Posts by rlfryar

Hi, there. I'm an author living in the Arkansas River Valley in west Arkansas, not far from the Ozark National Forest. I write adult fantasy about mountains with souls, trees with hearts, and the natural world is never that far removed from my writing.

How To Help The Panster in Your Life (Or in You)

I’ve been studying craft books this week. Part of it is for Write Mentor—I had homework. The other part is for me….so I can understand my homework.

See, I’m an organic writer, commonly known as a pantser. I didn’t arrive at this conclusion the logical way. No.

Convinced by various craft books and a number of other writers, I tried my best to cram my writing self into a round, well-shaped hole, only to find out that I was as angular as they come. Then I tried to chip my edges off. As you might imagine, that didn’t go so well.

Nevertheless, I continue to study plotting by plotters for plotters. If I get a recommendation to read a book, I will not only read it, I’ll do every exercise in it. If someone says, try this reverse outline? Yeah, I’ll give it a whirl. If they say, try this amazing beat sheet, yep, I’ll try it! I draw the line at anything involving index cards and spreadsheets (eww!) but I try to be very open minded in this regard, despite knowing that deep down, everything I read from a plotter’s viewpoint will have to be completely reversed, rewritten, and retrofitted if I’m going to get ANYTHING out of it. Y’all, this is what I do for fun.

However, I can say that most pantsers don’t find this fun. Even I don’t always find it fun, especially when the vast majority of writing craft books widely recommended usually start out with some version of “If you are a pantser, go to hell. And stay there until you have learned to be good.”

Is it any wonder that many writers are terrified to admit they don’t get help from craft books that are recommended to them? Is it any wonder that they are afraid to say the word “pantser” in public? Is it any wonder that when a plotter recommends something to them, they’ve learned to put their heads down and NOT say they don’t understand this recommendation and haven’t got the faintest clue what you expected them to get out of it? Nobody wants to look stupid, do they? And yet, this is exactly how many pantsers, including me, have been made to feel over the years. (For what it’s worth—say you don’t get it. It’s the best way to admit to yourself that you need what works for you and stop trying to cram yourself into that aforementioned round hole that won’t fit your angles.)

So, I thought I’d write something while my thoughts were fresh on this difference between storytelling styles about how to care for the pantser in your life, should you ever come across one. Remember, we hide. So look carefully.

  1. When a writer asks for craft book recommendations, along with asking them what they are looking for, ask them their writing style. Plotter or pantser? In between? What side of the spectrum? A LOT of closet pantsers are plansters, or plotsters. It keeps us from getting beaten up in writers’ meetings. Give a plotter plotter craft books. Give a pantser/planster pantser-friendly craft books. I’d probably give the plotster a pantser-friendly craft book as well. (I will have some recommendations later this month as I dig through as many resources as I can. Note: a pantser-friendly craft book will not say, “if you don’t write just like this method, you will waste time/wind up unpublished/be miserable/ develop boils on your butt/die if you don’t take heed before it’s too late.”
  2. When a writer says they didn’t like or didn’t understand a recommended craft book, ask them why. Then listen. Just listen.
  3. When a writer details their method for writing and it’s different than yours, please don’t say, “You can’t be productive that way. MY way is so much better/faster/logical/right, it’s the only way to write well.” I promise you, it’s not.
  4. When a writer is upset by your recommendations, it’s not because they are being sensitive. They are upset because they came to you for surgery, and you handed them a knife, or worse, you stabbed it in their gut. Listen. If you recommend an outline prior to writing or after writing, and they find that overwhelming and creatively destructive, consider that you might have a different kind of writer on your hands. You are going to have to think outside your box. It’s not so bad. That pantser has likely been doing it all of their lives to get along in a world where they aren’t supposed to exist.
  5. Normalize prefacing every piece of advice with the words “This works for me but it may not work for you”.
  6. Realize that while certain elements of craft are universal, the way of getting to them is not. The way of understanding them is even more fluid. A reverse outline may tell a pantser nothing at all about their story. Why? They already know that story. Writing it all out again as an outline will not tell them anything they don’t already know. It will bore them to tears and they will lose their enthusiasm for the story. However, if you show them how you use the reverse outline (or whatever on-paper thing you do to plot your story), they can arrive at a way to do the exact same thing in a format that works for them in the same way (perhaps a plot treatment or a long synopsis). Now both plotter and pantser have learned something from each other.
  7. Validate, validate, validate. When a pantser has feelings, they are often feelings that are the direct result of using advice that wasn’t right for them. They may actually be in the process of converting it to something they can use. Hear them out, let them vent, and don’t be surprised if they start brainstorming a way around the poorly delivered advice they got and making it work for them. When they get it, tell them so!

