Straying From the Script: Surprises Await!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Are you a planner. . .  (by DanielyMoyle Flickr)
I am usually a planner--definitely in my everyday life. If I didn't plan, I wouldn't get half of the things done that I do in a day or a week. When I write, I'm a half-planner/half-pantser--I usually have notes and an outline, but I don't always follow them 100 percent because as I'm in the middle of  a project (novel, article, blog post), my brain thinks of better things to say than my notes do. When it comes to speaking engagements, I'm a planner-I actually prefer to use Power Point presentations, so I can really stick to my "plan" and remember to say everything I wanted to say.

But recently, I was invited to speak in Hannibal, MO at the Missouri Association for Family & Community Education Conference about being a children's author. The very nice lady who hired me said that she wanted me to talk about what it was like to write for children. I assumed (as we know this is something you SHOULD NOT DO) this was because the people in the audience were interested in writing for children. So, I prepared my Power Point presentation, filled it with tips for people who are starting out writing for children, packed up my just released book: a middle-grade novel Finding My Place, and drove for almost two hours to the talk.

When I started my speech, I asked the audience how many people wanted to write for children--NO ONE (out of about 50 or so people) raised their hand! When I asked how many people liked to write or wrote on a regular basis, one person raised her hand.

or a pantser? (by Andie712b Flickr)
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that I was not going to be able to deliver my planned Power Point presentation and that I was going to have to change things up a bit for my 35-minute talk, or these ladies were going to be bored to tears. So, I started talking about my life, my book, researching less than a week after the 9/11 attacks, why I write, what to do if you are at all interested, and how everyone has a story. It turned out fine. I only put one person to sleep, and there were even questions when I was finished.

Best of all--I sold over 20 books and had several nice comments, including one woman who didn't want her $1.00 change back and said, "I want you to keep that--not your publisher." (Part of my talk was about how little royalties we make on a book. . .) I had to stray from my script for this presentation, but I was pleasantly surprised at how well it all turned out.

The same thing has happened to me before--while working on a contemporary middle-grade mystery novel, while leading a writing workshop for children, while creating notes for online classes. Sometimes, you have to go with the flow, with what your audience wants, with where your characters are taking you.

I will never stop planning--it's not in my nature, and I like to have a plan. I feel better. But I will look for those opportunities to stray from the script and hope that pleasant surprises always await.  How about you?

Margo L. Dill is the author of Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg, a middle-grade, historical fiction novel set during the U. S. Civil War. For more information or to purchase a copy, please visit:


Sioux Roslawski said...


When I do a workshop, I have a basic "framework" but it's loose enough that I can fly around by the seat of my pants. This results in me being able to use comments from the audience as a springboard, and relate more to the group I'm talking to.

I had to laugh at your story. I was imagining what was going on in your mind when you found out that all your wonderful plans were headed down the drain.

Great post, Margo.

Anonymous said...

Absolute kudos to you for thinking on your feet. I confess I may have been thinking about revenge for the person who mistakenly (I'm sure) mislead me! As if public speaking weren't terrifying enough. But great application: plan but always keep one foot flexible to change directions. I too am a mutt mix of pantser and planner.

Marcia Peterson said...

Margo, I'm impressed with your ability to improvise. I am too much of a planner sometimes, I think. Great job making it work for your group!

Angela Mackintosh said...

Yes, kudos to you, Margo! You pulled it off. :) We all have a 9/11 story it seems, and it's interesting you have one that ties into your book.

I'm definitely a planner, so I would be horrified; I'm also a rambler, so the audience would be horrified right there with me. ;)

You must have did pretty well though--20 books is great!

Cathy C. Hall said...

I love that you DID adapt to your audience! And P.S. I think teaching is a big help in learning to think on your feet--adapt or die (so to speak). ;-)

Margo Dill said...

Thanks, ladies--yes, I definitely think being a former elementary teacher helps with being flexible and adapting to a group, but it was still terrifying. And seriously, I did put someone in the FRONT ROW to sleep! :) But in my defense, I did speak right after lunch. LOL

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