Recently, I’ve had the tremendous privilege of speaking with several book clubs about my novel, I’m Not Her.
I love chatting with people about the story. They are always surprised when at some point I reveal that when I started writing the book, I had no idea how it would end.
And then they are even more surprised when I tell them I was as shocked as they were when Leroy turned up.
After that, I’ll confess that I wasn’t even certain what the story was about when I started. I just turned it loose and followed where it led.
Wait! That’s it? You didn’t have it all worked out ahead of time?
I feel like I’m letting them down as a writer.
I explain that I started with a character and a simple premise – What if a skinny, privileged young woman ended up in the body of an obese, impoverished young woman? What would happen?
With my forthcoming novel, Girls’ Weekend (May 3, 2016!), I started with- What if three overwhelmed moms went away for a girls’ weekend and decided not to go back? How would that work out? How would their families deal with it? What would they do?
No outline. No planned plot. Certainly, no ending in mind. I feel guilty when I explain this. I’m an author – it really should sound way more organized.
Truth is, I’m a pantser.
For those of you unfamiliar with the term, it has nothing to do with pulling down the sloppy sweatpants of an unsuspecting friend in the locker room. A pantser is a writer who writes by the seat of her pants, pulling stories from her mind without a net. No outline, no long thought-through plan. For me, it means tapping into an internal muse and listening to the story.
The flip side of this is a plotter. This is a writer who follows a pre-thought-through outline. I wish I were this type of writer. It’s a more efficient process and a very successful one for many big-time writers. They most likely know they have a best-seller on their hands before they write a single word.
Me? I don’t know if I even have a cohesive story until I’ve spent several weeks typing away – flip flopping between being certain I’m the next Tolstoy and flinging myself on the floor in disgust because I don’t know what the heck I’m doing. I can do this multiple times in the span of an hour.
As the words pile up and I know the end is near, I become anxious. How will this end? I find it hard to focus on the rest of my life, always distracted by the laptop in the corner. And when it ends – such relief, even if it was certainly not where I thought it was going.
Writing that first draft is the best part of the whole process! It’s like watching a movie. I never know what’s going to happen. It’s crazy-fun and puts me on a mental high that resonates through my days.
But the months of editing that follow – that’s a grind. That’s not fun at all. Tearing apart something that spun itself out of my heart seemingly of its own free will is not easy. Not easy at all.
Welcome to my life this month. Sigh. I’ll get through it, in fact, the end feels near.
Meanwhile, a new story is brewing. I catch glimpses of characters and hints of their predicament almost daily now. I can hardly wait.