Writer – do you plan or fly by the seat of your pants?

For whatever reason you write, there are usually at least two broad ways to do it. Either you are a planner – someone who plans what they are going to write or you are a pantser. This means someone who is flying by the seat of their pants, or someone who has no plan, they just sit down and write.

Many writers can be both, but many have a preferred method.

I came across this term at the beginning of Nanowrimo in November 2020 and I immediately got it. As someone who frequently just takes a writing prompt and launches herself with it, I get that sometimes it can feel a bit scary, but it is also exhilarating. So, how can you tell which you are? And does it really matter?

-pink-pad-paper-To-Do-list
Do you plan before you write?

If you are a planner:

You like to have an outline.

You might like to have an idea of where the story might end

You might like to plan out a book, chapter by chapter

You might have a special notebook where you plan things out

You might like collecting tools that help you plan such as apps

You might think on a story for a long time before starting to write it

 

Pros of being a planner:

Easier to begin your writing. You usually have something to write when you start up because you are working to a plan

You know where you are going, so can find interesting ways of getting there

You might have key points in mind for a longer project, such as a novel which will help keep you on track

It is easier to keep going with something when you know the way

 

girl-leaping-off-jetty-into-lake
Do you dive in or hang back?

Pantser

Or Someone who likes to fly by the Seat of their Pants

 

It’s exciting, not knowing where you are going

Some people like to just see where the muse takes them

If you can’t think of something to write, sometimes it is easier just to launch out

You are totally open as to where this thing is going to go

 

Cons of being a Pantser

It can be hard to start writing on a blank page and even harder if you have no idea what you are going to write

It can make the story uncoordinated or mean that it does not flow as easily

Once you have finished your story it may mean that you need a complete revision of it

You may forget characters’ names or events in the novel and find yourself reinventing the wheel

 

Which are you?

In the end, it all comes down to personal choice and what works for you. I have tried to start planning my work more but have found that it does not always make for a satisfying story straight away and that it may have needed more work. The stories that I have just sat and written are sometimes more complete stories. That may mean that I prefer more flying by the seat of my pants than planning, but there are times when I have felt that planning is a must.

I first joined Nanowrimo quite a while ago. I had had an idea for a novel for about a year and I managed to write it all during the month. I got the free proof of it, cringed mightily on reading it and shoved it in a drawer, never to see the light of day again.

When I joined Nanowrimo last November, it was a different story: I had no idea what I was going to write. I had spent a few months writing short stories and some had been good, some bad, but I had no idea for a novel, yet here I was, wanting to take part in the novel writing month.

The idea I came up with was spur of the moment, based on a film I had recently seen and in an era I knew very little about. I decided that I would learn on the way. I started the story and managed to write most days, but I did not make the 50,000-word target. I managed around 25,000 words that month. I am now 40,000 words in and I hope to finish this novel soon.

The best of both worlds

Although I began this novel as a pantser, I have, many times, sat down and tried to work out what is happening next. I have kept lists of characters and tried to keep a rough timeline, so I have really had the best of both worlds. I know that the book is going to need some serious rewriting, but I have got to the point when I am enjoying writing it and I know that I am going to finish it. I am then likely to rework it a little before rewriting.

There are other Nanowriting challenges throughout the year. In April and July, they run another two month-long challenges, but this time you set the challenge of how many words you wish to reach. If you are trying to get your writing project off the ground, then this could be a good idea. Check them out and see what you think.

 

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Stronger Fiction: Should you write every day?

One of those pieces of advice given out to every writer is:

Write every day

It is given out so often that we are in danger of feeling that we are not writers if we don’t write every day. What if you find it hard to find time to write every day, however? What if you are at home with work emailing you, your children asking for help with school work and your partner locked away in another room constantly in another Zoom meeting? How can you possibly find time to write every day?

clock-coffe-mug-typewriter-spectacles

The fact is that we are not super-women (or men). We have a lot going on at the moment and that may mean that some things do not happen. But should the thing that gives, be your writing?

To be honest, it depends on how you feel about it.

