Pantsing While Plodding Toward Publication

writing journeyI started writing over four-and-a-half years ago. I had an idea for a non-fiction book, a snarky take on Boulder women. If you’re not familiar with how to assemble a book proposal, non-fiction is skiing down a gentle slope compared to fiction where the writer must plod along the desert and climb craggy mountains with blown out tennis shoes and holes in their socks. I’ll get to that later. At that time, I only needed a query letter, a table of contents, and a few sample chapters.

It took months to finish one chapter since my typing skills matched my affinity for editing. At first, I fought for every word when my husband checked over my essay. Yep. One essay. Don’t get me wrong. I wanted perfection, but it killed me to change a sentence I had slaved over. When my kids pointed out how to right-click, delete, copy, and paste, I floated into a state of nirvana. After finishing the proposal, I had an editor look it over. He liked the idea, but told me I needed to build a writer’s platform by blogging. So on April 10th, 2011, I posted for the first time on WordPress.

Here I am on my four-year blogiversary with my 400th post! Amazing.

If it was so dang easy, what happened to the non-fiction book proposal?

I joined a Friday flash fiction group and fell in love with making stuff up. I wrote the first sentence of these micro essays by using stream-of-conscious writing. In other words, I wrote the first words that popped into my tiny cranium. From there, I described the character’s world and what they wanted. Then, I would come up with the biggest twisted ending imaginable. They were great fun.

After spending months creating worlds and playing with characters no one would ever meet, I had a eureka moment. Instead of worrying about what my friends would think of my perspective on Boulder life, I picked out one of the more popular flash fictions and decided to transform it into a book. How hard could it be? I thought I could simply extend the story. In a year, I would be a published author!

And from here we enter the desert.

I had no idea what I was doing. Instead of a few sample chapters, the entire book would have to be complete before querying. I still had my heart set on landing an agent and being traditionally published.

Little did I know there were rules to this enormous genre. My expanded flash fiction only encompassed the first two chapters of what would become a 50 chapter book. I remember writing to chapter 30 and not knowing how the story would end. I had loved writing in this “pantsing” way, but not know where I was going, proved to be grueling and all uphill with lots of crevices and cliffs to sidestep.

During the first year of writing the book, I continued to write flash fiction. It confused my pea-brain to handle sets of characters while switching back and forth between stories. I finally had to commit to the book and stop writing short stories. It was taking forever.

Why didn’t you just whip it out and e-book it?

I don’t believe in wasting reader’s time because of unpolished writing. I figure an author’s work is like a meal at a fine restaurant. One bad dinner and the patrons will never come back. Regardless of whether I e-booked or not, I wanted my book to be the best it could be. By the time I finished the first draft, I had fallen in love with my characters and story. It would be worth the time to do those 376 edits, I always joke about. I’m probably close to that number now! 

Chuck Wendig and me
I met Chuck Wendig at the Pike’s Peak Writer’s Conference.

Getting back to the rules, I learned a ton throughout this journey. I scoured the internet. I bought and devoured books. I went to writer’s conferences and chatted up other writers, authors, agents, and editors. I blogged about writing and asked for opinions.

Exciting and nerve-wracking, I gave my first chapter to a few writers, they felt it didn’t start in the right place and they couldn’t connect with my character. The stakes weren’t high enough. GAH! I had arrived at the end of a long tenuous journey with one foot bruised and the other blistered only to find I had a few more miles to go. I couldn’t give up when I was so close.

I rewrote and rewrote and rewrote for months, until one day, I looked up from my computer and smiled. I knew my story finally started in the right place. My main character came to life on page one and her stakes would give most people nightmares. I was finished.NaNoWriMo2014 1

My first book took three and a half years. Ironically, I wrote the second in the series in three weeks, but I knew the main plot points and ending before I started. I have the third all “tent-poled” and ready to write. Now that I know the rules, it is so much easier.

So what does this have to do with your 400th post and blogiversary?

Writing blog posts stretched me as a writer. It was the practice I needed to finish the final mile. Every one of those 400 essays contributed to the book and the writer I have become.

