Just Write It
Can you survive in publishing genre fiction if you don't outline, if you go AWOL from character interviews, if you go cross-eyed at color-keyed plot charts, and if you would rather clean a sewer than write a synopsis? Whether you're indie, traditional or hybrid, the answer is yes. A veteran bestselling author shares how she's survived and thrived through 30 years in publishing and presents practical, proven and hard-won tips and tools for those who don't write "right."
"Seldom do people enjoy "how to" books. But Ms. McLinn's sense of humor and blunt content really kept me reading. Whether you outline or don't, preplan or go with your gut, you'll not only like this book, but get some valuable tips."– Amazon Review
"Survival Kit for Writers Who Don't Write Right is a must-have for every author, from wannabe to published. Filled with humorous, relatable antidotes, you'll discover that however you write, it's right for you. A clever book that makes a perfect gift for the writer in your family."– Amazon Review
"Witty and wise, Patricia McLinn's SURVIVAL KIT is packed with sound advice for writers at all levels. Most importantly, she reassures writers that there's no right way or wrong way to write, only the way that works best for you—and she helps you to figure out what that way is."– Amazon Review
Survival Kit for Writers Who Don't Write Right, by Patricia McLinn
This is going to be part revival meeting, part workshop-in-a-book. So, get comfortable.
A lot of us who are pantsers* or extreme pantsers are used to being considered writers who don't write right. However, there are writers who are considered not writing "right" for other reasons and they're welcome here, too.
(*What's a pantser? Someone who writes without plotting out the story ahead of time. People who do plot out the story ahead of time are — not surprisingly — called plotters.)
Before we start, I want to share my top two tips about writing and a statement (some might say a warning) about this book.
Number One Writing Tip:
All writing advice is a buffet. Not a fixed menu.
That means you're in charge of what you try, what you skip, how much you take, if you go back for seconds, or if you give something a shot this time that you passed up last time.
Number Two Writing Tip:
No other writer can tell you what will work for you. They can only tell you what's worked for them.
You are the only one living inside your writing process (or having it live inside of you, depending on how you look at it.)
So, consider all that advice displayed on the buffet and remember it's your process that will taste and digest the healthy stuff and the goodies. Doesn't matter if it works for 98 percent of other writers if it leaves your process queasy.
This book does not offer a recipe for a method — surefire or otherwise. It offers tips and tools I hope you can try applying to your individual process as it grows, adapts, and sharpens.
It's a short book by design.
I don't want to waste your time.
It seldom slows down for explanations. It's for writers with some words under their belts. It might be helpful to those just starting out, but they might need to find definitions of terminology. Feel free to contact me if I've lost you.
It is not a pantser vs. plotter book.
It does not say don't plot. Anyone who thinks that needs to read it a second time more carefully. Or read it for the first time before making such statements.
It also doesn't say to plot.
It says to do what works for you.
Then it offers tips and tools for writers who are pantsing or otherwise not writing "right."
First Item in Your Survival Kit: A Teeter-Totter
Up. Writers need to respect and nurture their individual process of getting words down on the page/up on the screen.
Down. At the same time, they benefit from being open to exploring and experimenting with new-to-them methods and approaches.
Up. You never know when you're going to find something that makes your writing richer, easier, faster, deeper. You sure don't want to miss those opportunities by rigidly refusing to consider any other method.
Down. On the other hand, writers who don't write right are going to need to withstand a whole lot of urging to disrespect their own processes, to jettison them immediately and completely for the one, the only, the true Right Way to Write. (There are many of these "one and onlys.")
If you're really good at balance, you can find that perfect spot in between the ups and downs, and teeter there for a long time.
Otherwise, you'll pass through that sweet spot briefly as you're coming or going — grab those moments, appreciate them, do your best to extend them. And recognize that the ups and downs are as temporary as the sweet spot.
Pressure to Write Right
The writing world equivalent of "What's your sign?" is "Are you a plotter or a pantser?"
Plotter is a writer who plots out (often by way of an outline) his or her book before starting to write.
I also think of plotters as builders of stories. They know what form the story will take and they begin at the bottom and construct it.
Pantser — as in one who flies by the seat of one's pants — is a writer who begins writing without a flight plan or a map. Author Jo Beverly referred to it as "flying into the mists."
The pantsers I've met are discovery writers. We have an idea and we start writing it, seeing where that idea takes us and what it creates.
Neither method is superior to the other. It comes from how the author's mind works and, sometimes, from the needs of the individual book.
There are lots and lots and lots of books (as well as workshops) out there about writing fiction as a plotter. Their titles count the steps, the days, the elements that will carry you to a perfect book. Some tell you to drop — or set fire to — your pants, others threaten that you'll die if you don't plot, many stress plotting is the only way to sell books.
I'm not making any guarantees about or to you, but I'm standing here as proof — I haven't died, I have sold books, and I am a writer who doesn't write "right."
My first book was sold to traditional publisher Harlequin in 1989 and came out in 1990. It was the first book I'd ever submitted. (Don't worry, I had plenty of rejections later.) In the early years I continued to work full-time, later part-time as an editor for the Washington Post, which certainly cut into my writing time. (Darned day jobs … which, for me, was mostly an afternoon-night job.) After 23 years at the Post, I left in 2007 to write full-time.
I trad published 27 books in 25 years. I started indie publishing in 2010, remaining a hybrid author by publishing with a traditional publisher until 2015, when I became fully indie.
As an indie, I've been on the USA Today bestseller list multiple times. (At least six; I really should go look it up.) Indie has also been lucrative for me. Nowhere near the level of a number of authors who've had phenomenal success. (Those who persisted after being told by traditional publishing that they'd never succeed particularly warm my heart.) I am making a good living writing books I love — around 50 titles so far.
And yet, I get the pressure. Both external and internal.
When I decided to try my hand at mysteries, I told myself my process worked okay for romances, even women's fiction. But with a mystery, surely I had to plot.
So I tried.
Two and a half years later, no mystery. (I wrote romances in the interim, using my process.)
The light bulb goes off.
Gee, maybe I could try a mystery writing my way.
Seven years later, I've published ten of them, working on the eleventh as I write this. (Along with continuing to write romances.)
But I'm not the only one who told me I had to plot.
Having survived in the biz, having good things happen, especially as an indie, I still hear from other authors and writing gurus in person, on forums, or by email an average of a dozen times a year that I really should outline. That I'll be more productive, earn more money, write more easily if I totally change the way I write.
You will hear these things, too.
The vast majority of the advice and promises will be well-meant.
The really tricky part is that — for some of you — the promises might be true.
Tip: Before assessing the claims, beware the plotting proselytizers' math.
Frequently, they rave about how much faster they write with an outline. They might ask you how many words you wrote in three hours, say, and their total will come out way ahead.
They're not counting the thinking and creating time of producing the outline. Word count-per-hour is not an informative comparison unless they add that in.
Plotters segment their time into plotting/outlining/thinking and writing, with word-count-per-hour covering only the writing part of their process.
For pantsers, the writing and thinking are braided together, so our thinking time is baked into our word count-per-hour.
Is it possible a plotter is faster than you even if they count in the plotting/outlining/thinking time? Sure. But make them do all the math before claiming speed benefits from plotting.