In the writing community, people loosely identify as either a plotter or a pantser (sometimes spelled pantzer). Some people plot out an entire book before they write it, and others fly by the seat of their pants.
Here is what I said recently on a writer’s board:
I was going to stand up and be counted with the pantsers, but I realized it’s probably not entirely true. At the bottom of my working document is a couple paragraphs of “and then this happens.” Not really paragraphs, almost bullet points.(For example, the WIP – paranormal erotic romance, and I’m 6K words in – the plan currently says “Reunion sex. Next day road trip (his car). Estate sale. Dirty, ask discount. Saleslady strange – young/old. Looks through M., then agrees.”)
I don’t always stick to it – sometimes things happen to the characters while I write, and entire subplots bloom or die. I change the “and then this happens section” whenever the story changes. After I write a scene, I delete the item from the plan. So when I finish writing the reunion sex, I’ll erase that line and start writing the road trip… unless the heroine pulls a muscle during the reunion sex and decides to surf eBay instead of being active. Then I’ll change the plan to read “eBay. Looks dirty. Asks discount. Seller has same name as M’s great great grandmother.”
Doing it that way means I almost never get writer’s block. I always have a plan for what’s going to happen next, and even if the writing is pure torture and I end up trashing it later, *something* gets on the page.
One of these days I’m going to copy the original two or three paragraph blurb just to see how drastically it changes from concept to completion
As usual, the cherry on top came from another writer, a person I only know as “Tiff.” She suggested people like us be known as… plotzers.
My Jewish grandmother would have laughed. I sure did. Other writers rock!
Right now I’m cobbling together a living from a handful of small jobs. I am trying to find a single large job that will replace the income. It’s not six of one, half a dozen of the other – switching between jobs, manager styles, project needs, writing voice, tracking systems, reporting systems, and all that other stuff takes time. If I have one job and not six jobs, I will have twice as much time in my day. I know this from experience – I finished two manuscripts when I only had one job, and for the last month, I’ve made painfully slow progress on several stories, one of which is begging me to finish already.
An opportunity to do some tech writing came up, and honestly, it would pay so much better than my professional blogging, so I’d love to land the gig. The contact person asked me to dig up all of my product reviews from the last few years. Five minutes with Google, right? Twenty minutes later, I was still digging for the best one, the crown jewel of my reviewing career. The magazine that published it was out of business, but they’d had it on their website, and it had been so widely quoted and linked that surely there was a cache. Right? Wrong.
There are pictures of me weighing twenty pounds more than I do now. Things I have said off the cuff are in forum signature files all over the internet and they come up when you Google my (other) name. There are video clips of me doing unfortunate things with thumb drives at trade shows. And yet this ONE THING I really want, the thing that makes me look witty and incisive and well-informed? Gone like a fart in the wind.
I used to sit around and complain that gosh darn it, I’m a good writer, I could write books if only I had ideas. Then I would read books and interviews with authors, and see them say stuff like “the idea is the easy part.” One of them even said that her pet peeve was people writing in to say “I had this idea. Write the book and we’ll share the profit!” Now, while sharing the profit seemed silly, the concept of the idea being worthless seemed somehow unfair. And the idea wasn’t the easy part. My ideas all made for interesting first paragraphs and painted themselves into corners (or turned out to be complete ripoffs of whatever fantasy series I was reading at the time).
Now that I have actually finished manuscripts, I’d like to travel back in time and just whack myself over my silly, clueless little head. I wasn’t a writer. I was an idiot with a fairly decent grasp on the mechanics of writing. A brain used to writing breeds ideas. The first idea I had for a story that actually came with a middle and an ending wasn’t bad, but while I was in the middle of the writing, I had another idea. I opened a text file and pinned down that wild idea like a rat in a trap on the spot because I thought I’d never have another idea again. As soon as I finished the first story, I started writing the second. While I was writing the second, I came up with a handful of new ideas. While I was writing the third, I came up with a dozen ideas, two of which were so exciting that I abandoned the work in progress and started writing them instead.
The problem now is discipline. Put the ideas into the text file, and finish something. (Robert Heinlein again – you must finish what you write!) I’ve got enough ideas in the idea file to keep writing for the next ten years at my current pace, but the new ideas won’t stop coming. I haven’t yet had any ideas like wizard boarding school or angsty emo high school vampires, but who knows what’ll pop out of the fountain spout next.
There are some unwritten rules in erotic romance that I’m okay with following. The heroes are always well-hung, for example. TOTALLY okay with that rule.
