By the Seat of My Pants

I have lived my life by the seat of my pants. Is it any wonder I write that way too? I have tried to learn how to live and write by a schedule. I have read countless books, taken several workshops and classes both online and in person, all to learn how to write at a certain time of the day for a set amount of time. I can do it for a little while. I faithfully rise early, do my chores, get on the computer for an hour and then head off to work. But then life happens, and I’m thrown off my schedule and it becomes more and more frustrating to get back into the routine.

I am used to chaos. I raised six children, boys. I didn’t get them all the normal way, one at a time with months to prepare. No, after two years of marriage, my husband and I went after custody of his three sons. We were already raising my two sons. In the middle of two custody battles, we learned I was pregnant. In a matter of months, we went from two children in the home full-time to six children, full-time.

My dreams of being a writer were just stories in notebooks hidden in the bottom of the closet until my husband acquired a used computer for me and encouraged me to write. I wrote for a few minutes most nights after the kids were in bed or settled in front of the television. I often wrote while they were in school, between laundry and part-time jobs, sports, scouts and school functions. I wrote on napkins, scraps of paper, old envelopes, whatever I could get my hands on, where ever I happened to be, whether at church (sorry Lord) or at a ball game (oops, yeah, I missed that catch, great job son), if an idea came, I would jot it down. I finished several books, even sent them to publishers and agents, back in the day when you mailed everything, but I still couldn’t write like everyone else.

No matter how much I wanted to or how much I tried, I could not stay on a schedule. For me, every day is different with different challenges and expectations. As my frustrations grew and my self-esteemed plummeted, I joined “Book in a Week.” This was a challenge my local Romance Writers of America group, The Heart of Carolina hosted one week a month. I sucked at first. Then I decided instead of trying to write at a certain time of day, perhaps I just needed to set a goal for a number of words per day. I began writing thirty minutes in the morning, and an hour in the evening, sometimes more, sometimes less but I found something that worked for me. My speed increased as did my word count.

My husband bought me a laptop and I carried it with me everywhere. I found that I could write a couple hundred words in fifteen minutes if I already had them planned out in my head. I’d often have conversations in my head with my characters while doing some boring task and as soon as I was free to write, I’d type it all out.

For a pantzer (writing by the seat of my pants), I don’t outline, unless you count my first draft. When I write my first draft, I hurry to get the ideas into the computer. I don’t try to fill in all of the details, although some scenes come to me fully while others are just shadows that have to be brought into focus later. Allowing myself to just write and not fix or edit has also helped me finish my novels quicker. Over time, my writing has become cleaner and I have less editing.

Learning to write in bits and bites has allowed me to finish three novels in less than three years, plus writing several short stories, a novella, plus marketing and being active on social media. Some people do writing-sprints. Set a timer and write until time runs out. This helps increase your speed. If I have a fifteen-minute break, I write. While I don’t plot, outline or do extensive character studies, I do plan. I write ideas down on post-it notes or index cards: character information, place descriptions, relationship information, and even a few scenes. Using these ideas I’m able to flesh out my story more efficiently.

I have a busy, crazy life, not only the mother of six grown sons, I also have nineteen grandchildren, I am now the host of the Heart of Carolina’s Book in a Week, plus the chairperson for an active local writer’s group, The Pamlico Writers. Telling someone they have to write a certain way, at a specific time of day, for so many hours a day to consider themselves a professional writer, is like telling someone they have to wear the right clothes and be the right size in order to be beautiful. We are all unique and wonderfully different. Learning to embrace that difference and accept it, is what will allow us to succeed and realize we are beautiful.

My advice to anyone who is struggling to be a writer just write. Learn all you can about your craft from other authors but find what works for you. There is no RIGHT way to write, or one way to accomplish it. Make time for your writing if you have to do it on your phone standing in line at your local Walmart. Just write! Sometimes it takes years of trial and error to find what best works for you but don’t give up, you will find your groove, just keep writing.

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