Figuring it Out as You Go

Figuring it out. I envy those people that plot and plan and use a date book religiously. Alas, I am not one of them. Every year in January I buy a day planner and vow to write things down and have a handle on dates and deadlines. I plow through, marking haircut appointments, doctor visits, and social media posts to put up. Sometimes in pen, even.

About March I forget to flip through the planner. I found I’m much more comfortable with technology. I set up Google Calendar to nag me about things. More than once. I think that if it comes in on email, it’s real and important. Ditto text messages. For some reason that felt … wrong. I’m a writer, I should be firmly wedded to paper and pen. Once I cast that mindset aside it became easier to get through the day/week/month. 

Computers are orderly. But even with nag reminders, I tend to worry. The same applies to writing. I do a loose plot outline, maybe 30,000 words of backstory, and barrel ahead, knowing my brain will drop chunks in as needed. I also don’t mind going back and rewriting, filling things in, smoothing things out. The process is soothing. Meditative almost. I figure it out as I go. 

You’re Doing it Wrong

According to lots of writing books that’s wrong. I should plot a book out meticulously and then adhere to the outline. I’ve tried that. According to my brain, it’s also wrong. My brain is wired somewhat differently, as blank pages in the day planners attest. I function from a different place, a place of neurodivergence. Wanting perfection and having to learn it’s mostly unobtainable.

My brain fights itself. (I obviously can non-perfect on the first draft, though. Curious.) But it’s really not the rules, it’s the anxiety over figuring out if I’m following the rules exactly. I like rules when it applies to certain things. Like submitting. I want consistency. I also want a purple unicorn. (Who doesn’t?)

Take querying, for example. I’ve started querying with my newest fantasy novel. The diversity of methods to query is overwhelming. What’s worse is everyone wants something different, from the number of pages to submit to whether to also submit a one-sentence blurb, a one-paragraph blurb, or just a summary. Or all of it. Comp books, bio (How long? About me or my writing? Both? Neurodivergence fueling my writing? etc.

I figure it out as I go but not without a lot of stress. “Submit a synopsis.” Easy, right? Not for my perfectionist brain. How long? 500 words, is 537 words okay? 1000 words, one page, two pages? If a sentence runs onto page three, am I doomed? In what format do I put everything? Single spaced, spaces between paragraphs or indents? I go research—and get conflicting answers. Depends. There is no right way to do this, I found out. Only wrong ways. So. Many. Wrong. Ways. If I don’t do something exactly right will it wreck my chances? My brain says yes, and is firm about it. Stupid brain.

Figuring it Out Piece by Piece

It may seem like small stuff but it looms larger and larger. I close out and run away until I feel ready to start over. I want to know the exact parameters of the box, and that isn’t an option. Figuring it out as I go from site to site is exhausting. This is where the stubborn side comes in. I will not be defeated by my overthinking brain. It’s also where the calendars come in.

In order to beat my own thought process, I assign myself a day to submit. I target the agent, study the parameters, and figure it out as I go. Copy it down. Refer back to it a million times. One section at a time. I can do that, oddly functioning brain or not. One down, I schedule a time to do it again, recovery time in between, and make a folder full of the snippets of things I need so I don’t reinvent the wheel. (I love reinventing the wheel. This new wheel might be better than all other wheels ever made.)

Slow, but it’s what works. I grew confident enough to do multiple submissions on the same day.  There’s drinking copious amounts of coffee to calm my anxious brain and jump-start productivity. I corral the OCD tendencies and promise them chocolate when it’s all through. The Brain draws pictures of unicorns on the blank pages of my day planner. I quit asking myself, What’s the worst that can happen? Kick All or Nothing to the curb. I gently urge perfectionism to the side and give it a Corgi puppy. I’ve made peace with Figuring It All Out As I Go. At least for now.

Some of My Similar Essays:

My WIPs Get an Intervention

Sometimes You Just Need to Get Out of Your Own Way

Finished and Starting Again

Staying Afloat in a Writing Ocean

Some Links for the Essay:

Not Perfect, But Good Enough

Five Sneaky Ways Perfectionism Sabotages Your Writing

Writing When on the Spectrum

How We [Actually] Write

Book Review – Project Hail Mary

A kinda-sorta Book Review of Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir.

