When I began my journey as a writer, I was a straight up “pantster”. I flew by the seat of my pants. I didn’t outline a thing. I just sat down and began writing the story that manifested itself in my mind. My first book, Negotiating Skills, came relatively easy to me. The story flowed and there were very few hiccups for me. I secretly scoffed at all “plotters”. “This writing business isn’t so hard”, I thought…Yes I was that obnoxious is my perceived triumph. I soon learned the errors of my ways. As of today, Negotiating Skills is the only book I’ve completed so far, that was written in a linear fashion from start to finish.
Little did I know at the time that that was the beginning and end of an era. When I started work on my next book, Persuasion Skills, I struggled to get all my thoughts down in any cohesive manner. I’d taken several classes and read a significant amount of books on writing craft by this time, to understand that I had gotten extremely lucky with Negotiating Skills. Somehow without trying, I’d achieved the classic three act structure and the correct beats to make the story flow. Sometimes luck repeats itself, and sometimes the writing gods decide to teach your butt a lesson when you take their boons for granted.
I quickly realized that being a pantster was not going to get my next book written. So I sat down, cracked my knuckles, took a deep breath and…outlined my book. The process was grueling. It took me a lot longer than I expected. However, when I finished, I was pleasantly surprised. Creating scenes for every point in my outline was a relative breeze. I also wasn’t forced to write in a linear manner. I could jump from scene to scene with no worries about letting the story get away from me. This was a definite perk that I feel helped me write faster.
During the process of outlining I felt as if my story became sharper, more put together than my initial concept was. The simple truth is that I became a better writer when I began plotting my books.
Once I discovered the glory of the outline, I of course had to figure out ways to make the process a little easier for myself. So I began looking for tools to help me do just that. Eventually I stumbled upon Jami Gold’s beat sheets, and was in nerd heaven. I’ve used her beat sheets for quite some time. Recently, I’ve created my own to incorporate my preferred story structure approach (via Romancing the Beat). My WIP Progress Tracker, incorporates a little bit of everything I’ve picked up from my favorite resources.
Creating the sheet was pretty easy. I pulled up a stock Microsoft Word template, and modified it for my needs. Since sharing is caring ( 😉 ), you can download a copy of my WIP Progress Tracker by pressing the button below:
I use Scrivener for all of my writing, and I update my tracker after every writing session. The tracker keeps me honest and on schedule. It also allows me to check what parts of my books are causing me the most trouble, along with other useful stats. Yes, I collect stats on myself. I consider it important to grow as an author. How long it takes me to write a certain amount of words, which beats take me the longest to write, how long I need to allot towards research etc.
These sheets/trackers and outlines in general have helped me so much. I’ve even gotten into the habit of writing my synopsis after my outline. It is another step that helps solidify my plot for me. This post is not meant to be a wag of the finger at pantsters. Plotting does not work for everyone. However, it’s worked really well for me and I hope the resources, I’ve shared here, will help others on their writing journeys.
As I mentioned above, I’ve read many books about novel structure and outlining. I’ve also made it a point to peruse the web and find as many resources as I can online. I’ve listed some of my favorites below:
- Jami Gold (and her awesome beat sheets!)
- Jane Friedman
- Advanced fiction Writing (the snowflake method)
- Paperback Writer
I hope all of these resources help!