Turtle Power

By E. M. Youman

Hi, my name is E. M. Youman and I am a Pantser. I couldn’t plot my way out of a paper bag. If I was forced to outline at gun point—you get the idea. I have spent countless hours trying to figure out how to be more productive as a writer. Read dozens of craft books on plotting, outlining and structure. When I say I can’t plot, that doesn’t mean my stories don’t have them, it just means when you ask me what my current work in progress is be forewarned that elevator pitch is going to be a long one. But today’s post isn’t about writing faster or lambasting the poor plight of a pantser. It’s more about embracing your inner turtle.

I think slowly. It takes time for me to come up with a good story where others may take a week or a month, I’m taking months and years. Last year I set about trying to increase my word count and ended the year writing 200,000 words, but then I fell off a cliff and couldn’t write for months. It’s made me learn several important things

  1. Aretha and Teddy both said it best: R-e-s-p-e-c-t.

I have to respect who I am and not what looks good on paper. Sure, it’s great to bang out dozens of stories in a month, but if you have no hair on your head and only speak in monosyllables, because your brain is fried then you like me need a different approach.

For me trying to write fast actually made me dislike writing, because I kept trying to whip a dead horse. “Come on brain tell me what happens next.”

  1. “But E. M., I have to write fast. Don’t you know someone is putting up a new book on Amazon every five seconds?”

Yes, that is a very valid fear and I have a suggestion. This writing, wanna be author “thing”, is a marathon. Dorothy Brande said best when she wrote that you have to get used to writing. In my freshman year of college, my English professor told the class we had to keep a journal. He wanted two whole pages each week. I went home, nearly in tears and tried to write one. I had to double space and narrow the margin’s just to get a page and s third. You know what he wrote on the assignment? Nice try E. M., but I need two pages.

He might as well have told me I needed to write a book. Fast foreword five years and guess how long it took me to write this blog post? One hour–and it’s three pages long. Forget about the three days I spent thinking about it or the two days I spent editing. The rough draft took me one hour. I couldn’t have done that five years ago. It took time.

You are not going to start banging out novels like you are a copy machine at Kinkos. You’ve got to build up to it. Otherwise, you could end up hating the journey because you pushed yourself too fast too soon.

I can tell you are still skeptical about taking your time. I was too, because Amazon.

  1. You can have your cake and eat it too.

You can focus on writing fast, but if you’re a pantser or a slow writer like me, then you need to change your approach to writing. Your muse, will suggest ideas (like a story about two fire fighters fighting for the hand of an EMT who’s secretly a lost heiress) but on most days she won’t tell you what to write. As a pantser that’s like offering me a s’more without chocolate. It should be a crime. So how do you marry the idea to write with the desire to write fast?

You Pomodoro that sucker.

  1. Pomodoro anyone?

So what is the Pomodoro? The Pomodoro technique is not a chicken dish. It’s a productivity strategy. The best thing about this technique is that word count goals do not matter. All you need is twenty five minutes.

Last month I read Write, Better, Faster by Monica Leonelle. In it, she said writers need to outline their stories. Face palm. That’s not going to help the pantser is it?

“E M. Why are you talking about a book that can’t help me?”

Every book always has a hidden nugget of useful information. For Leonelle it was the Pomodoro technique. All you have to do is set a timer for twenty-five minutes and write until the timer goes off. Then take a break for five minutes. It’s like a sprint, but a small one. I had heard of this technique before, but hadn’t bothered to try it. Since I was completely burned out from my writing sprint last year I was open to trying anything.

Using this technique I wrote 11,000 words in seven days. I usually conk out at 1200 a day, so I was really happy with this technique. The best part about it is that the more I did it the more words I wrote. My theory on why it works for me is that I was stuck with finishing a manuscript that hadn’t worked on in months. I had a small inkling of what I wanted to write but not how I wanted to say it. By writing cold, I was excited to see what I would come up with. For a pantser, this is gold, because I like to pretend I am the reader when I write. With the timed technique if the buzzer goes off I am stopping in the middle of a sentence. This leaves my subconscious chomping at the bit to create the next part. This excitement brought the muse out. The best part about it is that I didn’t feel the guilt of having to talk myself into sitting down for a few hours. I could schedule twenty five minutes and do them throughout the day. I currently have a goal to get through five a day, but with my unpredictable schedule I’ve only achieved that twice. So realistically it’s going to be three a day going forward and hopefully I can move up to doing six a day.

Coupling that with being able to jump around to different scenes in Scrivener and I am in writing heaven again. I am writing faster, a little bit. I don’t think I am going to be cranking out a book a month, but I am slowly teaching myself how to get used to writing for long stretches. Respecting that I have turtle power instead of trying to drill sergeant my way through a story has made me and my muse happier.

What techniques or tricks help you be more productive?

About the Author

Author Bio

Once upon a time there was a girl who dreamed of a genie that took her on magical journeys, many of which may have included scenes from the Nancy Drew series (shh!!). Then one day she discovered Molly Ringwald and Andrew McCarthy and became obsessed with heart wrenching romances. When she’s not watching tearjerkers, she’s usually writing them.

E.M. Youman is a freelance writer from Oakland, CA. Some of her short stories have been published by The Bowman’s Inn, Black Cat Press, S/tick Magazine and IFF. When she’s not writing fiction, E.M. Youman, works at an independent record label and runs a music blog. She has a B.A. and Master in Communication and is currently working on her first romance novel.

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