Using Story Beats To Increase Writing Speed Writing

cover-write-publish-repeat-finalYou may be familiar with the Self-Publishing Podcast – hosted by Johnny B. Truant, Sean Platt, and David Wright – which has featured all sorts of people doing interesting things in the world of self-publishing. Well, now the SPP guys have released a book – Write. Publish. Repeat – and it’s fantastic.

Long-time readers of this blog might remember Dave guest-posting here way back in October 2011 about a serial fiction experiment he was conducting with Sean. The experiment was a huge success and Sean & Dave have since written a bunch more serials, including one for Amazon’s SF/F imprint 47North.

Sean also co-writes with Johnny, and together they’ve written a bunch more serials too (over a million words published last year alone), and all three of them are now making a living from book sales. In short, these guys know what they’re talking about when it comes to writing fast, publishing well, and building loyal readerships.

Johnny & Sean have now taken all the knowledge gleaned from both their experience and their podcast, and written a book about self-publishing that is, in my humble opinion, the best out there on the topic.

I was lucky enough to get an ARC of Write. Publish. Repeat. last week, and I gobbled it up pretty quickly (my Amazon review is here). I had several lightbulb moments while reading it, and, no matter what your experience level with writing or self-publishing, I’m confident you will have several lightbulb moments too.

The excerpt I’m sharing today was incredibly helpful for me personally. I have a pretty good process for writing non-fiction, but my fiction process is a mess. Their method has shown me a way to convert my non-fiction process into something workable for fiction, which should improve my speed. Without further ado, here it is:

Preparing Your Beats (for Fiction) 

AMONG FICTION WRITERS, THERE ARE two main groups: “plotters” and “pantsers.” Plotters like to create plots for their novels in advance. Pantsers like to fly by the seat of their pants, never knowing what comes next until it happens on the page. The way we work — me and Sean and me alone — is somewhere in the middle. I used to be a pure pantser, and today I blame it for my inability to finish a second novel. Conversely, as far as I’m concerned, our current use of story beats are the reason we’re both able to move so fast.

Story beats are kind of like an outline without being an outline. They’re sort of like CliffsNotes, written in advance, by someone who is barely paying attention. The reason I say that last is because story beats, for us, are merely a starting point. The beats are the plotting part of our mid-range writing style, but the story always, always grows beyond the beats, and that process is very “pantsing-like.”

Unicorn-Western-FULL-SAGAThe process looks like this: Working together, we come up with a vague idea for a story. For Unicorn Western, that vague idea was born on our Better Off Undead podcast. Sean wanted to write a western with Dave; Dave grumbled that westerns took too much research. Sean and I both balked that you don’t need research; you need a gunslinger, horses, a love interest, and a man in a black hat. Dave continued to bluster, saying that we didn’t even know what color smoke came out of guns in those days. He said we’d screw it up, and end up with unicorns.

I said that was a great idea. If we put a unicorn in the story, we could point to that unicorn whenever someone suggested that the story seemed unrealistic. Sean then laughingly proposed that we write a straight-up western, but instead of riding a horse, the gunslinger could ride a unicorn.

That was it. That was the vague idea. We chatted it out a little — deciding what the gunslinger and his unicorn might do — but basically that’s all it took to get Unicorn Western started.

So, after we have our basic idea, Sean will write story beats. He breaks them down by chapter, and we always decide in advance how long the book should be, so we therefore know how long the chapters should be. In the case of Unicorn Western, Sean gave me 12 short paragraphs that I was supposed to grow into chapters of 2,000 to 2,500 words each.

Here are a few, keenly noting that Sean is more or less incapable of writing story beats without repeatedly using the word “fuck” and/or mentioning weed:

The-Beam-Season-OneChapter 5: Clint is now all angry and grizzled and fuck everyone, so he decides to go up on the Mesa, and use Edward’s magic to look across the plains and see what he can see. As he’s leaving town, he’s approached by Theodore (mention him earlier), an orphan kid who does odd jobs for everyone. Teddy wants to go with Clint, but Clint tells him he can’t. He’s too young and will get himself killed. Teddy insists, and reminds Clint that he was looking for reinforcements. Two is almost worse than one since it’s more like a tagalong. He either needs a lot of people, or he needs to be by himself. The kid sticks up for himself, and after a short and funny argument wins Clint’s approval. He finally agrees to let him go. He has his own horse, but he’s so poor that his horse is the cowboy equivalent of a Pinto. Edward acts like a cock about it. They ride out of Solace together. Clint feels guilty during the ride, wanting to go back to Mai. He thinks about his haunted past, and how lonely he’s always been. How maybe all of his habits are wrong. Maybe the best thing he could do would be to return to Solace, sweep Mai onto the back of Edward, then ride through the night on their first day toward The Realm. Not far from the Mesa, they run into trouble. A band of outlaws is stopping by a stew pool, wells of water scattered throughout The Sprawl. The water inside stew pools is replenishing for mind and body. One might say magical.

