Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Bass Ackwards

I’m about 75,000 words into what will likely be an 85,000 word manuscript.  This is the second book in the Maeve Conlon series, still untitled, and still (in my opinion) without form. I kind of know what the mystery is (I’ve already killed someone and someone else is missing) but the “why” is still missing.  I’ll get it; the book is due 10/1 and if I learned anything from college it was that I was a great-under-pressure writer.

I was discussing fellow blogger Laura Bradford’s new book with her last week and she asked me about the mystery that will be the centerpiece of her upcoming installment in her very popular Amish series.  She wanted to know if it worked before she started writing.

I was astonished.  “So, you actually plot the mystery from start to finish before you start writing?” I thought but did not say out loud, afraid her reaction would be “well, duh.”

So, you have one author almost finished with a first draft and still writing around the mystery and another who hasn’t started yet and looking to nail down the details of the mystery.

I wish I were author #2.

But I’m not.  I never have been. I’m the author who picks up the lives of her characters where she left off, figuring out what they’ve been doing every day since she last wrote about them. Every time I start a new book, I promise myself that I’ll:

1.     Create a timeline.
2.     Figure out what the mystery is before I start writing.
3.     Write 1000-2500 words per day.

As this new untitled book is the second in my new series but the tenth novel I’ve written, you would think that I’ve done at least one of the things above before I got started.

I’m sorry to say that not a one has been executed.

Sure, I create a timeline but only after I have no idea how many days have passed since the book opened.

And sometimes I figure out what the mystery is but never before at least a couple of thousand words have been written.  (I have a vague idea but nothing concrete.  I have to let my characters act out first and then I figure out what happens and why.)

And most of the time, I work at the day job while fitting my writing in around it.  That makes for some days where I can write 7500 words (it happened once; an all-time record) and long stretches where the only thing I write is “Dear Author” to a recalcitrant writer who owes me something for work.

The good news is that I know my characters inside and out.  Sometimes someone does something to surprise me but most of the time, I know what they’re going to say and how they are going to react.  That in and of itself, is comforting.

It makes for some frustrating days, this bass ackwards process, but it’s mine and I’m sticking with it.  I do envy my pal Laura, though; I wonder what it would be like to have a plan going forward.  It works so well for her; if you haven't read any of her books, read one and see for yourself.

Tell me, when it comes to writing or just life in general, are you a seat-of-the-pantser or a planner?  A recovered seat-of-the-pantser or a die-hard one?  I’d love to know.

Maggie Barbieri


  1. Planner. Sometimes too much so. But, whatever works best for you--though best doesn't mean flawlessly--is best for you.

  2. You make me sound so organized. LOL. Not true. I need a sold handle on the mystery, yes...sometimes, there are still kinks that need to be worked out as I write, but I like a good sense of what/why/who. The part where I'm a pantser concerns my characters and what's going on around the mystery. That just happens somehow when I sit down...building and forming as I go. So I'm part planner/part pantser, I guess.

    As for you, keep doing as you do. I couldn't love your books anymore.