The thing about writing is that it’s like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the more easily it comes to you. So if you can find some time to write as often as you can, then your writing will flow better and you will find more ideas for inspiration coming to you. If you are on the look out for ideas, they will come. Many writers carry small notebooks around just to jot down ideas as they happen, although in these days of smartphones, it is just as easy to make notes on that.

Perceived wisdom has suggested that it takes 100,000 words of practice to make a novelist. That’s a lot of words, you had better get going now. Seriously, though, most successful novelists have a rough novel or two, hiding somewhere in their house, which they have sworn will never see the light of day. That’s a lot of work for something that people will never read, but it was important to achieve to find out how a novel is structured, how you manage to sit down and write words by the thousands and whether you can actually do it. Until you try, you will never know.

Do you need to write?

When you have been away from your notebook or laptop for a few days, do you find that you are itching to write? If you find that you are missing writing, then it will be important to find time for it.

Equally, if you are in the middle of writing something and you have got stuck, then you may avoid writing. You may open up the document, stare at it for a moment and close it again, without any idea of what you want to say. It can be hard to know where to take a story, when the characters seem to have a mind of their own.

If you want to write but just can not find time:

Write down your daily routine for a few days, then look for times when you might be able to fit writing in. Look for quiet times, times when the children are busy and times when the partner is in a meeting.

You could get up earlier, when the children are not expecting to be working, and take 15 minutes for writing

Why not write at a point when you are normally slumped in front of the TV in the evening?

You may have a small amount of time between when the children are finished schoolwork and it’s time to start cooking dinner.  Why not ask your partner to cook dinner occasionally to give you a bit more time?

Your writing time does not have to be every day, but it does have to be regular. It is no good just finding time to write once a month. Writing more regularly than that will help improve your skills. However if you are not working on something that you want to get done, then you may be happy writing 3 or 4 times a week.

Plan to write

If you are working on something that you expect to finish at some point, things may take a little more planning. You will want to snatch 15 minutes here and half an hour there so that you can finish your work. You will find that you do not have time for writers’ block, and that your need to finish the piece might outweigh all other considerations.

If you are stuck at a point and you are not sure where to go from there, then  leave it for a few days and come back to it. Pick up something else for a short while.

Go for a walk or a run to clear your head.

You may decide to carry on with the story for now and then come back to it. This may help you decide what happens next.

Try plotting out what happens next to help you get past the place where you are unsure where to go

If you are not happy with the direction your story is going in, you can always change it.

So should you “write every day”?

I suggest that you take this advice as a guideline. It depends on the jobs that you have got to get completed and how busy you are. Writing every day will certainly help you to feel more like a writer, but far more important is that you are happy with your writing life. You need to be comfortable with what you are achieving.

What are you writing at the moment? Are you finding it possible to write every day? Let me know in the comments below.

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Author Interview – Meet Carys Jones

Carys Jones UK Author
Carys Jones UK Author

This week Carys Jones, author has agreed to answer my Author Interview questions. Carys has written three books about attorney Aiden Connelly in her Avalon series and Prime Deception. She is also about to branch out into Young Adult fiction with her first book, Dare to Dream due out soon. You can find synopses of Carys’ books at her website and they are available at Amazon.   Name: Carys Jones Rough Idea of where you live: I live in Shropshire, England, UK

  1. What is the first piece of writing that you remember doing?

When I was about five or six I used to make little magazines about a stick character called Pod. He’d walk his dog, go to the shops, nothing too exciting but it was my first attempt at storytelling and I used to bind the pages together with staples and charge my poor Dad ten pence for each edition!

  1. Has there ever been an unusual way that a story has occurred to you?

A couple of my stories have occurred to me following a dream. I keep a notebook in my bedside drawer so that if I wake up from a particularly vivid dream I can hurriedly scribble down the details for future use.

  1. What is the best story title that you have never used? Is there a worst?

Some of my story titles have changed once the books were published which probably means that they weren’t the best titles originally; Not All Stars Sparkle became First to Fall and Maggie Trafford Dreams of Armageddon became Dare to Dream

  1. Which story would you love to have written?

It has to be Flowers in the Attic by Virginia Andrews. It is one of my all-time favourite books and is just so powerfully written. The great stories are always the ones which are most evocative, those which stay with you long after you’ve read the final sentence.

