Planning for Pansters: Writing a Novel without an Outline

I envy those writers who outline their whole novel before they even begin chapter one. They sit down at their computer, begin typing and already know what they’re going to type. A little expansion here, a little fleshing out there. There’s no fretting as they try to pick out their story’s path one step at a time.

O boy, do I wish ….

But no, I’m a panster (as in I write by the seat of my pants). I’ve tried outlining, but except for a handful of scenes, I simply cannot tell what needs to happen in a story until I start writing in my characters’ voices. One scene leads to the next.

But as J.R.R. Tolkien famously said, “All those who wander are not lost.” If you’re a panster, trust yourself to discover your novel’s path as you write it. A little wandering is likely to give the story a few surprise twists. There are, however, a few tips that will shine a light on your path though, so you don’t get so far off the track that you have a mess on your hands when you’re done.

Tolkien

Keep your premise firmly in mind as you write each scene. It may take you a hundred pages to truly discover where your story is going, but you should have a strong premise from page one, and each scene should build and deepen that premise in some way. Follow tangents as you wish, as long as you keep this in mind, and you’ll still have a coherent story in the end.

Before you write, choose two or three comparable novels to the one you intend to write as loose guides. That is, select novels you’ve read that have the type of structure and audience you’re aiming for. The goal isn’t to copy other plots, but to give you solid ideas for your story’s structure as you go.

Know what your characters’ goals are and put obstacles in their way. In every scene. Don’t be shy. Stir up the waters and create lots of trouble for your characters. Ultimately, if you write most scenes to make your reader worry, you’ll end up with a story that stays on track.

End each scene with a hook. This may simply mean that you’ve moved your character and his or her goal further apart. But anything that makes your reader want to read on will do (i.e., a mystery that is laid out in the last paragraph). Incidentally, ending on a hook may make it easier for you to know where to start when you come back to the computer as well.

Aim for the finale. Although I don’t outline, I generally have a fairly strong image of the catastrophe at the end, that great battle that makes it seem all is lost, but ultimately brings the character to his or her reward. If you know the finale, you’ll faithfully build to it.

compassIf you follow these guidelines, you don’t need an outline to make sure your story stays on route. But what about coming up with the story itself when you have no outline to refer to?  

Last but not least, leave time for your story to stew. If you’re not following an outline, you must give your muse time to dream up new scenes. For me, that means taking long walks or doing mindless activities (dishes or laundry) alone, while my mind drifts. When I let my unconscious mind free, I usually find images or snatches of dialogue that will take me through the next scene or two.

 

Becoming Social Media Savvy

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The World of Social Media

If you want to become a published author in today’s world, you need to embrace social media. Some aspiring authors may be very comfortable with social media and already have a large and successful online platform. However, many people preparing to write their first book may have a platform established in another way, such as through teaching, speaking, or published articles, and the world of social media may be foreign to them.

Here are a few tips for new authors looking to expand their social media presence:

  1. Consider your overall social media needs. Most new authors have careers in addition to their writing. While in many cases your writing may be an outgrowth of your career, sometimes the social media needs of your career may conflict with the social media needs of your writing platform. Consider how you can achieve a workable compromise between the two. Perhaps you work in a career where a limited social media presence based solely on professional accomplishments would be ideal. However, your writing platform may thrive if you develop a more personable social media presence that lets your readers share in some details from your daily life. Maybe you can connect with work colleagues on a platform such as LinkedIn, while using Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, Instagram, and Google+ to connect with readers. Find what works for you, and modify your social media presence as necessary.
  2. Create layers of social media connection. Before deciding to become an author, you may have used social media as a means of connecting with friends and family. Now you find that your literary agent and your publishing house want you to connect with readers through social media. Connecting with readers requires a public social media presence. However, privacy controls on social media sites such as Facebook allow you to keep your posts to friends and family private while creating new posts for the general public. Using privacy controls, you can create layers of social media connection, sharing photos of your children with close friends and family members while sharing photos of book-signing events with the whole world. You might want to create a Facebook page with all posts public to connect with readers, while using your Facebook profile to connect with friends. However, consider leaving some posts from your Facebook profile public for readers who find you through a Facebook search.
  3. Adapt your social media strategy to stay current. All social media sites are constantly changing, especially platforms such as Facebook, where signs around the company’s campus remind employees that “this journey is only 1% finished”. After a major update on one of your social media sites, check privacy settings, and revisit your approach to social media. Is there a great new feature that you should start using? Should you publish more videos, or schedule posts for a different time of day? As an author, your journey in the world of social media is only 1% finished. Learn from your past experiences on social media and the wisdom of other writers, and create fresh content using new tools and the latest technology.

What tips do you have to share with other writers on becoming social media savvy?

WordServe News: March 2016

Exciting things have been happening at WordServe Literary this month!

On the final post of each month you’ll find a list of Water Cooler contributors’ recently released books along with a recap of WordServe client news.

