July 14, 2015

Blogiversary Winners & Writing Flexibility

Sketches of sea shells with text: Writing Flexibility

Yay! I’m back from my vacation break, and I want to give a humongous shout out to all my guest bloggers: Rachel, Tamar, Rhoda, and Amy. (And a bonus shout out to Kerry, who filled in ahead of time to give me a chance to pack.) Weren’t they fantastic?

I also want to thank all of you for helping spread the word about their posts. I didn’t get to thank people for tweets and mentions like I usually try to do since my internet access was spotty at best, but I greatly appreciate everyone’s involvement. I hope the posts were helpful for you!

The winners of my blogiversary contest are announced below, and as of this past Sunday, I officially passed my five year blogiversary. Holy cow. Five years. *boggles*

Given that for most of my life I’ve been rather…um, flighty? in my interests, five years doing anything is serious business for me. I’m the kind of person who changed her college major before freshman year even started. Who enjoyed changing jobs every year (or even every couple of weeks). Who moved even more frequently.

So to stick with something for five years? This writing thing must be love. *smile*

Are You a Pantser or a Plotter in Real Life?

I’ve often mentioned that I’m a pantser, writing by the seat of my pants. Yet in normal life, I’m a planner/plotter to the extreme. That can be good or bad.

Even when we think we know how things should work, life happens. Plans can change. And sometimes adjusting to those changes can be difficult.

If you saw my post on Facebook, you know this vacation didn’t quite go as planned. My family met up with my parents and my brother and his family, and 10 of the 11 of us promptly started sharing germs, and we all felt sick much of the time.

(Tangent: I’ve had several people ask for an update on my brother. If you weren’t around last October, my brother had brain surgery to remove a tumor. His biggest challenges post-surgery were balance issues and facial paralysis from nerve damage. The paralysis is minor now, and he did one of those rope climbing obstacle courses on this trip, so his balance is much improved too. Yay!)

Regardless of our illnesses, we all decided the show must go on. (I get my stubbornness—er, determination from somewhere, after all.) And we’re not a chilling-on-the-beach-or-in-a-mountain-cabin family. If we don’t need a vacation to recover from our vacation, we think we’re doing it wrong. *grin*

The “Dangers” of Making Plans

We still managed to visit and do everything on our packed to-do list by cutting back…a little. Rather than spending all day at the water park, we spent a few hours. Rather than doing All. The. Things. at the museum, we hit only the highlights. Etc.

This “determination” is why outlining or plotting out a story doesn’t work for me. If something is planned, I’m going to make sure it happens. No matter what.

On my sickest day, I still went on a 2 mile hike with an elevation change of 700+ feet. Going on this hike to a waterfall was on “the list,” and I wasn’t going to let congestion and a fever hold me back, gosh darn it.

(Why yes, as a matter of fact, I do qualify as a “Too Stupid To Live” heroine sometimes. *smile*)

That personality trait is why, despite my love of story structure and beat sheets, I don’t write down my writing ideas or plans in advance. Determination is good, but strict adherence to The Plan (TM) can get in the way of a great story.

Writing Requires Flexibility

Others with similar personality traits can find themselves paralyzed by the thought of needing to get their first draft “right.” They’ve read all the advice about what to include in the first page, first scene, first chapter. They know what’s needed to hook a reader.

And they want to make sure they have all that in place from the get-go. They don’t want to get their draft “wrong.”

That’s crazy-making, however. A draft is just a draft. It doesn’t need to be perfect. It won’t be perfect.

A draft—a first draft especially—is a tool to help us discover the story we want to tell, the characters we want to meet, and the themes we want to explore. That’s it.

We might end up with something close, or we might not. We hope we get closer with each successive draft.

But especially when we’re first starting as writers, our first draft might not be as close to done or perfect or matching-the-story-in-our-head as we want. It won’t be perfect, and that’s okay. That’s what revisions and editing are for. *smile*

Writing Drafts Are Not the Final Word

It’s because of this truth about writing that I’m disheartened by the marketing and buzz surrounding Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman. It’s being marketed as a “sequel” to To Kill a Mockingbird, and the buzz is making it sound like it’s revealing the “truth” about the character of Atticus.