  1. What is the one tip that you would give aspiring authors?

Write. Write as much as you can as often as you can. There is no better way to learn about yourself as a writer than to write.

  1. What is your current project?

I’m currently writing the 4th book in my Avalon series, Fourth to Run, and editing my YA novel Dare to Dream prior to its release later in the year.

 

First to Fall by Carys Jones
First to Fall by Carys Jones

 

Second to Cry by Carys Jones
Second to Cry by Carys Jones

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can find out more about Carys at:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/tiny_dancer85

Thank you, Carys, for taking part in The Creative Writer author interview.

Subscribe to the newsletter for up-to-date information on this blog.   If you would like to take part as an author/freelance interviewee then email me at sarahthecreativewriter[at]gmail.co.uk

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Five Things to Keep in Mind when Composing a Guest Blog Title

With visitors taking even less time than usual to stop by a new website and look around, it is really important to offer a great title when writing a guest blog. You can have written the most informative article in the world but if the title does not instantly grab a reader, then there will not be many people willing to read on. The title has to be worth their while.

Here is The Creative Writer’s guide to writing a great guest blog title:

1. Make sure the title reflects the article content accurately. Try and be too clever and you might leave a reader puzzled as to how the title fitted in with the rest of the article. An article on the ‘Five best Toddler Drink Cups’ is expected to have something on drink cups in there somewhere.

2. Make sure the language is suitable for the audience that you want to attract. A title aimed at a teenage audience is very different from one aimed at the small business owner market. You want your blog post to be authoritative and to offer information that your readers need. You should therefore choose your language carefully.

3. Puns are out! Well, ok probably not out completely, but a bad pun can put people off reading an article. Puns are plays on words that make you groan rather than laugh. People who are groaning may not read on.

4. Don’t be too clever if you play on words. It is easy to get carried away by your own brilliance and leave your audience puzzled. Some plays on words work, others should be cut in the edit.

5. You won’t always get the perfect title straight away. Sometimes you need to work on it a little. Using numbers can help – ‘Five Ways to-‘ or ‘Ten Perfect Blog Titles’ but it’s not always essential. It is more important that your title reflects your article and that it will encourage visitors to your site to read on.

Sarah Charmley is a UK-based freelance writer who offers guest blogs as part of her services. To discuss your blog requirements either use the contact form or email sarahthecreativewriter(at) gmail.com.

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Why Have a Guest Blog?

website ideas
website ideas (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

Guest blog posts are becoming more popular as the demand for website content grows. Introducing a blog to your website can help increase your traffic and bring more customers to your business, but maintaining a blog can be hard work. It can be difficult to constantly think of fresh ideas and easy to put off writing your blog until the last minute. One solution to this problem is to have a guest post.

There are two types of guest posting: one where people get in touch with you and offer to post. This is usually the case with a very popular website such as Copyblogger which is big in its own right. My comments on posts on Copyblogger rank higher in the search engines than my own website. If you are getting offers of guest posts, then my guess is that you have a highly ranked website in a popular topic.

More usually you might offer to swap blog posts with a friend in a similar field. You exchange like for like in return for links that might bring more traffic to your website. If you don’t have anyone that you think would offer suitable links, then there is a Blogger Link Up newsletter where you can post your guest blog requirements and see if there are any you could offer.

Then there is paid blogging where you hire someone to blog for you, usually if you really aren’t finding the time to write and keep your blog up to date.

Paying a blogger to write guest posts for your websites will give you a ready supply of blog posts to keep your website updated. A professional writer does this for a living: they are able to write new and engaging content that your readers can identify with. A good guest blogger will be able to write using a style similar to your own so that your readers feel that they are still getting the information from you, and of course, the final say over the content is yours. You need to feel that the post could have been written by you and that you can relate to the writing that you are posting.

A paid blogger is often writing in your name. Yours’ is the byline – they just happen to have written the words. It is happening more and more and if writing isn’t your strength, then it might just be the solution you need.

Guest blogs offer a painless way of bringing fresh content to your website and keeping it updated. Whether you accept guest blogs in return for links or money, they can offer a fresh perspective, a new voice and further opportunities to link up with other small business owners and increase your social network.

