As I detox from all of that pie and shopping, I’m need some quiet jazz after a terrific, hustle-bustle holiday. So let’s put on our yoga pants and listen to the smooth melodies from our latest Guest DJ.
Laurie Loewenstein is a fifth generation Midwesterner. She has been a reporter, and a feature and obituary writer for several small daily newspapers, as well as a college writing tutor. She was among the third class of women admitted to Colgate University. She has master degrees in history from Syracuse University and in creative writing from Wilkes University. Her novel, UNMENTIONABLES, has been called “a memorable debut novel” by Ann Hood, author of THE RED THREAD. It is the flagship publication of the new imprint, Kaylie Jones Books, published in conjunction with Akashic Books. Check out Laurie’s website at http://laurieloewenstein.com/. UNMENTIONABLES will be on bookstore shelves in January 2014. It is available for immediate shipment from the publisher here.
How the Other Half Writes by Laurie Loewenstein
Sometime during your writing career, someone will probably suggest that you swap pages with other writers. The right writers’ group can be of tremendous help in maintaining momentum and providing a knowledgeable and compassionate sounding board. Every two weeks for five years, I drove two hours each way from my home in eastern Pennsylvania over the George Washington Bridge and into Manhattan for my group. I won’t wish away a single of those thousands of miles on my odometer.
I got to read, chapter by chapter, all sorts of developing manuscripts. We were a diverse lot with stories ranging from an aviatrix of the early 1920’s to three Long Island kids hunted down by teenagers. My own writing vastly improved and I loved the camaraderie of talk over pizza and Diet Coke after days spent alone, in my pajamas, typing on the keyboard.
An expected bonus was finding out how the other half lives – or, more precisely, how other writers write.
The most lively discussions I had on this topic were with Theasa, a straight shooter from the old school of print journalism. For her, the primary joy of writing came down to “seeing what happened next.” Each day at the computer was, for her, like opening a brightly wrapped present. What would happen next to her protagonist, the feisty aviatrix? She was, as I learned at a writers conference, a classic “Pantser” as in “seat-of-your-pants.” No outline, no elaborate plotting – simply an idea about a character, a setting, and, sometimes, a general idea about the large conflict points to guide her along like a string of Christmas lights. The old-fashioned outdoor kind of lights with big fat bulbs. Stephen King, the conference instructor noted, is a Pantser, too.
“But Theasa,” I would counter, “how can you make sure the story doesn’t wander off into a dead-end?”
She would shrug. “If that happens, the characters just have to work their way out of it.”
I, on the other hand, am a Plotter. I start with an outline of the main characters and their arcs. I also outline where what actions need to occur in which chapater – all with the goal, by the final chapter, of hitting the bullseye. I use a large pad of newsprint, the kind you prop on an easel for a team meeting at the office, and set up the timeline on one page, character profiles on another, then rough chapter ideas. I am aware of the danger in this. The danger of adhering too closely to my pad. The story may jerk along with a mechanical Frankenstein gait. The story may lack the flexibility that comes with spontaneity. I try to counter this by rewriting the outline as I move forward. For my novel, UNMENTIONABLES, I re-jiggered the outline at least four times.
A big part of me would like to be a Pantser – extemporaneous and open to whatever comes along. But that is not my nature – as a writer or person. But I’m glad there are the Theasa’s out there, writing like the wind to find out what happens next.
Are you a Plotter or a Pantser? Or somewhere in the middle? Tell us in the comments.
If you have something to say about writing and would like to be a Guest DJ, you can contact me here.