Wednesday, March 4, 2015

IWSG: Reaching for Help and Appreciating Your Lobster

The first Wednesday of every month is Insecure Writers Support Group. A fabulous blog-hop. Head to the list and support some other writers today.

Outlining my novel has been a struggle. Because I'm a pantser and I suck at outlining and fall asleep when I try to type one up.

So after a month of spinning my wheels, my writing lobster** Meika showed up at my house with markers, index cards, poster boards and a give-em-hell attitude. She taught me a way to outline that didn't bore me until I passed out. Two hours later, I had my first completed outline in storyboard form. I'm so grateful and thrilled to have it done. Yet... some small, squeaky part of me wonders if I'm a hack because I couldn't do it on my own. Meika is a plotter. She  knows how to structure her novels and how to outline. Her process is fascinating, though incomprehensible to me. I started to wonder, what is wrong with me that I didn't come pre-programmed with those same abilities?

Right after this happened, I was struck by something I read in the Washington Post about Harper Lee. After writing To Kill a Mockingbird, she did a rewrite based off critique from her literary agent. Then it was shopped around and rejected by a publisher who kindly handed it to an editor and then sent it back with many notes and asked her to resubmit after more revisions. When the book was finally picked up, she was given that editor again, who worked closely with her for months to craft her lovely words into a story. “The manuscript we saw was more a series of anecdotes than a fully conceived novel. The editorial call to duty was plain. She needed, at last, professional help in organizing her material and developing a sound plot structure.”

That's interesting and not the first time I've read of the amazing synergy that used to exist between writers and agents and editors. But nowadays most writers don't have an agent or publisher who will hone a rough story. You are expected to come at these busy professionals with a polished, well-structured manuscript. They aren't going to teach you how to write tension or how to break your novel into three acts. You'd better already know how to do that. To get published, it's not enough to have pretty words, or vague good ideas. You have to be a structural craftsman, building everything yourself and if it's only half built, ain't nobody gonna help finish it before they agree to move in.

Huh. So maybe I'm not a real writer because I can't outline and I don't know when to, use commas :) Maybe I'm a weak, pansy-ass hack who can't get by without a little help from her friends.

Or maybe not.

I've decided that I'm not a hack. Or if I am, it's not because of that.

Having someone, a partner or a group of partners who help make you a better writer is not a flaw or a weakness. Maybe all writers - even the great ones I'll never compete with- needed a community. Or at least, a writing lobster. Someone who tells the truth and holds your hand through the all the fast turns and sharp learning curves that come with navigating the waters of writing and publishing. 
Whoohoo, outline completed!

There is power in community. In writers banding together to create our own synergy and partnerships in a world where everyone is moving too fast to help and the hours of our lives are traded for cash. In such a world, the simple desire to have a space to learn and ask questions and grow cannot possibly be a weakness.

It's a necessity.

Do you have a lobster or a group of lobsters who lift you up and make you a better writer? Tell me about them.

**Losber? You keep using that word. I don't it means what you think it means.**


  1. I hate to outline. Reminds me too much of school. I'm a pantser who knows (generally) where the story is going. I have key points that I want to include. How I get there is up to my Muse (who's been at my side since last month's IWSG post). I keep feeding her hoping she'll stay.

  2. Outlining can kill my stories. It's helpful, in moderation but I view it as an option not a necessity. We're all hacks, aren't we? She who hacks last... or, um, something like that. If it gets a story out into the world, and then that story can be pinched and smoothed into something memorable-- It doesn't really matter how ugly it was born. Was that a baby analogy? I'm not sure. I don't pinch babies. I promise.


  3. I'm glad you hurdled over your outlining fears and you seem to have a technique now that works for you. I love the index cards with the bulletin board. It gives you a bigger picture and you can easily shift things around. You go girl! My critique group, Crittin' Chicks definitely makes me a better writer!

    1. Yeah, I was amazed how well it worked. My friend got the idea because she watched me spend two weeks making an unnecessary and obsessively detailed map of my fictional town Microsoft Publisher. I laid out every house and named all the lakes and creeks and roads. I like nit-picky hands on stuff like that. It's absolutely bonkers but that's what works for me. So she gave me a way to outline that is tactile. Every card is a scene and each scene is color coded to which character's POV it's written in. I can move stuff around and stare at it and then move it back if it doesn't work. I had some major epiphanies about the story as I was moving everything around.

      Thank you for stopping by. I'm glad you have a group that helps you. I've become such a better writer thanks to my critique group.

  4. I'm very lucky. Yes, I have many groups and each one teaches me something new.

    Here's my link if you'd like to drop by :-)

    Anna from Shout with Emaginette

  5. These days I am reaching out like crazy to other writers because there is so much to learn from others. I think any honest writer, regardless of how long they've been writing, will admit that they don't know it all. It hink it's awesome that you got help with your outline--now you know how to do it yourself! :)

    1. I think that's a big part of the issue is a fear of admitting we don't know everything. That we have to be perfect writers and if we're not then we are failures. Artists don't really have much in the way of middle ground. I'm a genius! I'm a hack! I'm a genius hack!

      Yes, the method worked really well for me. I'll definitely be doing it again. Thank you for stopping by.

  6. For the record, the Outline Induced Narcolepsy is a real thing. I have witnessed it first hand.

    I am a firm believer that writers need community. I tried the lone wolf technique for years and years, and it wasn't until I found the fabulous ladies in our writing group (and my writing lobster) that things finally started to click into place.

    PS: I also think your writing process is fascinating. Our processes are so different that I think that's why we are able to help each other as much as we do. We look at things differently, so it offers new perspective :)

  7. There IS power to community. No one can successfully do it on their own. Even the most famous writers have editors. Wouldn't it be great if someone did see the potential in our writing/stories and worked with us like they did back in the days of Harper Lee's first publication.
    Play off the Page

  8. Harper Lee's experience should give you hope. Her manuscript wasn't very good to begin with and needed help. She just had editors doing it - you have critique partners and friends that help you. You're not a hack!

  9. I am not an outliner. Not sure I ever will be. But I am a writer who needs help. We all do. We can't craft the perfect story on our own. We need outside input to ensure that what's going on in our head gets onto the paper.


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