Let’s Do It Again

If you visit writers’ blogs, chances are good you’ve come across the terms Pantser and Plotter. Writers use these terms to distinguish the style of writing they do; pantsers write by the seat of their pants, with no idea where the story is going. Plotters, no surprise (in more ways than one!), know where their story is going before they put finger to keyboard.

I am a pantser. I know the characters, I know why they absolutely should not be together, and that I am going to force them together nonetheless, but I have no idea how I am going to get them there. Which is fine if you’re working on the story steadily, but what about if you take a break?

I just returned from a vacation to Portland, OR, where I drank coffee, shopped for books, and hung out with my best friend. Note that I did not write. So now I’m back in Brooklyn with REALITY staring me in the face. Not the laundry, that’s doable, or the dishes, or the fact that the Spouse DID NOT BUY MILK even though I have an issue with not enough milk in the house (see the coffee comment for a clue). All manageable, albeit with much gnashing of teeth.

No, the problem is that I have to pick up the threads of my story and start weaving them together again. And since I write by feel, that’s really, really hard. To put it in perspective, think about misplacing a book you’re in the middle of reading–you locate it about a week or so later, with relief, but you don’t remember exactly why it’s important she revenge her father, or he has trust issues, or whatever. If you’re reading the story, you can get past that. If you’re writing the darn thing? Yow. Hard work.

So today I am buying milk, doing laundry, and heading off again to collect my son from his grandmother’s house. Monday I launch myself back into writing, where I hope I can figure out where the heck I was going when I last touched the story.

So–what do you do to jumpstart a project? If you’re a writer, how do you convince yourself to write again after a break?

Start Me Up,

PS: I don’t know if you can read it all, but the album cover is a movie soundtrack featuring “Let’s Do It Again” by the Staple Singers. I just love the Staple Singers. Mavis Staples has one of the sexiest voices in the universe, and this song seemed appropriate.

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11 Responses to Let’s Do It Again

  1. Tess says:

    Even though I’m a plotter (an unpublished one *g*) I still find it hard to pick up again after a break. Always find the best way is just to open the file and start reading the last chapter I wrote. That generally gets me back into things. If that doesn’t work, I play the “What if?” game.

  2. Amanda says:

    Well, my pantser status is probably what has kept me from finishing a novel yet–I am always getting distraced from my writing by life events. This year I have decided to become a plotter…in part because I can’t ever get back into the “zone” after a break from writing…So I’d love to hear what other writers do to get back into things…

  3. Megan, I’m so jealous that you went to Powell’s (a huge bookstore that has both second-hand and new books side by side on the shelves). But in answer to your question, I think Tess’s suggestions were good–or play whatever music you were listening to when you wrote.

    I’m a combinations pantser-plotter who starts out as a pantser and after a while writes down plot points on the back of an old envelope, or in one of my combination ideas, shopping list, and plotting notebooks. I’m about 7,000 words into a new book at the moment and I could quite happily hang out for hours with my h/h, so I’m hoping they’ll be good enough to send a plot my way soon.


  4. doc-t says:


    I ussually just feel like writing. Maybe you could daydream you’re next scene after reading the last chapter. let it unfold in your mind and then get excited when you find out what it is???

  5. Santa says:

    I seem to be combining both elements. I start the story and as scenarioes come to mind, I start writing them down. Since I don’t get a chance to write straight through any given day, I am continually re-acquainting myself with where I want the story to go. I find it keeps me on my toes and truer to the story now that I write scenes, etc. down. Now my biggest challenge is to DO IT!!!

  6. Elena Greene says:

    I’m somewhere in between pantser and plotter. Usually I start with a broad synopsis but it’s just a starting point. At points the characters deviate from the plan and I’ve learned to allow them. But sometimes they don’t come alive for me and I just plot (sounds a lot like plod, doesn’t it?) on until they do.

    Megan, the thing I usually do after a break is back up and edit a chapter or two before.


  7. Cara King says:

    If necessary, I reread everything I’ve written, plus my notes. 🙂

    Sometimes I’m a pantser (like with my first YA novel), and sometimes I’m a plotter (like with Gamester — I think if you’re writing suspense, or structuring a story for suspense, it really helps to plan carefully ahead of time), and sometimes I’m somewhere in between…


  8. I plot my novel chapter by chapter, identifying what will happen and how it pushes the conflict. But I mostly “pants it” when actually writing each chapter.

    I’m probably more detailed in my outline of the 1st 5 chapters than the ones that follow.

    As for getting back into a story after being away–no issues could be more timely. I’ve just returned from holiday. But much of the time I was thinking the story, and taking notes and jotting dialogue. So I was really eager to get back into it on my return.

  9. I’m a pantser forced to plot, methinks.

    Sylvia Day just had a post that described a process almost exactly like mine: she thinks of a few really strong scenes, then pantses her way between them.

    I think that does help in those times I’m forced to take a break — I still have that scene ahead in mind, and knowing I have to get there. Me, these scenes are usually pivot points…I have no idea how I’m going to get there when I start, but I know they have to happen and I (kind of) know what the emotional result is. And the characters are built in the original imagining of those scenes (why are they in that scene? what gets them there?) so that when I actually start writing, though I have no plot in mind, I do have a specific destination.

    At this point in my book (1/3?) I’m still pantsing, but I have many, many more scenes that are developing in my head, that I’m slowly getting to. The problem is just developing the plot that gets there; the characters are pretty much all good.

  10. I started out a confirmed pantser–I loved telling myself a story and not knowing how it was going to end. (!) I was forced to focus more on plotting eventually, but I still cannot pin down the details. I do a lot of what is called “prewriting”–snippets of scenes I call cameos, ideas, remarks my character(s) might say or things they might do, and brainstorming. I also get ideas from research, which I am usually doing in the midst of writing. If I hit a wall–or if I’m away for a while–I have to re-read what I have written to get back into the flow.

    The problem pantsers have is writing themselves into a corner. I’ve done that. That’s why some of my early works never got finished. That’s a whole ‘nother thing, though! But the trick is to go back and find where you got off course, either solving a problem too quickly, not introducing enough conflict or motivation, or seeing if you “violated” one of your characters and had him/her do something they would not have done. And as the King said, “etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.”


  11. I dove back in today, using some–probably most–of your suggestions.

    Like Meljean, I have a few scenes in my head I have to get to, so that helps drive me forward.

    Nothing beats (as Laurie says later on) writing every day. Wish I could stick to that.

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