Sarah Charmley is a UK-based blogger who offers interesting blog posts for your website. If you would like to discuss your guest posting requirements with her, then please use the contact form or email sarahthecreativewriter(at) gmail.com.

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Five Good Reasons to Maintain Your Blog

website ideas
website ideas (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

Many businesses consider having a blog an essential part of their website. Blogging offers a chance to connect with your customers and enable them to see a little of what you do. Blogging brings fresh content to your website and that is a good thing when it comes to search engines.

Deciding to have a blog is a regular commitment. How often you update it is up to you, but updating it regularly ensures that visitors to your website can see that you use your website and that you still have a valid business.

1. Adding fresh content to your blog ensures that your website stays fresh and current. Coming across a website which has not been updated since 2007 says ‘I don’t care’ or even ‘I’m no longer in business’.

2. Finding new subjects to write about helps to expand your own learning and enables you to keep up with trends and learn more about your own business. It will also help you keep your brain active and engaged in your business. You might even get some new ideas to help your business.

3. Putting up a new blog post gives you the opportunity to promote your website and your business using social media. Keeping in touch with customers through social media is becoming increasingly important. You want your business website to be well-known through social media, although spam is not a good idea.

4. You can use your blog post to promote special offers or to offer other promotions designed to increase business and encourage return customers. This can be a great way to use a blog post. Design it carefully so that links leading to products or services are visible and easily accessed.

5. Regularly updating your blog will help to reassure your customers that you are a trusted company for them to do business with. Trust is increasingly important on the Internet. A trusted company will bring more repeat customers.

Regular blogging can bring many benefits to you and your business website, so stop reading this post and go and get writing!

Sarah Charmley is a UK-based writer who offers blogging as a speciality. If you would like a carefully crafted blog post on a topic of your choice, use the contact form to get in touch or email sarahthecreativewriter (at) gmail.com.

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Five Things to Consider before Networking for the First Time

If you want to be a successful freelancer, then finding more like-minded people to join your network is essential. One way to achieve this is to go to one of many networking events set up round the country every month.

Business Meeting by thetaxhaven on Flickr CC
Business Meeting by thetaxhaven on Flickr CC

I went to a Big Circle event in Worcester which was fairly local to me. Your local Chamber of Commerce runs events, there is also breakfast networking and other organisations set up to facilitate networking including some that are women only and others that only allow one of each profession into the group. Some people feel that they are the best way to get referrals while others find them difficult to do, especially if you are a quieter type of person.

I am fairly outgoing. I have been known to do some cold calling on the telephone and I enjoy meeting and talking to people. Even so I was a little unsure of myself as this was not something I had done before. However I really wanted to make the effort to get away from my keyboard for a while and give myself the opportunity to meet some new clients.

I found the Big Circle event to be friendly and small. It was billed as having 300+ people booked in to attend, but there were only about 20 exhibitors. There were however lots of people milling about. The event lasted for a morning: between 9.30 and 1.30 which allowed people to get there in time and to get back to the office if they need to. The refreshment stand was quite expensive considering I only wanted a hot water because I drink decaf tea and take my own teabags – they still charged me £1! I decided not to ask about any of the snacks!

I met some great people at the Expo. I would like to say hi to Natalie of Nutcracker Design, Rosie of Revmarketing, Richard and Ian at Charles Design and Adrian of Clarify Copywriting. I also met a friend there who had gone quite independently. I enjoyed my time and gave out some of my (new) cards (thanks, Beanprint!).

So if you are thinking of going to your first networking event, here are five things that you should bear in mind:

1. Know where you are going. Obvious, right? I’ve gone past the stadium a few times, but I’ve never gone in before. I ended up going round the wrong way before I found my way in and I was already late because I didn’t…

2. Allow plenty of time to get there. This is not always easy when you have a family to get out the door as well. Then you get on the M5 and it is crawling at 20 mph due to roadworks! I was not on time yesterday, but I didn’t give up and made sure that I did eventually arrive at the exhibition.