So those are my seven tips for helping the pantser in your life and not making them feel like a second-class writer. They are just another writer, like you, struggling in the world, and learning as they go. Different styles do not mean wrong or right, and contrary to a lot of craft books out there, there is more than one way to write a book!

April Got Wild

It always does. Three contests, a pitch event, Camp NaNoWriMo, a fun Beta read, revisions on one novel, looking forward to revisions on two more, four WIP going at once and…

An orphaned one-day-old kitten.

So this month just got a whole lot busier and more rewarding.

I see a lot of really short blog posts in my future, and I’d write more, but I’ve got 3000 words to draft, work to plan, a kitten to burp, and I think I need to schedule a nap somewhere between feedings every two hours!

Million Word Madness : 30,786

Yeah…don’t see me hitting that total this week!

Should I Play or Should I Go

It’s April. After dreading it from the moment I wrote it down on my writing calendar year, it has arrived! The month of contests.

One of my goals this year was to participate in as many of the contests as I could this year with as many different WIP as possible. While I won’t have new drafts ready in time (and these contests are rarely for first drafts anyway!) I do have a number of things ready to go this month.

Cue the overwhelm.

There is a lot involved in getting ready for contests. Not only that, April tends to be a busy month in terms of drafting. It’s Camp NaNoWriMo, in which I’ve participated for almost four years now? Yeah, I think it’s four years. I can’t miss that! There’s a new pitch contest this month, too, one I’m particularly interested in supporting and participating. Put three contests on top of that and I think I can be excused for being a little terrified of missing a deadline, forgetting a date, or simply deciding not to play because there’s just too much fear/angst/pressure attached to it.

What’s hard for me to remember sometimes is that contests are meant to be fun. It’s hard to think about that when contestants are frantically revising pages and queries in anticipation. It’s hard when previous contestants are coming onto the Twitter feed to give tips for preparation and talking about how it won them their agent because they were able to win a spot in the contest. It’s hard when mentors and editors remind everyone that their manuscript needs to be almost perfect to enter, and then proceed to remind contestants that their work will likely be pulled apart and dissected in preparation for a total rewrite. (By the way, that’s not anywhere nearly as terrifying as it sounds, and rewrites and redrafts are completely enjoyable things and NOT about opening a cadaver and tearing it up. It’s a lot more like open-heart surgery and breathing new life into a work that has been overworked from critique and trying too hard.) But all the same, it’s frightening to feel that these contests are the end-all to whether your story gets out in the world or is condemned to the shelf. It’s also disheartening to wonder, once again, if you are simply not the kind of writer that a mentor or editor believes should “make it”.

But, in order to have fun, which is again the point of writing contests, it’s necessary to put aside the feelings of fear and pressure, and just play the game. What’s the worst that could happen? I lose, right? And if there was never any pressure to win or lose, if it was only for fun, it’s no worse than losing a lottery. The important thing to remember is that my whole future as a writer and the health and wellbeing of my story doesn’t depend on winning a contest, just like I would never put any expectations of my physical health and wellbeing on winning a thousand bucks on a scratch-off. It’s just for fun.

So, I’ll be playing this year. Best of luck for anyone else playing, and remember that the odds are never in your favor. But your future doesn’t depend it.

Million Word Madness:  2,535

Total words for March 55,406

Total for the year so far: 230,195

Ghosts, Loss, and Love

This has been a rough week. On Saturday, I lost my cat of sixteen years. I’d had him since he was a tiny, sick kitten, all hair, tail, and misery. He’d come in a box with several other kittens to be euthanized. I took all three of them home. Two of them didn’t make it, but Cluny did. He almost lost his eye to a viral ulcer. I found him a home after he was well, and another potential illness arose than turfed him right back to my house. The second time, he never left.

Until this weekend.

I’ll miss him.

All of this hit me while I was redrafting some material for my ghost story, Flipping. In those opening chapters, there’s a funeral, and the MC deals with his feelings about death, love, and what it is to face losing something he loves very much. I’m not sure I’ve gone a day this last week without crying over that story in some way. It’s a story with a lot of humor and heart, but as one of the character’s says, “there are some aches that transcend death”. There are some aches that won’t stay rooted in one part of my mind. They spill out into my creative work and plant themselves there. I hope they grow into something beautiful when they flower. Right now, though, they prick like thorns.

