Sioux Without Pants?

Thursday, July 26, 2018
I'm a pantser. I usually write by the seat of my pants, rather than being a planner. Never (and this is no exaggeration) have I ever planned or outlined a writing piece.

And it's served me well.

Going without pants has worked for Daisy Duck for decades.

Until recently...

Probably I should provide some background information, so everyone doesn't run out and get a WWSD bracelet as they constantly wonder What would Sioux do? because these days, I usually write creative nonfiction pieces that are 800-1,200 words long. Those projects--from my perspective--don't need to be outlined. Simply relying on my muse works. Just recently I've started dabbling in essay-writing, and I'm using what I call the "spackle" method. Where there are holes, I fill 'em in.

Is the essay lacking statistics or data? I'll find some.
Is the essay dry or heartless? I'll slip in some personal anecdotal stuff.
Is the essay too linear? I'll insert some factual digressions.

However, a middle-grades novel that's 40,000-50,000 words long is way different than an essay or a short memoir piece. After hiring an editor (Margo is a shining gem, in my opinion. Do they get any better? I don't think so), I've resigned myself to the fact that I must do some sort of outlining/organizing. Writing by the seat of my pants didn't work. Using my normal methods, my manuscript ended up being a boring mess. I managed to write about a massacre... and my story lacked tension and excitement (which required supreme talent ;).

So, I've set out to find something that works for me. Outlining with roman numerals and capital letters? No way. That ain't me. Using software like Scrivener? I tried it for free during one NaNoWriMo and was immediately flummoxed. I need to find a way to organize my plot that allows for an organic unfolding of events... but also ensures that the various threads run through it and ensures that tension is part of the story.    

Here is one way of mapping out a story--like subway lines--that is visual and weird enough, it just might work for me. I'm working on a historical fiction manuscript. I've got a few threads I'm inserting
developing creating. This map would help me develop an ebb and flow of tension.

However, I really like the binder method (it's # 5 in the article) because I recently found some online maps of the community I'm writing about. Later this summer I'm planning a trip to do some research for the manuscript. I can envision plastic sheet protectors and colorful tabs to help me keep things straight. I can see the maps helping me organize the story because the characters are going to have to navigate through the city as they try to survive.

I can also see the combination of the subway-style story map working with the binder... a hybrid way of organizing. A mash-up of a couple of strategies.

This might work because Sioux may not  is probably not  is definitely not the most organized writer around, but she loves a good mash-up.

How about you? What helps you stay organized when it comes to novel-writing? Hot-messes-of- minds like me want to know...

Sioux Roslawski is a wife, a mom, a grammy, a teacher, a dog rescuer... and a writer. During the summer she reads voraciously and tries not to procrastinate too much when it comes to writing. (Sometimes the procrastination wins and sometimes Sioux does.) If you're a glutton for the above stuff, check out her blog.


Joanne said...

Thanks for this Sioux--I'm at a similar point in my memoir where I decided what I had didn't work and what's more, I didn't like what I had. I've been trying lots of things that haven't worked for me. Maybe one of the methods you suggested might. Good luck on your novel. BTW, loved your description of writing essays by using the "spackling method." Priceless!

Sioux Roslawski said...

J. Glenn--Congratulations on your memoir book. I am going to have to buy that one, because it has so many different ways to tell a story. AND, you've written one of the sections, which is another reason why it's a "must have."

By the way, I am lovinglovingloving our writing accountability group. They have been nudging me/pushing me/using a taser on me to keep me writing these first 6 months. I hope by the end of the year to have this revision finished. Thanks soooo much for the suggestion.

Also, I'm glad I'm not the only one with organizational problems. Misery--or the chaos contenders--love company, right?

Dawne Richards said...

This is a great read, thanks! My book is in various pieces, some of which are printed out and some of which are lurking in my email, on my computer, etc. I needed this kick in the pants (pun intended) to get organized.

Angela Mackintosh said...

Lol! No wonder we're pantsers...cartoon characters have been doing it for years! Daisy Duck, Porky Pig, Yogi Bear, Winnie the Pooh... I don't outline either, and that's probably why I haven't completed any of my novels. I've written three manuscripts that were novel length, but not good enough...plot holes, underdeveloped characters, the whole thing. Back then, I tried using Dramatica software to outline, but didn't like it because it kept trying to make my novel like Star Wars ("the hero's journey"), and I was writing a twisty thriller. My essay writing method is similar to yours, and I tend to write in sections, so I can easily insert a section or move things around. So I'm not much help in the outlining department! What I plan on doing though is finding a mentor text and mapping out the outline of that book and then using that outline for my own. I know that's cheating, but that's what most of those software programs do, but they don't have the type of stories I'm interested in copying. Well not copying, but you know what I mean. ;)

I like the subway line mapping. It makes sense to separate all the plot threads to see them clearly. Then you're able to stitch them together tightly, in a way that binds the story together. I'd think you could even move them around to craft tension at every turn.

Good luck, Sioux! Great post, and I hope this method works for you! :)

Renee Roberson said...

Obviously another pantser here, which is why I haven't topped the charts with a bestseller yet! I love your description of the spackling method, too. I tend to do things in reverse, meaning I will finish a manuscript and then go back and figure out how to rearrange things because I tend to use a lot of flashbacks. I like Angela's idea of looking at a few mentor texts of an author in my genre. I'll have to see if that will finally give me the kick in the pants I need.

Renee Roberson said...

P.S. And yes, good luck with the binder method! Give us an update soon and let us know how it is working for you.

Sioux Roslawski said...

Dawn--I love the image of parts of your book lurking. Good luck with it. Consider yourself kicked. ;) (And while I'm at it, I'll kick myself;)

Angela--Thanks. I haven't read "Educated" yet, but I've heard it's better than "Glass Castles" (which I find hard to believe, but I trust the sources). I'm sure you'll find the perfect book to use.

And no, that's not cheating. There are no brand new, completely unique formats in existence. Somebody stole it from somebody who borrowed it from somebody who changed it up a bit from somebody else.

Renee--The reverse method. THAT is what I do. It's when I come to a screeching stop--at the end--when it gets rough.

Thanks for the well wishes. I need all the help I can get.

And you KNOW I'll offer up updates--both the good news and the bad news.

Joanne said...

Sioux, thanks for the kind words about Memoir Your Way. And re: the accountability group, I'm thrilled it's working for you!

Mary Horner said...

Great post, Sioux. I've written with and without outlines, and can't say one is necessarily better than the other, depends on the project. I also have pieces of writing scattered about in my computer, so sometimes I will just write "(insert story about Uncle Joe here)." That also works. I guess I could just put a Roman Numeral in front of it and call it an outline!

Sioux Roslawski said...

Mary--Me, too. I have snippets and snatches scattered on my computer as well. Before computers, they were on scraps of paper and notebooks. Sometimes, it's just as hard to find them on my computer as they were in notebooks.

For me, even incredible technology cannot make up for my chaotic spirit.

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