But there are other “rules” that don’t sit so well with me. Hair, for example. Real men have hair. They have it on their faces, backs, chests, and bellies. I don’t go out of my way to describe a hairy back, mind you, although I personally like it (there, I said it) but all of my heroes have chest hair – crisp, curly chest hair that holds the scent of soap and warm skin – and that hair gives my heroines tactile pleasure.
I was just reading a study where women’s preferences can be correlated to local health. In areas where the overall community health is bad, women dig men with lots of hair, thicker bones, visible musculature. In areas where community health is good, women go for thinner bodies, more delicate features, and less to no hair. The conclusion is that the heavily apparent secondary sexual characteristics are survival markers – denoting men whose genetic health gives them an advantage in an environment without a lot of available interventions.
I wouldn’t want any man who couldn’t defend me during the zombie apocalypse. Some of my heroes are gentle, kind of nerdy men, but they’re still men capable of kicking ass, taking names, and lifting heavy things. My guys don’t just act like alpha men – they look like alpha men. That means hair. Down with waxing! Up with surviving the apocalypse!
I needed two of my characters to not have sex. Fear of pregnancy is certainly a very good reason. I thought about having my heroine count the days, but just for giggles, and by giggles I mean “because I am a hopeless research nerd,” I looked it up to make sure the Victorians knew about that tidbit.
Women didn’t know about counting the days from one’s last period to determine the fertile window until the 1920s.
This was made worse by the fact that condoms were not widely available, and in some places only sold to married men.
You don’t think about just how liberating birth control was, just how great a degree of freedom is conferred by managing one’s own fertility, until you get smacked in the face with it. I have never known a time when I couldn’t just bop into 7/11 for condoms, or wander into a clinic and emerge with birth control pills, or at bare freaking minimum count days and say, eh, the curse starts tomorrowish so we’re probably clear. Also, while the consequences to getting pregnant unintentionally and outside of marriage would have had a massive impact on my life, I would not have had to cope with any societal disapproval, nor would my single mother status have any impact on my ability to be employed or rent an apartment.
What an impact this would have on a sexual relationship!
This is why good historical fiction isn’t “girls like us but in costume.” Some aspects of being a woman are universal across time and space, but other things are so anchored in context as to be meaningless without it. I hope I’m up to the challenge…
I can’t use the c-word in daily conversation.
Side note: As a young theater major, I had to take acting classes even though my intent was to be a director. In Acting I, there was an exercise we did before reading through plays with “dirty” language. Bear in mind the average age in the class was 18 and therefore a healthy percentage was still inclined to giggle over saying “penis.” Also, thanks to the rampant prudery of a minority terrorizing everyone threatening this and banning that, most high schools put on shows that might have been risque fifty years ago. I mean, my own high school did Blithe Spirit, Arsenic and Old Lace, and Hello Freaking Dolly. Edgy stuff. So anyway, to get us on track to handle any kind of language, we would chant certain words until they were just… words. The first uttering of “penis” traumatized the fluttery little southern belle I sat with. The twentieth, she was empowered, with “PENIS!” roaring forth. The fiftieth, she was as bored as I was.
I couldn’t say the c-word without horror even if I said it a million times.
That was awhile ago, but I’ve still got the hangup. In my stories, I say pussy, mainly. As I think I’ve said before on this blog, I’ll use the c-word for a particular effect, either to say something about the male or to show the female’s state of mind. But I avoid using it as a general word.
So, working on the steampunks, I’ve been pulling out my Victorian erotica, doing web research, and so on, to make sure I’m not using anachronistic language.
The c-word is period correct, as well as the variation “cunny.” As a matter of fact, the c-w0rd has an extensive pedigree, whereas “pussy” is really a vulva-come-lately of terms.
I learn something every day around here.
When I’m putting my toddler to bed, I use the time to think about my stories. Basically, it takes close to an hour, the room is dark, I can’t read or take notes… so I think things through and then race to the computer to type it all out as soon as he’s asleep.
The last three nights, I’ve had a particular image stuck in my head. There’s a man in his forties. He’s hiding a briefcase in an old house. Then he writes a note. The scene cuts to a nice house in a different neighborhood. Kids playing in the yard. Two police office come up. The lady of the house answers, covers her mouth in horror at what she hears. Cut scene to the first house. She’s cleaning things up, throwing out most of what she finds. She finds the briefcase. Inside is a whole hell of a lot of money.