After many long hard days the terrain became less rocky. The mountain face I had scaled became a gentle slope in the foothills I could ski. I will continue to work hard on my craft and will sit down to darn socks and replace worn out shoes when need be and will keep on trekking.

If I knew it would take me this long, I would have started the journey anyway. It’s not just about the book anymore. Ultimately, it’s about writing. The blogging and the book are intertwined. I’ve learned by taking the road less traveled.

skiing down mountain

Why do you blog? If you don’t have one, would you ever consider blogging?

90 thoughts on “Pantsing While Plodding Toward Publication

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  1. “And from here we enter the desert.” And you probably didn’t know to pack a lunch. (or perhaps “enter the dessert” was the expectation?) You are such a great story teller – and humorists – they kinda go together even when one or the other is underwraps. Always a wild time around here – as Susie skies through the ups and downs of life – not to mention her “secret” life as a serious fiction writer. I love your comparisons of writing seriously for publishing as to preparing a meal. So true.
    Also true is the concept that writing – writing anything – improves writing. Blogging is one big playground. Hard for me to take it seriously (although I do prefer to turn out crafted posts rather than tossing a jumble out there – after all, anything people read is your calling card and represents so much about the author). Blogging was an escape from rigid serious format and topics at work. WordPress is like a country fair – it’s all there. And a great deal of fun is always right here. Congrats and write on!

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    1. Thanks so much Phil! I somehow missed these comments. I’m in Wisconsin with family. The Wild Life continues…
      I can see that you always put time into your posts. They are amazing!
      The year I started writing, I thought I’d be published the next. I became frustrated when it stretched to three, but ironically, this fall when I upped the stakes and made it a three book series, it took the pressure off. I was discussing the twists in the third this morning. I’m really loving the process. Hopefully all the time I put into it will be worth it. At least I’ve learned A TON about writing! I’m anxious to finish since I outlined a rom-com screenplay this weekend too! I need two of me to finish all of my projects. Sheesh!

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  2. Four years, 400 posts, and success as a writer. You win! Great to hear your story. I am rather in the same boat. A manuscript ready to go and I am at the crossroad of the streets Self-Publish or Attempt to get an Agent.

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    1. To me, it makes sense to reach for the stars first and then land on the moon if I can’t score an agent. My goal is to get my book into book stores, so I can do signings. I’ll exhaust that Avenue and see how it goes. I do have a nibble from a publisher who gets their books into stores, so who knows? I’m just about ready to send my first chapter and summary to them. I’ll keep everyone posted with my progress. I’ve got three other projects I’m working on, so I would love to get this one on the road!
      Good luck to you!

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  3. Well, welcome to my world. Writing fiction is kind of like chasing your tail. It gives you something to do, but it’s a never ending chore. Writing, re-writing, reading, re-reading, editing, re-editing. One day I’m going to catch my tail. I have 4 completed manuscripts and ideas for 2 more just itching to get onto the page. Having the time to devote to a manuscript is another uphill battle. Baby steps I keep telling myself.

    Good luck Susie. You’re on the right path and hard work and determination never hurt anyone. I’m right there with you.

    And I started blogging for the same reason – to build a platform. I’m not sure how high my platform has to be, but I’m still building.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

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    1. Four manuscripts! Wow! Have you published any of them?
      Other than outlining my third book in the series, which is the plan for this week, I have a screenplay to finish and one I dreamed up over the weekend that I’m really excited about. I am in Wisconsin and can’t wait to get back to work! (It’s taking me a while to catch up. I’m in a hotel responding to comments.)

