hits burnout and crashes—a totally unhealthy thing to have happen. What works for someone else may not work for you. Find your own routine, your own limits and what keeps you productive, joyful, and healthy, and run with that.

One Moment of Intentional Discomfort

I did not want to write this morning.

I’m going to be honest about that. It happens to me a lot. I would rather read, or listen to an audiobook and do Sudoku puzzles. Or clean my house. Or play chess with the kids. Just about anything really, because writing is hard, it taxes my brain, and as much as I love it, sometimes it’s just—work.

And yet, I set aside the things I would rather be doing, dumped my excuses in the trash, and went to it. Because even the best things in life are uncomfortable at one time or another. They force us to stretch and grow and keep us honest.

But I’ll you something. After that moment of intentional discomfort—that uncomfortable realization that I was going to do this whether I liked it or not—the words started to flow, and I started to enjoy myself.

Sometimes, a moment of intentional discomfort is all it takes.

Good luck, dearest writer! May your tea be hot and your dreams wild.

What kind of routines do you have for your writing? I’d love to hear about them, or answer any questions you might have about developing a routine. And stay tuned for next week, when we will be discussing details, and the impact they have on a writer’s work.

The Real Mistress Of The House

I locked my cat outside last night.

Not on purpose, I promise. But it did happen. And she did spend the whole night outside.

Let me explain. My cat is a diva. She is the queen of the world. I can’t bring another animal home because it would deeply offend her. I’ve brought orphaned kittens home who were half-starved and pathetic in the extreme.

Turns out, she hates orphans. Every one of them.

We found another home for the kittens. Very, very quickly.

But sometimes—when it isn’t snowing or raining—Mrs. Hudson likes to take walks. So when I open the door, out she goes to explore. She is usually ready to be let back in after a few minutes and waits for me to open the door and stand to one side so that she can come in. Which I do.

Because I am the servant in this relationship.

But last night, I was out lying on my porch watching the stars. And Mrs. Hudson decided that it would probably be a good time for a midnight stroll herself.

And I forgot. Because I thought she’d slipped back inside when I came in. And since she’s black and slinky and likes to hide, I didn’t notice that she hadn’t come in.

So she slept outside last night. Probably under my woodpile where she was safe.

I feel guilty.

As soon as I woke up, she was at the door meowing to get back inside and resume her place as queen of all that she surveys. She might be the darkness beneath the trees and the deadly night embodied, but the deadly night still wants to sleep on the couch instead of under the woodpile.

I’m in a bit of trouble at the moment. She hasn’t spoken to me yet.

This might be why I spent half the night (no joke) dreaming about a cat that scratched and bit me because I was trying to keep it in a cage. The deadly night will always get her revenge, no matter how old and crotchety she herself is.

Do you have a pet that rules your household? Tell me about them in the comments!

Coffee Date

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Writer, I have an invitation for you.

I’ve been spending more time with my girls lately (shoutout to Gloria for all her loveliness and amazing stories) and it has made me realize how much I love to sit down with other writers and ‘talk shop’.

Writing is lonely. It’s slow and frustrating, and when you walk alone, it seems impossible.

So I have an invitation for you.

Writer, I will probably never meet you in person, but I would like to have a coffee with you right now. We can find a table in the corner, by the window or behind the potted plants. We can have a cup of coffee each or maybe a pot of tea between us, and we can talk.

Tell me about your journey, about the story you’re working on, about why you started writing and how long you’ve been creating worlds from pens and paper. What’s the title of your manuscript? What do you love about it?

If you like, I can start.

I’ve been writing for seven years. I have eight books behind me, and the manuscript I am pitching now is called We, the Deceived.

I started writing because I loved stories. When I first began, I wasn’t really worried about being published or read, only in learning my process and finding joy in the writing. Since I definitely wasn’t much of a wordsmith when I started, that was a good thing!

Writers need a community, and that’s what I would love to build here. So please, join in! Sit down, have a cup of coffee or tea, and introduce yourself!