3. It actually doesn’t matter if you’re late. I missed a speaker and it took me a little while to organise myself, but as I arrived, people were leaving and others were arriving. People were working to their own timetables and that’s the nature of business. At least I had arrived and I was giving myself that chance to network.

4. You don’t need to do everything straight away. I decided not to take part in the speed networking and I missed the speakers. I arrived too late to hear one speaker, and I was enjoying talking to one of the exhibitors during the start of another one. It would be interesting and next time I might factor in one of the speakers. I might also decide to speed network, but I met some interesting people and still got to chat.

5. Remember your business cards. I had some new cards made because my last set did not have my website on. I have also changed since I last had some cards done. I enjoyed swapping cards and it’s a great way to pass on your details.

I would recommend taking the plunge and starting to network as a way of increasing your freelance business. Freelancing can be lonely and it is great to get out of the office and talk to like-minded people and make new contacts. I will definitely attend one of these events again. It could get addictive.

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Back to the Basics of Your Business

I’ve been doing some decorating recently. Our living room or lounge needed a complete rethink and redecoration. The ceiling had some water damage from a previous leak but because asbestos had been discovered in a another room it was not considered the right thing to do to strip it out. We hired a plasterer to re-board over our lounge ceiling and put some new decorative coving round. It has been a great opportunity to discuss every piece of furniture and whether it will have a place in our newly decorated lounge. We are not finished yet – in fact we have only just begun.

Sometimes it can help to examine your business minutely – strip it back to the bare bones and see where it is that you intended to go. Look at your marketing – is it achieving all that you hoped or do you need to refresh and refine it and make sure that it is fit for purpose? What about your website? Does it carry out the right function in giving customers the information they need to make a sale? Think about the processes your business uses – do they work correctly and efficiently, enabling your business to make the most of selling to your customers and your customers to acquire all they need.

It’s been ten years since we moved into this current house. It was in good repair at the time and we saw no need to change what had been done – we just added touches of our own. Now the wallpaper is fading, the moisture marks have begun to annoy us and it was definitely time for a change.

Knowing that it’s time to look at your business afresh is not always an easy choice but it is worthwhile. Stopping to look again at the things you have taken for granted will enable you to ensure that your business remains a solvent business and one that can continue to grow.

Photo Credit: Office Repaint by Kelly K.

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How to Save Your Website

Have you ever done this?

Found a bright shiny website with whistles and bells, looking pretty and inviting.

So you decide to stay and look round. Then you discover that although it looks like it will be informative, the website content lacks something…you cast around for the word…what is it again? Oh yes, I know. It lacks INFORMATION!

Welcome by Claudio Matsuoka on Flickr CC
Welcome by Claudio Matsuoka on Flickr CC

The content is lacklustre and the information is badly written, poorly punctuated and there’s a few spelling mistakes for good measure. There are some keywords, but they seem to have been sprinkled liberally rather than used sparingly and in context. Perhaps the owner of the website has written it for themselves, or perhaps they have relied on a web developer to write it for them. After all everyone can write, can’t they? We all learn to write at school. It’s just a matter of stringing a few sentences together and bunging it up on a website.

What’s the result of this cobbled-together content?

Visitors don’t stay around. If you’re selling something, then they may not bother to see what it is. They may proceed to buy, but then they were going to anyway and if they’ve seen it cheaper on another website then they won’t bother. There’s no interest to keep them here, nothing to learn and no real information that they can use.

What lessons can you take from this as a business owner?

  • Bright shiny websites are all very well, but it’s the content that keep people around
  • Everyone might have learned to write at school, but only certain people have kept in practice
  • SEO is an art which is learned. Just adding keywords here and there will not do the job of carefully crafted content which has been optimised for SEO
  • The website has ten seconds to attract a visitor’s attention. Give them something interesting to read and keep them for longer

Talking to a copywriter can help save your website. Organise your information, create interesting content on relevant subjects and your website will instantly improve. Copywriters can create landing pages to entice visitors further, sales pages to help pitch your products and informative articles which can help to sell for you.

If your bright and shiny website also has sparkly and exciting content to match, then your website visitors are going to come back again and again.

Sarah Charmley is a freelance copywriter who specialises in making web content bright and shiny too. Contact her using the form for a personalised quote to save your website. 

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