New Releases

Jacket JPGBruce Main re-released Why Jesus Crossed the Road with FaithHappenings Publishers. Tracing the life of Jesus, Main challenges readers to become “road-crossing Christians”—people who see border-crossing as a spiritual discipline essential for authentic transformation, both in their own lives and in the lives of those they meet along the way.

simple moneyTim Maurer published Simple Money with Baker Books. This no-nonsense guide to personal finance distills complex financial concepts into understandable, doable actions to help readers simplify their money decisions, budget major expenses, craft a workable retirement plan, reduce and eliminate debt, and more.


51XRemJ98JL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Margot Starbuck and David King released Overplayed: A Parent’s Guide to Sanity in the World of Youth Sports with Herald Press. Starbuck and King offer good news for Christian parents stressed out and stretched thin by the demands of competitive youth sports, with practical advice on how to set good boundaries and help kids gain healthy identities as beloved children of God, both on and off the field.

584492Robert L. Wise released Bible Lands with Barbour Books. This beautifully illustrated guide to the history, culture, geography, and key sites of the Bible transports readers to the land of Abraham and Sarah up through the founding of Israel, the coming of Jesus, and the journeys of Paul. Wise helps readers use geography to gain a better understanding of the places and events that form the greatest story ever told.

51bAjzombTL._SX436_BO1,204,203,200_Joe Wheeler released My Favorite Prayer Stories with Pacific Press. This third book in Dr. Wheeler’s Favorite Stories Collection affirms that prayers are not meant merely to supply our wants–although God does grant a surprisingly large number of such prayers– but, rather, they are meant to deepen our friendship and companionship with our Maker.

New Contracts

Jared Patrick Boyd signed with InterVarsity Press for the publication of his book, tentatively titled “Spiritual Formation of Children,” offering parents practical tools for engaging with their child in practices designed to nurture the experience of God in prayer.

New Clients

P. K. Hallinan, Bob Hedenstrom, and Christopher deVinck signed with WordServe this month.

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What We’re Celebrating!

Julie Cantrell’s The Feathered Bone was named a 2016 Winter Okra pick, an honor given by SIBA for “Great Southern Books, Fresh Off the Vine.”

Deb Coty’s Too Blessed to Be Stressed Cookbook received the 2016 SIBA Pat Conroy Cookbook Prize!

Take it with you when you go

moving dayMy husband retired from his job last December in Minnesota , and within a month, we were unpacking our worldly goods in our new home in Texas. Having relied heavily on my local readership for growing my book authoring career, I was faced with a choice: retire from my own career as a writer, or start it all over again in a new place.

Actually, there was no choice for me: since I can’t NOT write, here I am, back at square one. Except that this time around, I have eight years of experience and a track record as a published author behind me as I begin to cultivate my new area; my task is more transplanting than seeding. For any of you facing a geographic move, here are some of the positive and negative aspects of taking your authoring with you:

A fresh audience!

Positive: You have a fresh audience, which forces you to remember why you write, why you’re excited about what you write, and how what you do can serve readers in your new community. It’s a wonderful opportunity to look at your work from new angles and refresh your own enthusiasm for what you do. And with books already in print, you have product ready to promote in your new area – no waiting around for publication to happen – yet you can re-use the promotional tools you used the first time around, saving you the time and effort of developing new marketing strategies.

Negative: You have a fresh audience, which means you have to start over making connections with bookstores and other venues. Back to phone calls and building relationships (sigh).

A track record as an author!

Positive: You’ve got a track record as an author! Yes, you’re making phone calls, but you’re going to get farther faster in booking events because you’re a proven entity. Your past experience makes you smarter about ways to reach decision makers, adding to your credibility as a published author with new contacts. Since this is your second time around, you won’t waste money and time on the ideas that didn’t work when you were just starting your authoring career.

Negative: You have to put the time in again on building key relationships.

New sales!

Positive: You have a new geographic market to add to your original readership, potentially doubling sales for both old books and anything new to come. Just because you’re no longer physically available doesn’t mean your loyal readers from your old location will abandon your future releases – those fans need to be kept in the loop as you move forward, so be sure to continue communications with them (Facebook, author newsletter, etc.).

Negative: You will lose some readers who only enjoy local authors. Hopefully, though, the gains in your new area will outweigh the lost readers.

Can you add to these experiences/insights of taking your authoring career into new territory?

Are You Prepared for Spiritual Battle?

I was thrilled to see my very first post up on this fantastic website last month. I happily wrote about dealing with sensitive topics. I felt experienced and insightful as I penned that post, delighted with the opportunity to share what I’d learned.

And the next day, a maelstrom erupted on my blog.

One commenter interpreted something I wrote in a way I never intended. I immediately tried to correct the record with a follow-up comment and a clarification in the blog post itself. But the commenter struck back with a personal attack not only against me – but against my husband. Now that is not alright with me.

I politely but firmly defended myself and my husband. Expecting it to end there. It didn’t. She left another scathing comment, which I did not approve. Then she followed up with a comment on my Facebook page that was even worse, which I removed. And another blog comment that was appallingly vitriolic.

