Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Plotter by Day, Pantser by Night

By Yvonne Kohano, @yvonnekohano

Part of the How They Do It Series

JH: Anyone who's been reading the site for a while know I'm a big believer in trying new processes and shaking up how I write. I'm always on the lookout for new things to make me a more productive writer (and I suspect many of you do, too). Yvonne Kohano visits the lecture hall today to share some thought on how she manages to get writing done and work within (and without) her personality.

Award winner and storycatcher Yvonne Kohano writes contemporary romantic suspense, psychological thrillers, and nonfiction tips on creativity, when she’s not gardening, cooking, traveling, reading or learning something new. Follow her at www.YvonneKohano.com (fiction), www.GooseYourMuse.com (creativity tips), and Facebook and Twitter to learn what tickles her about being a writer.

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Take it away Yvonne...

This title is a bit of a misnomer. Perhaps it should be clearer, like “writer, know thyself”. Or at least, “try new things, but to thy own writer self be true”. (Trite and longish.) Both sentiments apply, though, and I can tell you from personal experience, they offer both comfort and opportunity.

The first thing to remember is there is no one way to write!

I am the picture of organization. I plan goals. I work with a to-do list, color-coded no less. I set appointments in my calendar for writing time. Anyone who knows me will say the same thing: If you want a process analyzed and optimized, ask Yvonne to review it. Next to planner in the dictionary, there should be a picture of me.

But when it comes to my craft, my writing, I am a pantser. Give me an outline, and I stare at the structure with blank – well, not fear, because it’s more like – nothingness. I feel as constricted as if a boa (the snake kind) wrapped itself around my chest, squeezing the life out of me.

Some of you can relate, I’m sure. And the rest of you cringe at the very mention of writing without a firm idea of where you plan to go. I understand my way isn’t the way for everyone. That’s the beauty of our profession, though. I may plot almost every other aspect of my life, except my stories.

I am not sure why I’m wired this way. Organized as I am, I’ve never been someone who lays out a writing plan. Remember in school when the teacher required you to prepare an outline? Hated it! Did it, because I had to, but it was a safe bet I didn’t follow it, at least not completely. Ditto any time I had to give a consulting client an outline of what their final report would look like.

Because I work this way, I adjust my accommodating habits. I have to plan time for a ‘clean-up’ draft to fix inconsistencies, continuity, and ‘seeding’ (the process of laying the groundwork for what comes later on) than those who work from an outline might not need.

If I’m writing fiction, the characters tell me where they want to go, and sometimes, that circuitous route means I have to redirect early on. Nonfiction pieces on writing tips or creativity are only slightly less cumbersome. Again, I leave time for a deeper first edit because I don’t always know where my thoughts will take me.

Here’s why this is important for you:

Understand your work process, because it is unique to you. Adjust for it. Don’t expect what works for others to work for you.

Or at least, not right out of the box. How many times have we bought a new thing-a-ma-jig or a piece of software, only to open the box and find those dreaded words, “Some assembly required”, or its sister, “Installation and set-up required.” A more honest phrase would be, “Extra time required”.

This brings me to my third thought.

Never be afraid to try something outside your comfort zone. You’ll never know what you might learn about yourself.

I am blessed without a lot of barriers or boundaries to my writing creativity. I can write in my office, in a coffee shop, in an airport. I don’t need any particular music playing, or total silence. The only reason I use a laptop or tablet almost exclusively is that my handwriting is NOT a tribute to the poor frustrated nuns who tried to teach me cursive! (Illegible, often even to me.)

But I did try something new recently, and with good results. You see, I always “told” morning was the most productive time for me to write, before my busy brain took over and my day distracted me. Of course, that was also the best time for me to exercise, and clear messages, and… You get the picture.

I decided to start 2016 with a new attempt, and that is to write no matter what time of day. Sometimes I write in the late afternoon, and sometimes in the evening. I discovered that I write as well during those times as I can early in the morning. The content is solid and word count cranks.

Moral to the story? Even as I “know” plotter/pantser self, I tried something new and found it to be successful. And you can too! Know what you need to be a writer – no rights or wrongs, as long as you WRITE. But don’t be afraid to shake things up now and then. You might be amazed by what you learn!

What do you “know” about yourself as a writer? How have you tried to shake things up, and with what results? I’d love to hear from you! 

About Pictures of Redemption: Flynn's Crossing Romantic Suspense Series Book 1

Redemption comes at a price.

In a peaceful northern California foothills town, Serena Williamson works tirelessly to provide military vets with counseling and support. Even after funding cuts and with only months left for the services to survive, Serena is determined to continue assisting those in need; eliminating programs isn’t an option. She discovers, however, that sometimes redemption comes at a high price. In this case, it’s helping a mysterious hermit based on the requirements of an equally mysterious donor. That loner acts like a veteran, but she can’t find him in any database.

Dane Ashland doesn’t want to be helped. Haunted by tragic memories and internal demons, and with his secrets hiding in plain sight, he knows he is better off alone. Keeping his past to himself, Dane builds a physical fortress he hopes will block out the rest of the world. But with his internal pain already evident to people in Flynn’s Crossing, Serena steps in, hammer in hand, and before long he is relying on her in ways he never thought possible, and for far more than work on his house.

Dane worries she won’t stay with him once she finds out about the past he so desperately wants to hide. But only Serena can offer him the redemption he needs to reclaim his life. Now he must try to overcome his self-loathing in order to help her save a future that could help so many others.

Website | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Indie Bound


  1. Thanks, Yvonne. Sound advise. I think I'm trying to be something I'm not meant to be. I want (badly) to plot. It just makes sense to me to have a road map to follow. Unfortunately, I don't seem to be a plotter. And my attempts at plotting are resulting in zero writing. Doesn't make sense but there it is. I will work it out - have to. I need to write. Thanks for your insights and see you at GSRWA on Saturday.

  2. Cool post!

    When I first started out writing, I was a complete pantser. Then I tried something knew and did a short outline. And now, I can barely write a paragraph without plotting out where it's going and how it's going to the story at large. While I normally don't try to go back to pantsing (the horror!), I do try different outlining techniques. The one that seems to fit is a color coded paper with all the plot points written on it.


  3. It took many years for me to be able to write from an outline. As in, decades! But you can teach an old dog new tricks, and I love the stuff that I write, whether it is plotted or pantsed. I actually took a 'vacation' from plotting for book five of one of my series, after plotting everything for the past couple of years. And yes, I can still do it. It can be delightfully messy, but I've cleaned up messes before!

  4. Loved the post! It took me years to realize I can write any time of the day (not just in the morning).

  5. Agree with you and Jackie. Took me awhile to change up writing routine. But I still feel best in AM with my outline close at hand. But also love when my characters surprise me

  6. Thanks for all of your comments! Whatever works for each of you, as long as it works for your writing, is something to continue. I too mix things up from time to time, but I always come back to being a pantser! :-)

    Yvonne Kohano