So third novel, eh? How can I be working on a third project when I haven’t published the other two yet? I’m currently tweaking my query letter skills as I solicit for a literary agent for Destiny Seeker, and I have Speechless that has blossomed under multiple NaNoWriMo sessions.
This third novel, The Throwaway Queen, is my way of staying in the writing/creative mode while Destiny Seeker is pretty much finished at the moment, and I’m not super stoked about the massive editing Speechless will require. I started feeling excited about the premise of The Throwaway Queen and decided to take on this new project.
However, as a reformed pantser, it meant that my approach to my writing process has totally changed. If you’re like me, you’re likely looking for the balance between being creative and following a structure. Here’s a few strategies I’ve taken on to ensure this next project doesn’t take literal decades to finish. Hopefully this writer’s life update helps you as you decide to tweak your writing habits to be a more productive and cheerful writer.
1. I’m crafting the synopsis first—not last
To be honest, I didn’t really know the overall theme or synopsis of Destiny Seeker—I was just writing about Ilsi’s adventures. So when it came time to explain the plot to friends and family, it became difficult. How do you express how cool your novel is without the proper elevator pitch?
It took years for me to pin down the overall plot so I could talk about it in my query letter. It also meant I had to revise a lot of the structure so the plot outline and the actual story lined up.
This is legit what happens when you’re a pantser to the max.
So this time around, I’m using Scrivener to plot out my novel. I have a folder specifically for my plot outline and different versions of my synopsis—a short elevator pitch, a cover blurb version, and a longer, fuller synopsis that I could use for query letters. Figuring this part out now will make it so much easier to write this novel and brag about it later.
2. I’m doing my due research
So before you go on thinking that I never did research in the past, I’d like to clarify: I’m researching more about what readers are looking for in books, what’s already been done, and how I can do justice to characters in regards to skin color and sexual orientation.
But there is something to say about doing research before you actually tackle a project. I wouldn’t want something to be unrealistic in a scene and then not only have to edit it, but maybe reroute the whole scene or plot to make up for it.
Most of this research is reaching out to readers (people who read books and/or follow this blog) and the writing community so that I get things right—even in fiction. I wouldn’t say that there was something massively wrong with how I did research before; I’m just doing more smarter research.
3. I’m putting more care into character’s back stories
I used to really hate writing back stories—especially if nothing would be used in the final manuscript. It feels sort of like going backwards, doesn’t it? As a pantser, I just wanted to steamroll right into the story and get on with it.
However, as I’ve started to think about the backstories of multiple characters, it helps me narrow down their voice (that elusive thing we keep wanting to master) and their motives. Basically, I’m helping them think like they would, and not how I would.
4. I’m using Pinterest to help visualize my characters & setting
When pantsing a novel, it feels like you’re making things up as you go: what characters look like, what they’re wearing, where they live, etc. If you don’t have a clear picture in mind, it’s really easy to forget later on and pants again when you re-enter the setting. It created mass confusion for my beta readers and editors.
A funny-yet-embarrassing example was a dragon that was sometimes described as female and other times as male. My editor joked that my dragon was gender non-conforming! Yup, that required a lot of revising, too.
So this time around, I have a Pinterest board that helps me plot out characters, setting, etc. so that I can describe things in great detail, but remain consistent. I likely won’t rely on every single image, but what I contribute also adds to the mood I’m trying to convey. It helps to edit the photo description to mention what I want to “borrow” from the image and use for my novel, such as a hairstyle, face shape, or outfit feature.
5. I’m writing with the publishing industry in mind
I know that many of you want to go traditional and many of you plan on self publishing. Either way, it’s really hard to pitch your book to potential readers. Like, how do you make sure that you’re writing something the readers want, but it’s true to what you want?
As I’m thinking about this new project, I’m soliciting for a literary agent. It’s really eye-opening, but difficult. I’m already having doubts if I’ve missed that train. It’s a scary thought to have when you’re already done with the manuscript.
Okay, so I’ve only solicited 7 agents. I’m being a touch dramatic. But it’s hard to solicit people to be interested in your work if you didn’t have them in mind for the majority of the writing process.
Since I’m sort of juggling these projects at different points in the process, I still think I can give my novel a leg up. For example, a lot of agents are looking for women’s fiction or feminism writings. While I’m not writing a chick flick or an essay on modern intersection feminism, I can still use those interests to catch the agent’s attention and ensure the novel lives up to my claims.
What’s your writing process?
Many prolific writers have a system that works for them—they’ve they’ve tried different tactics and then fell into a groove that works for them. My goal is to find my groove, too.
I want to leave you with this point: I’m in no way bashing pantsers, because deep down, I loved being a pantser. I still want to be one! I’m just saying that it took me over a decade to write my first novel. I didn’t start with the confidence that I could finish or write something of quality. I did finish and I did spend half that time editing and rewriting. If that’s your jam, then don’t fix what isn’t broken.
Finding my middle ground—punnily enough it’s called being a “planter”—will help me get this novel done within a year or two. I hope this insight on my writing process can help you with yours.
What’s your go-to strategy when you’re ready to write? We’d love to hear about it via social media or in the comment section below!
6 comments on “5 Ways I’m Shifting My Writing Process for My Third Novel”
I’m pretty much a plantser, too. Although the longer I go, the more detailed I get with my plotting. I think it’s one of the reasons I like fairy tale adaptations – the plotting’s already been done for you! You just have to make your version fit.
Yeah! Plotting feels easier with retellings because you have the established beats in each tale and you get to decide what gets tweaked and what stays the same. <3 I think a detailed outline for us just speaks more of how excited we are to get to that scene, rather than wanting to be prepared or organized. At least, speaking for myself!
“Planter” – ha, I hadn’t heard that before, I like it. 🙂
Can you give more details about what you mean about writing with the industry in mind? The way I interpreted that was writing what’s “in,” what’s currently popular. I think there’s a danger in that, because – at least for me – writing to fit a mold is a surefire way to kill my creativity. But maybe you meant something different. I’m aware that publishers might not want a certain story at a given time, but I believe the goal of writing should always be the love of the book first, with publication as a bonus. Plus, industry tastes tend to come in waves, so even if a book isn’t sellable right now, it could be in a few years.
Oh my days, good question—and I’m glad I can clarify! For one thing, I think there’s a market for just about anything, because there is a publishing company or literary agent out there that will represent each genre. So I wouldn’t say hop on the vampire bandwagon like many others did a decade ago, but still be aware of what they’re looking for to give you an edge. I think of it the same way as applying for a job—you tweak your cover letter to show that you fit the bill, even if you consider yourself 70% qualified.
An example: many lit agents I applied to were looking for strong female protagonists, LGBT+ friendly narratives, or other types of compelling characters. Depending on if that’s what you like to write, you can swing that in any genre. I guess it’s more about looking at what the industry *isn’t* looking for and making sure your work doesn’t fall in a cliche’ category.
Does that make more sense? Thanks for your question. 🙂
I have been going through the same thing! I’ve always been a pantser too and I love writing that way but I finally realized I never finish anything. :-/ I have been devouring books on structure and outlining in an attempt to find a middle ground that works for me. Not an easy thing. lol Best of luck!
It really isn’t easy to restructure your writing approach! I’m happy for you that you’ve found some resources that will help. We’ve got this!