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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Straying From the Script: Surprises Await!

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:


  1. Margo--

    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.

  2. Anonymous4:44 AM

    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.

  3. 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!

  4. 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!

  5. 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). ;-)

  6. 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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