I’m not as big a fan of Sci-Fi as I am of Fantasy novels but sometimes one drags me in and won’t let go. I loved Andy Weir’s The Martian. I was ecstatic when they made it into a movie with Matt Damon. He was the perfect Mark Watney. I’ve read the book 3 times, unusual for me. I seldom reread a book or series. My exceptions are the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Dune, and the Recluse Saga by L.E. Modesitt, Jr. The Recluse series are the books that put me firmly into the Fantasy camp. A lot of character development, which is what I really love. And now The Martian, which made me fall in love with Sci-Fi again. 

With The Martian, I was rooting for Mark Watney all the way, something that seldom happens for me with a book. Maybe I’m overly critical with other books, but the character development in The Martian was wonderful. The humor in it was an added attraction that I think they got right in the movie, a self-deprecating character who is not going to let his situation get him down. I picked up Andy Weir’s next book, Artemis. I enjoyed it and its female protagonist. It was a different story, set on a colonized moon. I was fascinated by the science in it, as I was with The Martian. The science explanations in both books were just right for a non-scientist science buff and pushed me to look up things and find out more. A bonus! 

Shiny Object

When I heard Andy had a new book coming out, Project Hail Mary, I was all over it. This is the Amazon Blurb for it. 

Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission—and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish. Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it. All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company. His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, Ryland realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Hurtling through space on this tiny ship, it’s up to him to puzzle out an impossible scientific mystery—and conquer an extinction-level threat to our species. And with the clock ticking down and the nearest human being light-years away, he’s got to do it all alone. Or does he?

Project Hail Mary is one of those rare books that sucked me in and I had to read ‘just one more chapter’. Outer Space and science and survival and astronomy. The perfect mix. There is a twist a third of the way through I didn’t see coming, and a twist at the end I didn’t know I wanted until I read it. No spoilers here. I’m not giving anything away because it’s one of those books you have to jump in blind to fully appreciate. The book has humor and pathos, and a hopeful outlook. I can say without reservations I liked this better than The Martian. Something I didn’t think was possible. 

On My Wishlist

This has to be a movie. With today’s special effects it could be outstanding. Bring back Matt Damon to play Ryland Grace. He’d be perfect. They could do what they did in The Martian and cut out some of the admittedly excessive engineering problems – although they appealed to my inner science nerd. Anytime you can enjoy a novel and learn something at the same time is a positive for me. I know I haven’t ‘reviewed’ the novel but there is no way to talk about the fantastic bits without spoiling them. If you’re the least bit interested in Sci-Fi and the future of mankind, this is the book for you. If you’re uncertain, wait for the movie. Because I can’t see this not being a kick-ass movie. Now I’m off to read Project Hail Mary for the third time. It’s that good. 

Mentioned Books

Project Hail Mary

The Saga of Recluse (21 books)

The Lord of the Rings


Other Essays on Reading

The Kindle Dilemma

Genre Reading and Writing: Arithmetic Free

Reading: An Opinionated Overview

My WIPs Get an Intervention

Confronting Your Works In Progress

As it often happens with me, once I start writing, the writing takes over. Because I began a new Urban Fantasy and got engrossed in the Work In Progress (WIP), Poetry came pounding on the door snarling “What about me? I got ideas too, you know.” So I’d scramble to write some poetry, locking my WIP characters in their room until done. Of course, they’d shout and try to distract me until I had a sit-down with both my writing types. 

“Look you guys, I need to get work done. I understand you both want to be finished first but we need some ground rules. Novel. You are long and complicated. I can’t spit out 10,000 words a day. So be happy when I eke out 2500. I have an arc to follow, so quit trying to distract me and sneak in a love story.”

“Poetry. I know you are so close to being a chapbook you can taste it. But you have to be the best you can be. That’s why I’m writing new poems to flesh you out and solidify your theme.” Poetry puffs its chest and sticks its tongue out at Novel. “Enough of that. You’re entirely different than Novel, so it really isn’t a competition. Novel is 7 times you, so Novel needs more words. Poetry, you take as much care, however, so don’t get your panties in a twist.”

The Juggling Act

“Here’s the deal. Poetry, you get the mornings. I’ll work on you until noon. Then you retire to your computer file and unwind. Poems are better after they rest awhile, and congeal.” Poetry grimaces. “Okay, congeal is a bad word choice. That’s why I have to go slowly with you. To choose the best words in the best order.” Poetry gives a smug smile.