Million Word Madness  2,535

College or Summer Camp

This weekend I had a hard choice to make. I think it’s an enviable choice if not a simple one: I have a number of stories in various stages of development, and among that group I had a contender for two contests.

It’s rare that happens. Most of the time, I have a clear idea of which story I want to enter in a mentorship contest based on the mentors and wish-lists. This time, I really wasn’t sure!

It’s my weird little fairy mob story, one I’m fond of calling my chaos kid. By the time both contests open for submissions, my story will have been revised twice, and have been through one round of Beta’s, which for me is usually contest time territory. It’s ready for some additional developmental editing, some refining, deepening, and hopefully shaping it into something that might go out for querying at some point later in the year.

The question became—who did I want to work on this story with me?

The options:

RevPit—a contest with developmental editors, many of whom I know, and they happen to be extremely interested in acquiring MG work this year. Because this contest ends with an agent showcase, it’s an intensive, short program, requiring a lot of work in a compressed period of time.

Write Mentor—a summer program for revision, uses other writers and authors as mentors. This contest has a long work period, and the agent round is optional, program touts itself as being more about the mentorship and learning that acquiring an agent. Because it’s only for children’s literature, it’s got a number of categories, not just for MG, but for everything around and in between.

So, the question became: what did my little chaos kid need?

Does he need to get out on the query circuit soon? Does he need deconstruction by editors with a focus on what the market wants, with only six to eight weeks to shape up and go forth? Or does he need the chance to mature as a story, exploring all of who he is and can be, with no pressure to conform to market standards until he is ready to do so? Does he need college or camp?

I had never looked at a contest this way before—in terms not of what I need, but what I want for the story. Most of the time, I look at the mentors and their wish-lists, not at me, my work, and what I want for it first and foremost. I’m so used to considering what I can get out of the experience instead of what I want to get out of the experience for my work and for me. Once I did that, I knew exactly what contest was the best on for my sweet fairy moth-boy, the bug he cares for, and all his wild antics involving birds, bees, and costume changes.

Sometimes summer camp is exactly where a kid needs to be.

Million Word Madness: 18,602

Chasing Poems

Last week, I finally got the weather I needed to go to the lake and the river. Sunday, I woke up with a poem drifting around my head like a bat around a lamp. Coincidence? Hardly.

I don’t write a lot of poetry, but the dearth of it in the last few months has seemed a dangerous sign to me, like not seeing bees in spring, or a suspicious lack of lichens on the trees. Poems are a good sign of creative energy levels returning.

It wasn’t a wonderful kind of poem. Kind of macabre in fact, and horrible. But not everything that flutters out of the dark night of a soul is a beautiful creature. For now, it’s enough that I caught one!

Million Word Madness  15,089

Getting Ready for…

It’s March. Suddenly April looks a lot closer than it did a few weeks and an eternity ago. April is an intense month for me, and always has been. This year is no different. There are a few contests I want to do, Camp NaNoWriMo, and then there’s the spring garden planting once the frost-free date passes. In fact, next week, I have to start tomatoes and peppers in the oven. Don’t ask. Let’s just say it makes a good heat box and I just don’t cook much in April. Big old sign on the door that says, “Don’t pre-heat the oven!” to keep me from forgetting I’ve got young plants in there. And it’s possible I might forget. There’s so much going on.

It’s fun. It’s wild. It’s also easy to be overwhelmed by all that I feel “must” be done.

One of my tools I use to keep myself focused and on track is my daily journal. I found it necessary to jot down most of the things I needed to accomplish in each WIP, and it provides a sense of fulfilment when I get to mark things as accomplished. But one of the things it also does is provide me with a good sense of what I can get done in a day vs. what I expect to get done in a day.

Left to my own devices, and given an unlimited page, I’d fill it with things to do in a day. And then I’d feel bad when I didn’t get them done, and add them to the next page. But my journal limits me to a half-page for my to-do list. If it won’t fit on that top half page, I am not going to get to it that day. Then I can decide if it belongs on tomorrow’s list, or if perhaps it wasn’t as important as I thought it was. That little half page is like my sign on the oven door.

I don’t want burned plants.

I don’t need burned-out writer.

Million Word Madness Update : 14,364

Retreat! Retreat!