Since I am working on an erotic steampunk, and I don’t write thrillers, you can see why this mental image isn’t doing me any good. I hope writing it down here will be like it is with song lyrics, whereby sharing it will get it stuck in someone else’s head.
I have a pair of jeans in my closet, one I bought five years ago or so. I usually buy classic cuts, but in this one case, I bought a trendy style. I really did love them, and when they started getting that velvety horse nose texture on the knees, I stopped wearing them regularly. That was to save them for special occasions, like nights on the town or meeting new people who wouldn’t yet realize I didn’t have a trendy bone in my body.
Then they went out of style, and became errand running pants. But my brain was used to grabbing them for special occasions, and between that and other things, the pants were completely forgotten until I was purging the closet. When I found them, I was briefly confused – why did they look so unfamiliar while at the same time bringing up happy memories? Then something clicked, and I remembered, oh, hello favorite jeans. I’d put them in the wrong part of the closet when we last moved… two years ago. Also, the jeans are closer to ten years old for all I thought it’s only been five years.
At any rate, that feeling of “huh? Oh, YOU, I used to love you” washed over me when I got my copyedited manuscript back from my editor. (Her Heart’s Divide, on sale this June ) It felt familiar, comfortable, wonderfully fitting… and like it belonged to someone else. Seriously. I could have been approving changes to a stranger’s manuscript, and at the same time I know I loved this story and these characters like no one has ever loved before. That bit of distance made me fly through the final edit copy.
I’ve read on various writer workshop sites that it takes six weeks for the forgetting/distance process to happen. According to the time stamps on my computer, it took me five. I wouldn’t have believed I could forget one of my children so easily, but not only is it possible, but it’s better for the story. I’m glad I didn’t do that between draft one and draft two – knocking the rust off the part of my brain that lived with the characters would have taken ages. But the next time I get stuck on a story that I want to save, I’m totally going to do what the experts have always suggested and trunk it for five weeks.
I have said in earlier posts that I ended up writing erotic fiction because that was what I could write from beginning to end. My other stories suffered from sagging middles, me writing myself into corners, and just plain boring me too much to bother finishing. The one exception is a science fiction tale that absorbs me, but it’s a complicated story that takes more straight hours to focus on than I have with multiple jobs and a toddler.
So erotic fiction it is.
I did a lot of market research when I realized this was where I was going. I read tons of guidelines and tons of samples to get a feel for the tone of each publisher. I read author websites, writer forums, and more. One thing I learned is that there are a lot of unspoken rules that as a reader I didn’t necessarily see. But if I wanted to sell my work, I needed to know where those invisible lines were drawn.
For example, I figured out pretty quickly that even in erotic romance the heroine does not have penetrative sex with anyone after she meets the hero. If the heroine is married, she does not have penetrative sex with anyone except her husband. Straight up erotica allows both scenarios, of course, and fantasy worlds have different rules, but if you’re writing erotic romance set in this world, you need to pay attention to those rules.
At least so that when you break them, you do it on purpose. The novella coming out in June came from me trying to figure out how I could justify a girl having sex with two men, and still call it erotic romance. Solution: Both men are her husbands, but one is from a parallel universe. What started as a purely a mental exercise turned into something original enough that the editor in chief of the press said she had never seen that particular plot before. So breaking rules has some big benefits, as long as you’re doing it consciously!
But to people who don’t write this stuff, the conventions are as exotic as the rule breaking. I was talking to a friend about some of the guidlelines for erotic publishing. Since he doesn’t read the genre, he was heartily amused to hear that “human stumbling into fairy ring orgy” was not only a common plot, but one that’s been done to death. I think the one that really broke him was the guideline on many sites that publish paranormal erotica:
* Absolutely no necrophilia. Undead doesn’t count.
In a quest to support my end of the family mortgage while I get published, I have a variety of jobs. One of them just started – a gig blogging three times a week for a client. I know from past experience that blogging here is going to be more of a challenge while that side job continues. It’s not just the blog. When my day job consists of a lot of writing, fiction at night is really, really hard.
I’ve heard it said that writers should take day jobs that don’t interfere with the writing muscles – working at bookstores, waitressing, etc. I am not sneering – a day job at a bookstore would be perfect in so many ways, but there are two major flaws for me. One, trust me when I say that the four bookstores near me are not hiring. The stores are virtually empty whenever I go in. Maybe they’re crazy busy during the evenings, but I doubt it. And two, the bookstore isn’t going to let me take my toddler to work.
That leaves me with earning a living the only way I know how, and that’s with my keyboard. At least I’m warmed up when I finally get to my fiction every night, right?