I've been attending conferences and workshops, reading books and blogs, and participating in critique groups for years. My biggest stumbling block was always plotting/outlining. I kept trying to write by the seat of my pants and it wasn't working, but I couldn't seem to wrap my mind around plotting. So I didn't fit in either of the "two types of writers" categories.
When people drew that triangle diagram thing, I was like, "huh"? And then they'd put dots on it and talk about plot lines and other airy-fairy stuff and I'd wonder how in the heck they got all that from a dotted triangle. Cuz ya know, I wasn't seeing it. And I thought there must be something wrong with me. I was plot challenged.
So I'd go back to the pantsing thing, but I never knew what was supposed to happen next. I'd make myself come up with something—anything—and it usually turned out stupid. All my ideas fell flat. I got discouraged and kept revising the beginning until my critique group partners started going cross-eyed from having to read the same material over and over again.
It seemed like other writers just fell off a stump and knew what to do. And then there was me, and I couldn't seem to find the right stump or fall the right way or who knows what. I almost gave up, but my motto is "never give up," so I had to find a way to keep going. In the end, I very sternly told myself that I was a smart woman and I could figure this out. For months, I studied every plotting method I could find: the Plot Whisperer; Larry Brooks' Story Engineering; Dan Wells' system; Blake Snyder's Beat Sheet; Dave Wolverton's Million Dollar Outlines course material; and a whole bunch more. I even did the exercises. Oh, and I analyzed movies and drove my family nuts with comments about this being the "all is lost" moment and that being the "inciting incident" and so on.
And eventually, the great mysterious process began to crack open and little bits of light shone through. Then at one of our critique group meetings a couple of months ago, Erin suggested that we challenge ourselves to finish our rough drafts by the end of July. And all three of us agreed. It was perfect timing, really, but also kind of scary. I wasn't sure I'd be able to make good on the deal. But I pressed forward.
I wrote a query letter with a brief plot summary. That was hard. Very hard. And so worth the effort. From there, I moved on to padding the existing (shabby) outline/synopsis and compiling all of my scattered notes. Then I did the character sketches. I started making headway. I went to Storymakers, and Karen Hoover's "Prewriting" workshop helped things click into place even more. I loved the idea of prewriting as opposed to outlining. Also, Amber Argyle gave me good advice and generous doses of praise and encouragement in the Publication Primer...and beyond. Somehow she knew I needed that extra kick in the pants.
I came home inspired and pumped up and ready to get back to some serious plotting. And an amazing thing happened. The more I thought about the story, the more I was able to fill in the blanks. I'd concentrate on specific questions or problems and the answers came if I let things percolate in my brain for awhile. I always wanted to write the story that wanted to be written, not some arbitrary series of events that I assigned to the appropriate slots in an outline. After a couple of weeks, there were only a few blanks left. I decided to go ahead and start writing. I'm almost done with the first "new" chapter, and things are coming together in awesome ways.
Yay, I can do this! And so can you.