This writing week has felt more intense than usual. I’ve been working through multiple Beta reads this week (yes, I took on too many, but it’s like kittens—I can’t adopt just one), keeping up with two WIP, reading three different published books (again, kittens), and gearing up to tackle at least one major revision, and possibly two. I have submissions that I should send out, only it’s raining, and that means my internet is iffy at best. Those will hang over my head until I get a break in the weather. I have garden work to do. Seeds to plant. A house that really needs to be cleaned with the windows open. Schoolwork to grade. Rejections coming in at a rate that lets me know I am putting myself out there as I should be.

It’s fun. It’s wild. It’s a bit chaotic—the way I like it.

It’s also exhausting.

The other day I was chatting with writing friends and I said I felt in need of a tonic. I’m not suffering from burnout. I am loving both my WIP and still sad that I finished one last week. I’m excited about moving forward on revisions with another project. I don’t feel like I want to quit. I don’t feel like I want to slow down. But dang it, I need a tonic to keep up!

However, finding ways to relax and recharge has been difficult. Weather means my usual tonic—going out to the river or the woods—isn’t a great option. Going out to eat, going to the library, going out for a hike on a popular trail, going to a writing conference isn’t something I can do. But I seized on the idea of a writer retreat as a potential tonic for helping me to relax, to slow down, and take some time to recharge.

My plan right now is to take a week in April (quite possibly Camp NaNoWriMo) to enjoy quiet time writing. I don’t need a break. What I need is a retreat to make me think deeply about writing, about improving my writing, and even working on some of the more delicate parts of editing and revision, like emotionally charged prose, evocative telling, and microtension. I want to set up a week where most of the cooking is advance planned, and I can count on a few really nice things to eat. I also want to schedule ample time to simply sit outside and think, to take a few long walks, to lie down and read, and to work intensively on my craft with some of my WIP currently in revision. I want to watch a few videos and take notes, but I plan to spend a lot more time with my craft books, working through exercises on my own, preparing before and after sections for later review when I feel I’m stagnating. Hopefully, it will do the job of helping me recharge for the months to come.

Million Word Madness Update 25,408

Total words for February 81,112

Total 174,789/1,000,000

Snow Day

Like many folks this past week, I’ve been up to my knees in snow and over my head in freezing weather. We were lucky. We only got ten inches of snow and not a foot. We only lost power for about twelve hours, and not on the coldest day. We have wood heat and are so used to losing power, we had our contingency plans in place the day before the snow hit, including ones for moving our chickens into the house for the week. Normally, with their heat lamp and winterproofed house, they do fairly well, but these are elderly birds, and this weather was particularly cold. So, for the past week, I’ve been getting up at night to feed the fire, take care of the diabetic dog, and waking up each morning to the rooster crowing…in my house. Let me tell you, sun and warm weather are most welcome today, by me and the critters.

But one thing I noticed with all the snow and the work load: I got a ton of writing done. Not being able to justify hunting for agents, staying further away from the hot mess that is publishing, and generally not thinking beyond “I have two hours to write and then I have to take the dog out, check the chickens, mop up the snowmelt on the floor, and think about what I can cook that won’t require using more than one appliance” was a good thing for me.

For the first time this February, I got my quota. I finished drafting the last book of a trilogy. I am now on track to hit 50,000 words in two new stories by the end of the month. And I just might make my Million Words in a Year monthly quota after all, in the shortest month of the year. I kept up with Beta reading, managed to squeeze in some critique work, and am about to finish reading one of my stories that is slated for revision later this spring. About the only thing that didn’t get done to my satisfaction was art, but I’m now prepared to dive into my year-long art project starting March because I sat down in the cold house with a pen and paper and planned what I wanted to do and where I wanted to start.

So, what can I take going forward from a highly productive and incredibly stressful (not to mention messy) week?

  1. It’s not a bad idea for me to unplug. I’ve been inundated with emotional pain and unpleasant memories due to the most recent agent scandals, as well as continuing to work through lists of people I might have queried who have done things to previous clients that while not entirely unethical, are things I would find very difficult to deal with in an agent/author relationship. Getting away from that, even for twelve hours, kept me from dwelling on how difficult it is to not only find a good agent, but find one that’s good for me and my work.
  • Mess isn’t likely to kill me or my creativity. Okay, I kind of knew this one. I work best with everything spread out in front of me. I prefer a certain amount of uncertainty in my writing. I find it relaxing and practical to work on about five things, dividing them up throughout the day. But it was nice to know I could do that while also mopping up muddy water and cleaning up aspen shavings from the floor of my laundry room.
  • My thirty-minute writing sessions are more productive when I know I have something to do in that fifteen-minute break between them that isn’t checking Twitter or Email. It was helpful to know that I had to write as much as I could, and then I would get up to do something like fix the fire, feed the wild birds, make sure the laundry got transferred and done on time because I didn’t want to run a dryer and the oven at the same time because of how intense the need for power was. Having that kind of organization in my non-writing day helped keep me on schedule.
  • Reading was a treat. Often, reading becomes something of a chore for me. There’s a lot to read, obviously. When I’m Beta reading, I’m trying to both enjoy and find ways to improve the story in terms of enjoyment, not necessarily in terms of craft, although that factors in at times. But not having anything to watch or listen to, it was nice to kick back after a long day of writing and chores, and just read a book. I am close to meeting my February book reading quota now, and looking forward to March and new reads.

