From the very beginning of my writing career — before it was a career — I’ve been an SOTP writer (that’s seat-of-the-pants for you non-writers out there). Part of the joy for me as the creator is discovering what happens next, just as a reader will discover it when she’s reading my book. I don’t do lengthy outlines or synopses. I rarely know the ending although I usually have a fuzzy idea of my final destination.
Of course, all writers need to understand what makes a good plot as well as what makes interesting characters. There are a lot of tools of the craft that go into making a book a great reading experience. Most writers learn those tools by trial and error. A few tools come to us instinctively, gifts from God that we are born with. Others seem impossible to learn, no matter how much effort we put into it.
I enjoyed the SOTP process more back in the beginning than I do now. Back then I didn’t worry if I could “pull it off.” I just sat down and wrote my heart out. After 47 books, I know a lot more so I worry about a lot more. Sigh.
I have tried to learn to write other ways. I’ve devoured my share of how-to-write books in the past two-plus decades. I used to think that all SOTP writers attended plotting workshops and all detailed plotters attended creativity or characterization or whatever workshops because they were trying to improve their craft by studying other methods. But I ultimately came to believe that what we are actually doing is desperately trying to find an easier way to write a novel than the way we are doing it.
And the final truth is, there is no easier way. Writers must create the way they are wired to create. If a writer loves and/or needs to plot out every scene on 3×5 cards, then she should do that. If a writer loves and/or needs to wing it, then she should. At the end of a novel, we must all learn to tie up loose ends and be certain our plot isn’t full of holes and take care that we’ve made the characters and their situations compelling. But how we get to that ending will vary from writer to writer. And that’s okay.
Back to my saga: As you’ll recall, I turned in my manuscripts to the publisher in the spring of 1983 and didn’t see the books again, in any manifestation, until they became bound books. No revisions. No edits. No page proofs. By the time they were published, it had been two years since I’d read Stormy Surrender in my final proof of the manuscript and a year and a half since I’d looked at Heart’s Landing. So when my author copies arrived (all six of them), I grabbed one from the box and began to read. My heart sank. The book was riddled with typos, sometimes even changing a “her” to a “him.” There were plenty of mistakes that were my own. I think I already mentioned cliches, contrivances, and adverbs. Those I can claim as my own fault, sans editor. But these typesetter errors! I sat down with the book and my manuscripts and I compared and counted. Both books had more than 80 mistakes that had been made at the publisher’s end.
I took a breath, shored up my courage, and asked the publisher if I couldn’t proof the next book before it was published. From that point on, I got to see the “galleys” or “page proofs.” In my ignorance, I still didn’t know I should be seeing the book several other times, but it was a start. And when I signed my fourth contract in the summer of 1984, I made sure that that stipulation (to see the galleys) was in writing.