Guest Post: Planner or Pantser? My technique is evolving…

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My first novel, a psychological thriller called FRY, launched on Amazon this week. It took me over ten years to write it. Not because it’s particularly long (it’s just under 80,000 words) or because it involved a lot of research. No, I just didn’t plan. I had the idea for the name and one key scene whilst I was at university and I started to write. But I wasn’t happy with my first few chapters, so I screwed them up and wrote them again.

I would agonise for ages over the crafting of a single paragraph, a line, a word. Then, the next time I sat down to write, I would take the story in a completely different direction and my last attempt would go in the bin. I also procrastinated. I had far more free time back then than I realised but I did not make good use of it. I was easily distracted and would sit down to write, only to get up a few minutes later to de-scale the kettle or dissect a tube of toothpaste to see if the stripes run all the way through. Or find out what happen when you put an egg in the microwave.

I was definitely not a planner. Then, about five years ago, I started a distance novel writing course at the London School of Journalism. It was the best thing I could have done. I started again from scratch and this time, my novel was planned. It had a theme. It had structure. It still took me a few more years to complete it, but I had a couple of babies in the mean time. In fact, I was writing FRY when I went into labour with my son, who was rather aptly born on Halloween.

I don’t think the time I spent writing and re-writing was wasted, because it helped me to find my voice. But my new WIP, May Queen Killers, is going to be completely different. This time, I will be drawing up a detailed outline. I will do all my research in advance and come November (NaNoWriMo) I will write for all I’m worth. I will not procrastinate and I will not edit. I will just get that first draft down on paper as quickly as I can and then I will go back and refine it. The only reason I ever completed FRY at all, was because I finally decided enough was enough and I set myself a deadline. I had to pull quite a few late nights to get it finished but I met my goal and I couldn’t be happier. Ironically, now that I am busier than I’ve ever been, I have a flood of ideas, just waiting to be transformed into stories. No more procrastination for me. I don’t have time.

May Queen Killers comes out in May 2014. I can say that with complete certainly, even though I’ve yet to write a single word.

Thanks for guest posting, Lorna.

You can follow her blog Self Publish Bible and Fry is available to purchase from Amazon UK and US.

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About Lorna Dounaeva

Lorna Dounaeva is a quirky British crime writer who was named after the book, Lorna Doone. She decided that she wanted to become an author at five years old, after coming second in a beauty contest, losing out to a boy. She went on to become a politics graduate and worked for the British Home Office for a number of years, before turning to crime fiction. She loves books and films with strong female characters and her influences include Single White Female and Sleeping with the Enemy. She lives in Surrey, England with her husband and two small children who keep her busy wiping food off the ceiling and removing mints from USB sockets. She is currently working on her new novel, May Queen Killers and a free web serial called Angels' Island, both of which will be published later this year. You can follow her @LornaDounaeva on Twitter or at www.LornaDounaeva.com
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16 Responses to Guest Post: Planner or Pantser? My technique is evolving…

  1. Pete Denton says:

    That is one epic journey!

    And, I’m glad we have another on the side of the planners. I agree about needing a deadline whether set for you or just by you. I took part in NaNo last year and it is such a GREAT motivator to write a first draft.

    Good luck with Fry and with writing your next novel. 🙂

  2. paulmclem says:

    I’m new to creative writing but having a background in IT means I am a born planner. I write everything down to the level of several bullet points per each planned section of a couple of pages.You can then just go with the flow and make sure whatever you write includes as a minimum what your notes say. Anything else is a bonus.

  3. Mart Dawson says:

    I had no idea it could take so long. It be frustrating to do all that work, to then screw it up and start again.

  4. I can relate to what you are saying. Now I’m a house-husband to three kids my time is very valuable and when I do get time I (usually) use it to write. I used to write a lot, then got sucked into IT which killed my creativity, and when I escaped I already had two kids to look after so it took a bit of discipline to get started again!

  5. tyroper says:

    Wow. That’s perseverance. I’ll look for your book. I don’t have much reading time right now, but I will read it.

  6. helena mallett says:

    Congrats on the book and hoping it does well for you.

  7. Congratulations on crossing the finish line! Outlining and self-imposed deadlines are probably two of the most helpful habits I’ve implemented in my own writing. Sounds like you’ve settled into a method that works for you as well. Best of luck with your next book!

  8. Subtlekate says:

    Great post. I’m evolving as well. I’m not so ridged in planning and I’m happy to go where the moment leads a little more….OK Just a little.

  9. EllaDee says:

    Very interesting guest post – to see how a novel evolved from a title, an idea, a scene, via real life, to a planned and completed project, delivered with a underscore of humour 🙂

  10. I tend to be a pantser because the ideas only really start to flow when I start writing, however the problem with that is I can often write myself into a corner. I really want to evolve into more a planner!

  11. 4amWriter says:

    I do both, because I see the value in pantsing (freeing my creative spirit) and plotting (staying on track and completing the book). It’s taken me a long time to figure out how to combine the two, but I will say I’m a better writer for it. I agree that rewriting is never a waste as long as we’re learning something from it.

  12. olivertidy says:

    Hi Pete, I was reading something about Raymond Chandler last night. He had this to say in a letter, which I think is pertinent to this thread.

    ‘I am back at the grind at Paramount…In less than two weeks I wrote an original story of 90 pages. All dictated and never looked at till finished (Chandler’s original screenplay, The Blue Dahlia). It was an experiment and for one subject from early childhood to plot-constipation, it was rather a revelation. Some of the stuff is good, some very much not. But I don’t see why the method could not be adapted to novel writing, at least by me. Improvise the story as well as you can, in as much detail or as little as the mood seems to suggest, write dialogue, leave it out, but cover the movement, the characters and bring the thing to life. I begin to realise the great number of stories that are lost by us rather meticulous boys simply because we permit out minds to freeze on the faults rather than let them work for a while without the critical overseer sniping at everything that is not perfect. I can see where a special vice might also come out of this kind of writing; in fact two: the strange delusion that something on paper has a meaning because it is written. (My revered Henry James went to pieces a bit when he began to dictate). Also the tendency to worship production for its own sake.’

    It was rather serendipitous to come across this because this week I finished the first draft of an 85000 word thriller novel that I started two months ago and this is exactly how I went about it. No plans, just write. I work full-time, married, one year old son and everything else that we have to balance with our writing. You could be forgiven for thinking that it must be crap, but it really isn’t. Sometimes you’ve just to sit down and bloody well write till you bleed.

  13. It’s amazing what happens when we set and stick to deadlines. 🙂 Congrats on your book being released on Amazon!

  14. Pingback: Do you procrastinate? | jean's writing

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