A Chapter a Day Makes the Book Go Away
Are you an outline type of person or someone who likes to fly by the seat of your pants (aka a pantser)? Author Judy Penz Sheluk on finding a writing style that works.
There are two types of writers: those who follow an outline, and those who don’t. I’m in the latter category, otherwise known as a pantser—someone who writes by the seat of their pants.
Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t disapprove of outlines. In fact, I’m sure for those who have mastered the skill (and it is a skill), writing a book must be so much easier. Or at least not quite as difficult. And so, I’ve tried the outlining method, hoping that I, too, could master the skill. I even went so far as to take a how-to outline course, and came away with a really nice outline for my latest book, Skeletons in the Attic. The thing was, about a half dozen chapters in, every word written felt like the equivalent of walking through mud. You see, I didn’t want to go in the direction of that outline any longer. I had a new idea, a better idea, something that made me want to veer off and ignore that carefully orchestrated outline.
And so I did.
Of course, the trouble with being a pantser is that you can get wildly off course. I’ve done that, too, and trust me, no writer wants to cut 20,000 words because they ended up in Coney Island instead of Disneyland. When that happens, the instinct is to shelve the book and start another. But all that does is fool you: because the next book isn’t going to be any different. You either learn to become an outliner, or find a way to make pantsing effective. That’s why I developed my “Chapter a Day” strategy (gee, that almost sounds like something you’d find in an infomercial!).
So what is my Chapter a Day strategy? Just that. When I’m working on a book, I don’t set a daily or weekly word count target (I’ve tried both, and only beat myself up when I don’t make it…who needs that kind of pressure?). Instead, I aim to write one chapter a day, six days a week. (I allow myself one day off for good behavior—or to catch up, as the case may be).
When I’m working on the first draft, I don’t sweat the small stuff (is she wearing a pink cardigan or a rose-colored twinset?) but I do aim to end every chapter with enough of a hook to make me want to come back in the morning and write the next chapter. And it’s enough of an ambiguous hook to allow my imagination to percolate overnight and run through various scenarios. Okay, this is where I can get a bit odd. I actually have a pen with an LED light in it on my bedside table, with a notebook, so if an idea comes to me in the middle of the night, I can write it down without turning on the light).
Does my Chapter a Day strategy work? For me, it does. For someone else, it might not. That’s the thing about writing, and writers. We’re all different. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Here are end-of-chapter examples from the first four chapters of Skeletons in the Attic:
End of Chapter 1:
Leith leaned back in his chair and let out another one of his theatrical sighs. I got the impression he didn’t really approve of the condition.
“Your father wants you to find out who murdered your mother. And he believes the clues may be hidden in the Marketville house.”
End of Chapter 2:
“And what becomes of Misty Rivers?
“She’s on a five-thousand dollar retainer, should you decide to consult with her.”
I couldn’t imagine doing any such a thing.
But it looked as if I was moving to Marketville.
Are you a panster like Judy or do you outline? Share your strategy in the comments!
Judy Penz Sheluk’s debut mystery novel, The Hanged Man’s Noose, was published in July 2015. Skeletons in the Attic, the first book in her Marketville Mystery Series, was published in August 2016.
Judy’s short crime fiction appears in World Enough and Crime, The Whole She-Bang 2, Flash and Bang and Live Free or Tri.
Judy is a member of Sisters in Crime, Crime Writers of Canada, International Thriller Writers and the Short Mystery Fiction Society.
Find Judy on her website/blog at www.judypenzsheluk.com, where she interviews other authors and blogs about the writing life.
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