However, the real truth is that this manuscript is an early draft of To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s Harper Lee’s first stab at the premise of exploring racism in the South.

It’s certainly not a sequel. And the characters within this early draft are certainly not more “true” than those within the final draft that was published decades ago.

Those issues don’t even touch the question of whether Harper Lee really wanted this manuscript published at all. We have the word only of those who stand to profit from its release, and their claims of Harper Lee’s mental and physical ability to consent don’t match those of some of her longtime friends.

Writing that Changes for the Better Is a Success

Just last month, I completed a revision of a story that completely changed the motivations of a main character in the big climax ending. These were not minor changes.

The character changed from near-suicidal to fighting her fate. I made those changes for a reason.

I would be furious if someone found a copy of that earlier draft and declared it to be “true.” To expose the “real” character. To, in fact, supersede the final draft.

I, for one, won’t be reading Go Set a Watchman. Or if I do, I’ll be looking at it as the early draft that it is, and I’ll marvel at the power of revising and editing to change a story for the better. After all, Harper Lee received feedback and revision suggestions just as we all do, and given the success and literary accolades of To Kill a Mockingbird, I don’t think anyone can argue that her editor misled her about how to make a great story.

The differences between the stories emphasize how much our plans can change and adapt if we let them. As well as how much we don’t have to get things right or perfect—or even close—on our first draft. *smile*

Blogiversary Contest Winners

And now, the part you’ve all really been waiting for… Here are the winners of my Fifth Annual Blogiversary Contest:

Crystal Thieringer

Christina Anne Hawthorne

And call me a softy, but we were so close to adding another winner that I went ahead and picked a bonus winner too. I wish would have let me pick you all. *smile*

Bonus Winner: Glynis Jolly

Congratulations to you all! You should receive an email from me within the next day, so start thinking about what prize you want.

Did you have a favorite of the guest posts I ran? Are you a pantser or a plotter in real life? Why does that work better for you? Are there any aspects of that approach that don’t work for you? Have you ever significantly changed a story from draft to final? What do you think about the Go Set a Watchman controversy?

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Comments — What do you think?

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Congrats again on the blogiversary, Jami! And I just want to say THANK YOU for sharing your take on Go Set A Watchman. To Kill A Mockingbird has been one of my favorite books since I was 12 and when they first announced this “long lost” book, I was so worried it wouldn’t live up to expectations. With everything that has happened since, the origin questions, the doubt of consent, and the revelations about our beloved characters, I feel like my heart is breaking (melodramatic, possibly, but just shows how much this book has touched its readers). Like you, I doubt I will read GSAW, but if I do, I will remember that this was a DRAFT and try not to let it effect how I remember my old friends.

Serena Yung
Serena Yung

Hey Jami! I’m glad that your brother got a lot better from his paralysis now. 🙂 I wish him a speedy full recovery! As for your question on pantsing vs planning, I’m a complete pantser in my writing, and even in my real life, I’m pretty much a pantser everywhere unless I’m forced by necessity to plan or I see that planning will get me better results (e.g. be more productive) than not planning. But other than that, I’m someone who prefers to “wing it” or to “think of a solution in the moment”, lol! And I find change in life really exciting and fun; I love how most of the things that happen to me in life are things that I would never have imagined would happen to me! Yes, I admit I’m thinking about the miracles and great positive events in this case, haha, but it still is very cool. You know what? I was actually quite surprised when my pastor said to us in our fellowship, that “not being able to predict what will happen everyday/ life’s unpredictable changes can be scary”. Because I thought life’s changes are very exciting, not scary, and I would be so bored if it was so predictable, lol! And I am admittedly quite a happy-go-lucky person, so I like and enjoy being flexible, adapting to things, and dealing with problems as they come rather than worrying about them years before they happen (I still worry, but much less than I did…  — Read More »

Taurean J. Watkins (@Taurean_Watkins)