While I certainly don’t want any more snow (please, please, please, please—I am ready for spring!) I was glad that I did have the opportunity to pull back a bit, reflect, and think about what a snow-day or week might do for my writing, particularly in the hot days of August, when I’ll be thinking about snow with wistful longing.

But not about chickens in the house again. Nope.

Million Word Madness Update 28,736 words

The Books that Last

About halfway through February, and my reading has been slow. I’ve been doing a lot of Beta reading and reading two of my own MS in preparation for revisions later this spring. But I really need to step it up to hit the number of books I read in January.

I’ve recently taken to rating books I read. I don’t review them, or post my thoughts, but as I looked over my reading for January (mostly to make sure I hit the same number of books in February), I started thinking about what makes me love a book vs. like it, and conversely, what makes me hate a book vs. no feelings at all.

I read for a few reasons. I read to study. As a writer, I feel that’s important. I read to keep up with trends in genre, some of which I like, others I don’t like. It is what it is. Got to know to either imitate the trend or know that I can’t. Some things in my current genre really bother me, and there are things I can’t force myself to do, even for the sake of potential publication. I read to recommend books to other writers. I may see something that dovetails with a story that one of my friends is working on. Potential comp! But my main reason for reading is to be entertained.

When I purchase a book, I’m purchasing it mostly based of the premise. I expect that story to entertain me. Some books I want to re-read because I enjoyed them so much. Others are entertaining for the time in which I read them. Beyond that, I have no interest in revisiting them. Others I walk out on because they are boring. Some I finish because I feel I must (hello, I paid for that book!) but am glad I’ll never need to read them again.

When it comes to evaluating a book, I tend to be completely subjective in my opinion. I have reasons for my opinion, and some writer-terms will sneak into my review that I keep for myself. Again, some books that I hate, I will keep for study. I can glean a lot from books I hate. But when it comes right down to it, I’m looking to be entertained, particularly when I read genre fiction. I give literary fiction a bit more latitude in that regard. I’m reading it for different reasons that I read genre fiction on the whole.

So, with all that in mind, here are my criteria for “Have I not been entertained”.

  1. Has a main character that I attach to inside of the first ten pages, and it’s better if I love them on page one.
  2. That character has a strong, clear voice that permeates the prose.
  3. The character communicates the details of their world and how they see it in a clear, evocative way.
  4. There is actual exposition regarding the world. Not an infodump, but I’m not expected to learn everything about the world through the character’s experiences only. Clear, solid, worldbuilding.
  5. The plot doesn’t plod, but neither does it race and just get thicker and thicker until I get to the end and wonder why the butt doesn’t match the face anymore. (Yes, I love stakes that escalate, but not if they escalate for reasons that don’t directly involve the protagonist in a visible way.)
  6. There’s a twist in the plot. I don’t want to be able to predict the ending, or predict where the plot points will fall. I want to be surprised. I want to get to the end and experience that delicious sensation of wondering “How the heck did I not see that coming!” I want to actually be afraid that the character might not make it through. I want to worry that the love interest really won’t come back. I want to feel the crushing weight of a dilemma that will change the character’s life forever. I want to see the villain defeated and be more than a little sad about it. I want to see those subplots that were so well woven into the story impact the main plot in dramatic, exciting ways.

In many ways, the last element of my subjective analysis of entertainment is the most important for me. Few authors and few books can do this in a compelling way. Books that manage to impress me with their twists often make my re-read shelf, not just because I’m delighted with the author’s craft, but because I’m emotionally invested in the characters, their journeys, and their lives. These are the books that live on in my imagination forever. These are the books that last.

Million Word Madness Update: 12,551 words this week

(Yeah, yeah—I know I’m slacking.)