“Novel, you get the afternoons and evenings.” Poetry opens its mouth to snark and I hold up a hand. “Longer. Deal with it. Novel, we don’t have time to rest. I have to get your first draft down before you sidetrack me from my mission.” Novel gives a guilty look. “Hey, I know you like some side characters better, but they need to stick to their lane. I promise when you are done, the second draft will have as much hands-on attention as Poetry.” Novel sits back and nods its head.

I raise my voice. “Essay! Stop lurking outside the door.” Essay slinks into the room with a sheepish grin. “I know you don’t get as much attention as your brethren, but you have an important function also. You help me deal with reality.” Poetry and Novel snort. “Essay, you get to discuss Poetry and Novel, so don’t take their shit. All of you are important in your own way. You will all get attention, I promise.”

A knock sounds on the door. “This is Non-Fiction, are you having a meeting? Let me in.” 

“Quick, hide,” I hiss as I slam my laptop lid then raise my voice. “Sorry, no super-secret WIP intervention here. You have the wrong author. Come back next year.”

Non-Fiction gives an evil chuckle. “Next year? See you next week.”

Other Posts on Writing

Killing Pesky Cliches

Taking Inspiration by Force

The Trouble With Being a Poet

Listening to Poetry vs. Reading Poetry – Part I

Listening to Poetry vs. Reading Poetry – Part II

Looking Down to Find Yourself

The Journal Jungle

It’s Drafty in Here

Advice Paralysis

Outside Links

How to Juggle Multiple Writing Projects

Juggling Multiple Writing Projects at Once

The Benefits of Multiple Writing Projects

Finished and Starting Again

I finished my Urban Fantasy novel a couple of months ago, and incorporated some beta reader comments, cut 8000 words, tweaked grammar. All the things you need to do to finish and finalize. Finished, finished, finished. Awesome, right? Now it sits as the query letter is being smoothed over. Comp titles are a bit flummoxing. I have some, then I reread the comp book, and I wonder if it is really as close to what my story is about as I think it is. All this second-guessing makes for writing frustration.

So I started another book.

I even outlined it first. In a couple of past posts, I yammered about outlining, and being a pantser, not a plotter, before I realized why yes, I actually do outline my work. I just wasn’t calling it an outline. I wrote 8 pages of ‘This happened, then this, then the character did this, and oh, yeah, this is how it all turned out.’ 8 pages of outline. Then I wrote some scenes that came to mind after reading the outline and taking a deep breath, I opened Scrivener.

Scrivener is a word processing program and outliner. I let it intimidate me before, writing chapters in Word then dropping them in the program. It’s got a bit of a learning curve. This time, I read tutorials and played around a bit. Then I started. I used the Index card part to plug my 8-page outline into digestible chunks. It forced me to sum up what was going on, chapter by chapter. The good thing about the cards is I can move them around. My brain while reading continuous pages of text insists that’s how it should be, linear, like a novel.

Virtual 3×5 Cards

Index cards with summaries helped me see the overall flow of the novel much more easily. I sized it to nine cards on a page, out of 34 chapters, so I could take things in at a glance. (So this was storyboarding? I could work with this.) I can rearrange index cards, but figuring out how to add a blank one took me a bit. Learning curve. I did like color coding each chapter so I know whose Point of View it’s in. I found out the bad guy needs more time on the page.

Each time I opened Scrivener, I wanted to flee back to Word, but I resisted the impulse. I do a lot of my writing in Google Docs and Word because they are familiar. How many times do we stick with the familiar instead of branching out? I promised myself I’d try writing chapters in Scrivener. I do like the ability to have nothing but a big, blank page showing on the screen. (For some reason, Word’s ribbon feature draws my eye. It has toys. My downfall.)The blank page has never intimidated me. I just jump in and worry about organization later. Pantser instincts never die.

Is my outline finished? Urm, no. Every time I read it, I tighten it up, add things in, and try to pinpoint conflict. Little by little, I become more comfortable with outlining, and it’s even helped me on the previous Urban Fantasy query letter. The only drawback I see to this is carrying all those characters from multiple books in my head. I guess as long as no fistfights break out, I’ll be able to finish one book and write the other. Writers out there, have you tried a new process? How did it go? What’s your outlining method?

Links to Past Posts on Writing:

This is Your Brain on Writing

Pulling Words Apart

Ignoring Writing Advice

Revising 101 (Housekeeping)

A Few Words on Revision

Link to Scrivener

Links to outlining methods:

Finding the Novel Outlining Process That Works for You

7 Ways to Write a Plot Outline

12 Great Ways to Outline a Novel

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