Glad you at least arrived and got back from your trip okay, Jami. First, congratulations to all the winners, I meant to enter again, but life happens, I won last year, but I’m waiting for the right time to send you a piece of my WIP when it’s not crazy rough… Did you have a favorite of the guest posts I ran? The ones I loved most were the recent ones with Amy about audiobooks and the one with Rhoda about writing humor. Are you a pantser or a plotter in real life? I’m a little uncomfortable describing myself as a “panster” only because I associate that choice of words with sexuality (and no, I’m not just saying that because you read/write romance, LOL) but yes I tend to like to be laid back whenever possible. That said, it doesn’t mean I’m not overflowing with details, whether we’re talking writing and something else I’m trying to get better a planning without being OCD about it, because that doesn’t serve me, but having been raised by a grandmother who INSISTS on planning, I don’t get much chance to be “spontaneous” and sometimes I just want to do something spur of the moment. Why does that work better for you? Because I’m too OCD about my planning, I’ll either get overconfident and try to do too much in a day, and while I’m not as punctual as I’d like to be in various areas, I’d hate the alternative being I’m not doing…  — Read More »

Evolet Yvaine

Pantser with the writing, planner in real life. Definitely. We can’t just go someplace without knowing what we’re going to do when we get there. We have to be sure we have enough money to do it. In regards to the book, like Taurean, I’ve never read To Kill A Mockingbird. Shockingly, it wasn’t required reading when I was in high school. It might’ve been in college. If I’d stayed the first time around to complete my English degree. LOL. And I totally agree about the publishing industry FINALLY having something worthy literature to talk about. LOL.

Laurie Evans

Congrats! I’ve been writing for almost four years. This is one of the few things I’ve stuck with long-term, too. I guess I finally figured out what I wanted to do when I grew up.

Tamar Hela

Thanks again for having me as your guest! Sounds like an adventurous vacation you had. 😉

And big congrats to the winners of the Blogiversary contest!

Glynis Jolly

Thank you so much, Jami! The last time I won something was when I was 9 years old.

I’m usually a plotter in life, although most my most memorable moments have been when I’ve flown by the seat of my pants. I’m over the halfway mark on my first novel. Of course, this is just the first draft too. It took me what seems like forever to get it through my thick head that this draft could change in many ways before I even consider giving it to a professional editor. Once that happened though, about a third of the anxiety I had vanished.

Jami, thank you for all the support you’ve given me and I hope you’ll continue to do so. It’s marvelous to have a learned friend.

Request: Could you go into more detail on a post about how the beats really work. Although I’m now a plotter – pantser, making summary outlines of my scenes before actually writing them, I’d like to go a little farther with the plotting if I can get a better grip on how it works.

Addy Rae
Addy Rae

Congratulations on your Blogiversary, and to your lucky winners. 🙂 It was wonderful for you to give such a gift.

Hmm… I like pretty much every post you make, so I don’t even know where I’d start picking a favorite. You cover topics relevant to me, and you cover them well.

I’m a plotter who then pantses the first draft? I loosely plot it out down to the main goals of each scene but not closer than that, and then when I start writing the relationships and group dynamics are pantsed, and my draft may… we’ll just say, wander. 😉


I reviewed Treasured Claim under my real name. Great book.

Question: For the pre-orders (pure-sacrifice), do you get more cash if I begin clicking from your web-site here or from Amazon/kindle?
Is the same generally true if one begins at an author’s site (more) or from Kindle for most books?
Obviously, I want authors to get as much of the payments as possible. Self-serving. Keeping you guys writing keeps me reading. Jon

Crystal Thieringer

Oh WOW! Thank you, Jami! I’m off to review the list again, and will let you know as soon as I decide. I sent you an email with more details, but I’m going to allow myself time to delight in all the possibilities.

As for today’s questions, I’m mostly a plan-tster. I tend to have an overarching idea represented by a physical image–a picture my nephew drew for my first manuscript and a photograph I took for the second. For the story I’m drafting out now, the image is of a physical place held in my memory banks. The image represents the entire story arc to me–but the getting there will definitely surprise me.

Thanks again!


[…] story during my vacation in July, as that was supposed to be my one break from editing. But when my whole extended family got sick during that trip, the extended-dance-remix version of my plan to continue the daisy-chain plan with […]

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