While I’d love to say that I calmly handled this situation with Christian love, joy, and peace, I was actually a bit rattled. I externally dealt with these exchanges okay enough, but my chest felt tighter than two-sizes-too-small skinny jeans and I found myself questioning everything I wrote in that post and a few others. Had I done something egregiously wrong?

Then a friend wrote these words to me: “I think this is a bit of a spiritual battle. Satan is trying to shake your cool or make you question what you do.” The timing and extent of what happened made me think she could well be right.

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Whether it’s a nonfiction book or blog post or an inspirational story, your writing can have an impact on others. We have a positive effect on our readers far more than a negative one. However, that one naysayer can poke and prod so long and hard you wonder if Satan is applauding with each jab.

He probably is.

I’ve often been told that putting yourself out there in ministry and in writing means opening yourself up not only to constructive criticism but to verbal assaults. Tough skin, I have. But impenetrable? Nope. And if I give an opening – become vulnerable with my readers in some way – someone could hit a tender spot. I could find myself in a spiritual battle.

Am I prepared?  I wish I felt at all times that I was. But I keep turning to God, seeking wisdom from my godly friends, finding comfort in encouraging comments from readers I have helped, and plugging along with my writing. After the Sword of the Spirit, the pen is still my favorite sword of truth.

2 Important Questions for Writers and Speakers

Photo/KarenJordan

Sometimes you have to shove all the surface stuff to the side in order to see what’s underneath. (Beth Moore)

What do I have to say?

Several years ago, in a workshop for Christian Leaders and Speakers (CLASS), Christian communicator and author, Florence Littauer, taught us to ask ourselves two questions before standing in front of an audience to speak:

  1. Do I have anything to say?
  2. Do people need to hear it?

So, I ask myself that question every time I prepare to stand before an audience—whether it’s a group of writers, a church group, or class of college students.

As a writer and a writing instructor, I recognize the need for people to tell their stories. And I’ve seen lives change as they listen to other people share their life lessons, especially their faith stories. Passing along our faith and family stories also help us make sense of some of the crucial issues that we face in life.

As a women’s Bible study teacher, I know the importance of sharing personal stories with other women, particularly in a mentoring or discipleship relationship.

But as a mother and grandmother, I also know the importance of sharing my stories with my children and grandchildren. My stories are my legacy to the next generation.

I believe in the power of story! And I love to encourage and instruct other people how to communicate their faith and family stories.

So, I want to ask you those same questions that Florence asked us at one of my first CLASSeminars.

  1. Do YOU have anything to say?
  2. Do people need to hear it?

“Words are powerful; take them seriously. Words can be your salvation. Words can also be your damnation” (Matt. 12:37 The Message).

What questions do you ask yourself as you prepare to speak or write?

12 Do’s and Don’ts for a Successful Long-Term Writing Career

1. Do have something in the hopper to pitch at all times. While you’re querying your next book or series, keep your creative mind active by brainstorming, jotting down notes, and organizing research.

Share Your Gifts2. Don’t try to write like someone else. No one else thinks like you, has your life experiences, your collective information, your communication style, or your voice. Copying someone else’s approach means your unique offering is lost—and the world misses out.

3. Do share yourself authentically with the public. Masks don’t work. Allow the truth of who you are to resonate with readers and listeners as you speak from the page and the stage.

4. Don’t let someone else’s negative opinion of your writing stop you. No published piece is loved by everyone. Editors, agents, and readers will often view your work differently. Accept positive encouragement when it’s helpful and honest, but don’t disregard unbiased criticism—it will make you a better writer.

5. Do get out and live life on a regular basis—otherwise you’ll have nothing fresh to write about.

6. Don’t let resentment over another writer’s success distract you from your own work. Instead, celebrate their achievements with them. Not only will you feel better, but human beings are drawn to help positive people, not those who are jealous, jaded, or jerks.

7. Do focus on improving your writing—constantly. Read and re-read books on honing your craft until you develop a master’s degree worth of knowledge on writing well.

Round Hole Square Peg8. Don’t be afraid to let a word, sentence, paragraph, chapter, or even an entire project go. Sometimes, a piece doesn’t work, and you shouldn’t waste time and energy trying to force a square concept into a round career. Allow yourself to move on if you feel like you’re pulling splinters to make things fit.

9. Do take care of the people who support, encourage, and follow you. We are all in this world together, and readers are more than people we get something from, (sales), they are people who need the same things from us that they give—support, encouragement, and attention.

10. Don’t expect publication to heal all your hurts and provide lasting happiness. The real you will always hide behind the public persona. Learn to like him/her, then no matter what happens with your writing, you will be okay.

Getting Through What You Can't Get Over Endorsement11. Do understand the power of influence. The greater the number of people who like your book(s) and are willing to say so publicly, the more other people will like what you write.

12. Don’t nit-pick, condescend, attack, grumble, or fight with others on social media forums. Followers don’t forget, and often their memory shapes future decisions to support you or not. Breaking the Golden Rule can become a deal-breaker for some of our readers.

Which of these twelve points are the most difficult for you? The easiest?