By James L. Rubart
Are you a plotter or an SOTP (Seat of the Pants) writer?
Me? I think I’ve taken the pants, ripped them to shreds and tossed them in the air like confetti with no idea where the pieces will land.
Why? Here’s how I write my novels:
1. Come up with a premise that intrigues me. (For example for my most recent novel, Soul’s Gate, I asked, “What if you could send your spirit into other people’s souls to fight for their healing and freedom?)
2. Start writing. Anything that pops into my mind is fine.
3. Shift direction like a cheetah chasing a gazelle. If a new idea appears in the middle of writing a description or smattering of dialogue, drop said scene and start writing the new scene.
4. Repeat step three over and over again.
Do you see the problem? I never finish a scene or a snatch of dialogue or a description because I can’t focus on it long enough to get ‘er finished.
I end up with bits and pieces of unfinished prose strewn all over my Word document with no chronological order, no coherent thread, and no idea where the novel is headed.
When I write I see a moving playing in my head and I simply write down what I see. The problem is my movies cut from one unfinished scene to the next without warning.
How I Bring Order to My Chaotic Method
When I reached 60,000 words in my third novel, The Chair, I hit a wall. Why? I realized I had no idea what the story was about. I had my premise (What if you were given a chair made by Christ that had supernatural healing powers?) but I didn’t know what the heart of the story was. And my random bits and pieces of scenes were all out of order.
So I stopped. I grabbed a handful of 3 x 5 note cards, wrote a headline describing each scene (or start of a scene) and pasted them to the wall of my writing room. It was a puzzle I had to put in the right order. I arranged and rearranged the cards till they started making sense. I tore up cards, rewrote them, and added additional cards as more scenes came to mind.
Finally, I moved all the scenes around in my laptop until they matched the cards on my wall. (I have serious doubts I’d be published if I lived in the age of typewriters.) It worked for ROOMS, BOOK of Days, SOUL’S GATE, and MEMORY’S DOOR (summer ’13) and I’m guessing it will work for more novels to come.
What you Already Know But It’s Worth Repeating
Part of me wishes I could start from the beginning of a story and write straight through.
But that’s not me. It’s not the way I’m wired and it would stifle my creativity. I’ve given myself permission to have ADD when I write.
And I’d encourage you to give yourself permission to write how you write. Whatever method that is, it’s okay. Plotters can be passionate about the pros of outlining. Seaters often believe writing off the cuff will bring surprises you can’t get any other way. Both are right and neither are right.
Allow yourself to be you.
And if you don’t mind, could you hand me another stack of 3 x 5 cards?
James L. Rubart is the best-selling, award-winning author of four novels. Publishers Weekly says this about his latest release, SOUL’S GATE: “ Readers with high blood pressure or heart conditions be warned: this is a seriously heart-thumping and satisfying read that goes to the edge, jumps off, and “builds wings on the way down.” During the day, he runs Barefoot Marketing, which helps authors make more coin of the realm. He lives with his amazing wife and two sons in the
Pacific Northwest and
loves to dirt bike, hike, and golf, takes photos, and still thinks he is young
enough to water ski like a madman. More at
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