Monday, June 7, 2010

The End of Marking Time Event

We here at Adventures in Writing are always glad to help out a fellow writer, especially if it's something cool. This week week's guest post is from CJ West, author of The End of Marking Time which launches on June 10th. Make sure you follow the links at the bottom to get your copy.

Are You a Plotter or a Pantser?

I don’t usually guest blog on sites aimed at writers. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to give advice if I think it is helpful, but until I’m a NYT #1 bestseller, I’m not sure I’ll feel comfortable doling out writing
advice on a grand scale. I’m about to launch my latest thriller, The End of Marking Time, and I want to share how my experience writing this book was different from my four previous novels.

About two years ago I wrote a series of articles on Hub Pages that outlined my writing process. I did this because new writers kept asking me about my method and I felt I could do a better job describing it in a series of articles than I could retyping the same information into emails over and over again. When I did this, I was positive that my process was refined to the point it wouldn’t change. I was a plotter and that was the way it would always be.

Until last year that was true. My approach to writing a novel had been fairly consistent. I spent three months researching characters and significant story elements and at the same time I created an outline for the novel including the key ingredients for every chapter. Before I started writing, I knew just about everything that would happen in the book. I say “just about everything” because there are always good ideas that crop up along the way and I have always been flexible enough to include them. I have invested quite a bit of time developing tools for outlining and creating character biographies and those tools really work for me.

About two years ago I listened to Lee Child talk about his writing process. He is a pantser, meaning he has a basic idea for the story and then jumps off and writes. His planning is limited to three or four key scenes. He plans the opening, the transition to act II, the transition to act III and the ending. (If you are unfamiliar with three act structure, these transitions are critical turning points in the story.) From there, he sits down and starts writing. The idea that he could do this and come up with an intricately-plotted thriller astounded me. Pantsing was a scary concept and I dismissed it until I was drawn to an idea that grabbed me and wouldn’t let go.

I began my research for The End of Marking Time the same way I approached my other novels. I toured a local prison and I held an interview with someone from the corrections department. I had interviewed court officers and police officers months earlier while I was working on another book. I was ready to go into “planning mode” and spend the next two and a half months planning my story, but a strange thing happened. I was flooded with compelling ideas. One of these was an opening scene. I wrote it, promising myself it would be the only thing I wrote before I went back to laying out my plot.

Six weeks later, the first draft was done. I never wrote my outline. Instead I jotted chapter names for the next four chapters I would write, staying that much ahead of where I was in the draft with just a fuzzy idea what would happen. I completed my character biographies on the fly. In less time than it usually takes me to come up with an outline, I had a first draft and that draft was tighter and better than any first draft I’ve written.

Now I’m not so sure if I’m a plotter or a pantser. On my best day as a pantser I wrote 9,500 words. I’ve never come close to that level of productivity with a completed outline. It seems logical that I’d write faster with a completed outline, not slower. When I think about being this productive, pantsing is a very attractive method, scary as it may be. I’m writing a new book, which I plotted using my traditional process even though my beta readers declared my flirtation with pantsing a success. Maybe it was the story and the characters that gripped me and made pantsing possible. Or maybe I’ll evolve into a pantser as I mature as a writer. Only time will tell.

How about you?

OK, here is where you will be able to get it on Amazon

The End of Marking Time on Amazon

If you want to join in the Launch Party on June 10th, here's your link

Here's an event page!/event.php?eid=121950241154473&index=1

and a fun Facebook page. Facebook Group I pressed the Red/Green button

CJ West
The End of Marking Time - 2010


  1. Okay, first of all... 9,500 words in one day? You are not human. That's... well, amazing.

    I am a plotting pantser. I have to know a little bit about what's gonna happen, but outlining is painful to me...I only do it if I have to do so. Which I've had to do lately. But I think the combo works well.

    9,500 words in one day... please tell me you had a party to celebrate!

  2. Awesome post.

    I'm a weird hybrid. I outline, but only in my head. If my head can't store it, than I don't even try to keep it around.

    Dana, it's not exactly uncommon for thriller/suspense/action writers to crank out 9,500 words in a day.

  3. I'm a hybrid too... A little more structure than say Lee Child (though knowing those turning points is really important) but I don't have the whole idea at any one time so that I can still be surprised as I write.

  4. Dana, my normal production goal is 1,500 words. 9,500 was party time for me. I think the reason I cranked out so many words was that all of the plot elements were coming together so easily for me that I didn't spend very much time thinking. I was just writing and writing. This was also a 16 hour day of writing. (I write full time.)


  5. Thanks Anthony. I think I'll be somewhat of a hybrid when I settle on a new approach.

    I rarely break 5,000 words in a day. I might not be normal, but anything over 3,000 is a really good day for me.


  6. I have on rare occasions broken 5k words, but never 9500. I am pretty much a pantser. I have the premise in mind, and I see the ending. The rest is how I get there. Sometimes my endings change because I want to add one or two more twists, but most of the time it's the way I started, cause, I'm a little twisted anyway :-)

  7. Just to be specific, I don't mean 9,500 words every day. I've heard of sprints like that, usually from the thriller/military/suspense guys. There's something about action that can cause a writer to let go.

    What's interesting is I've heard these sprints are supposed to be "crap," yet every time I've read the author's section in question where the sprint occurred, it's the best part of the book.

    Why is that? That's so fascinating. It's happened to me. I described a 911 call and it's aftermath in a police procedure type novel. It was 10k and I wrote it in a single day. I am sitting there going OMG this has to be CRAP but my beta readers loved it.

    Writing is weird.

    CJ, I've ordered your book. Can't wait to read it.

  8. Anthony,

    Yes, you have really hit something there. When I write something fast, it is very often something my readers highlight as a strong part of the novel. When I labor over something, there is a reason: it is just not working.

    I think this phenomenon is one part action and one part clarity of thought.

    Thanks for ordering the book. I hope you really enjoy it.


  9. Hey, CJ, really intriguing post and I'll definitely check out your book on Amazon. The book's cover, title, and concept all seem really interesting, so I wouldn't be surprised if I bought hands tend to have a mind of their own, at times.

    As for the idea of being a pantser or a plotter, I guess I'm a pantser. The closest I've come to plotting are chapter names really that trigger me to remember all the scenes I want to appear in my story.

    Once again, awesome post and I'll definitely read those articles, too, 'cause I'm curious about plotting. Anyway, write on!

  10. CJ, I don't know if I should buy you a beer or send you a bill for a therapist appointment.

    Yeah, this book got to me. Well done and I'm hooked.

  11. Ok, Anthony, now you've got me curious. I have about 15 other books already on my to read stack, but I guess I'll have to grab CJ's book and put it on the top.


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