      I don’t think a writer’s platform makes much of a difference. If the book is good, it will sell regardless of a platform by word of mouth. 🙂

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  4. Hey, Susie. We’ve been on a bit of a hiatus with our writing, but we’ve finished the sequel to The Perfect 7, which we titled The Crazy 8 and are back on the blogosphere. 😉 So happy to be back and come on to our fave blogs like yours. We accredit our blog to molding us into the writers we are as well. Any form of written word can aid in a writer’s journey and style. All of the things you went through and to like conferences, feedback from various readers and sources, can all benefit the writer and his/her art. Writing is one of the few artistic outlets that is very technical and requires a lot of education, so the pursuit of it through knowledge and experience is (in my humble opinion) the only way to go. Mathair and I are so happy for you on your 400th blog post and know there will be many more to come.

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    1. Thank you so much! I’m so happy to “see” you again! I was in Wisconsin, back home for my birthday weekend and am back in Wisconsin again. I’m catching up in a hotel. Sorry it took so long to comment!
      I think there will always be something to learn about writing. Conventions will change as will the publishing industry. I’m going to keep plugging along!
      Thanks for coming along for the Ride! Thanks for the Facebook share too!

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  5. I started blogging to build a platform too, as I was convinced my novel was ready to query. The novel didn’t make it, but I’m still blogging. I’ve learned so much from this ride that I know this decision was worth it — even though it’s been difficult to balance with life and my “real” writing.

    400 posts is fantastic!

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    1. Thanks so much, Kate! I kept thinking it was 300 posts and had to double check. Ha!
      I hit a lot of walls with my first manuscript, but kept rewriting. I felt the story was unique enough to do what it took to take it to another level. After the last criticism, I changed the stakes and the whole book and characters finally came to life. I expanded it into a three book series.
      I’ll keep on blogging for practice and for the camaraderie of other friends like you! I’ll probably never reach any sort of balance. 🙂

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  6. I started my first blog on Blogger after having an LGS done for needed weight loss help. I am not sure if many people read it as never had many comments. I started my WP blog as I had made many mindmaps that we used for discussions in a writing group so we all learned more about how to do something we all loved, better. I wanted to share that learning with others. Maybe I am a latent teacher. I love it when I check the stats and find that it has been read by others.

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  7. I’m on the road less traveled too, on my fifth year of a memoir about sailing to Fatu Hiva. Found our it was more about transcending fear, living dreams, and women warriors than sailing. Anyway, great post and nice to meet you. I look forward to more.

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    1. Thanks so much! Nice to meet you too.
      Your book sounds so inspirational!

      Writing really is a process. I often start with something completely different than when I finish. My new book is really wild. I hope to have it done soon. Good luck on the memoir. I’ve always found writing about life a lot harder. For me, it’s easier to make stuff up. Ha!

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  8. When I first starting blogging, for the first year it became a distraction to my actual writing. I was so distracted by promoting, and my dyslexia made the reach in the WP community take 5 times longer than it did for everyone else and I never wrote for myself. It took a year and a half of blogging to return to my Storyist and Microsoft Word Transcriptions. Now that I am here I am so thankful to have this blog to overcome the unexpected hurtles of writers block, or blend the paints of my life experiences for new ideas for my stories. ❤

    https://ourprincesscastle.wordpress.com/

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    1. Very cool! It sounds like blogging has rescued you. It has definitely rescued me many times while I worked to overcome health setbacks.

      I agree that practicing here is great for book writing, but blogging can get away from me and become a time suck. I recently started bullet point journaling which keeps me on track so I stay balanced and focused. I’m getting close to finishing a new book. Good luck to you on yours! Book writing is quite a journey!
      Nice to meet you!

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  9. I’m glad you had a click through for the word pantsing. It was intrigued me to click on your blog. I wing all the time and now thank goodness, I have another name for it. Thank you for your honest account of writing your book. I still have the fantasy that I can whip one out in a weekend. It must be the pantsing element in me! 🙂

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    1. Didn’t Stephen King whip out The Shining in a weekend? I can’t imagine! I have done first (terrible) drafts in a few weeks.
      I’m all about pantsing. The trick is to trust yourself enough to let your subconscious do all the work!
      What’s your name for it, Diana?

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  10. Suzie, you always provide a wealth of information through the telling of your experiences. Thank you for sharing. Your posts mean a lot to newer writers like myself.

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