Chapter 6: The kid wants to charge them, and knows the Marshal could do it. Clint tells him he’s a fucktard and too young to know it. The kid argues that Clint’s too old, and that his instincts are dull. Clint smacks him down, articulating why he’s the king of the motherfucking desert. Way Clint sees it, no one’s in The Sprawl by accident, and it makes a lot more sense to see what they’re up to than to kill them outright. The kid argues that they need the element of surprise. Clint checkmates his shit because the element of surprise isn’t dick when you ride with a unicorn. Clint tells some story about the kid that shows he’s an impulsive fuckup, then they agree to circle around and use Edward’s magic to see what they can find out.

I adhered fairly closely to the beats for the first Unicorn Western book (the finished story does follow the word frame above), but that changed dramatically by the time we reached later books in the series. I started deviating all over the place, going down rabbit holes that appeared during writing, chasing ideas that Sean couldn’t have seen coming because he wasn’t the one discovering the increasingly complex draft as he went. Still, beats are always worth doing for us. We always sort of follow them, at least at the beginning, and they give us a framework to work within. They also allow us to discuss in the middle of stories, because we both know what’s going on — more or less, anyway.

cover-everyone-gets-divorced-1Unicorn Western was our first project together, so our beats have evolved. Sean understands that I deviate and that some of our best gems are discovered outside the beats (that was certainly true of the larger Unicorn Western saga), and many times I ask him for thinner beats because I can never get to them all if they’re comprehensive.

This also varies by project. For instance, here are three chapters’ worth of beats for the pilot of our sitcom Everybody Gets Divorced:

Scene 3: Alex and Andrea’s proposal plan explained.

Scene 4: Alex and Andrea’s proposal plan executed.

Scene 5: Alex and Andrea’s proposal plan horribly backfires.

Neither of us had any idea whatsoever what Alex and Andrea’s plan would be. We only knew who Alex and Andrea were (smart, friendly, mischievous twins whose best intentions always collapsed into something horrible) and what the plan had to accomplish (a suitably “romantic enough” way for our hero, Archer, to propose to his girlfriend, Hannah). The rest had to come from the blue, during the first draft.

Stephen King says in On Writing that he thinks plotting is clumsy and anathema to creation. Overall, we tend to agree. Some books — often fast-paced thrillers — suffer from a mechanical style of progression, where everything is really convenient because it has to be lest the structure crumbles. But we also think, for us at least, that having some idea of where the story will eventually go is absolutely required to avoid a meandering narrative. Stories should be tight and focused, even if they’re quiet pieces without serious action. Beats will help that. We don’t think Stephen King would object to the idea of beats (not that we need to impress him) because they’re not rigid. You think you’re going here, but if you end up there? Ain’t no thang.

fatvampire_cover_600We write our beats with the idea that we’re predicting what will happen rather than requiring it to. Sometimes we guess right, and sometimes we guess wrong.

If you guess wrong but still feel that something must happen, this is where the “pantsing” part takes over, and you deviate from beats on the fly. Here’s the rule: You’re allowed to manipulate the environment, but not the character.

Let’s say that you need your character Mary to reach Chicago for some reason vital to your story. In your beats, Mary was planning to leave her daughter with a friend before heading off to Chicago. But during writing, you realized something about Mary: She’s very, very attached to her daughter. Like, overly attached. She’s a helicopter mom. Also, during the course of your story — and you totally didn’t see this coming — the daughter’s become sick. Now Mary is worried in addition to being overly protective.

Mary can’t just leave, though that’s what a hack writer would have her do regardless. Someone who didn’t truly understand or obey her characters would say, “Well, Mary has to go to Chicago, so I’m going to write her boarding a plane anyway.” Boom, just like that, your story lost veracity.

A smarter, more skilled writer will realize that while she can’t manipulate Mary, she can manipulate Mary’s world. Here are a few options that, if you handle them correctly, would all feel more “real to character” than Mary simply leaving her sick daughter behind: Someone could kidnap the daughter and take her to Chicago; something could arise to make Mary believe that the only way to help/save her daughter is to leave her and go to Chicago; the best hospital for the treatment of the daughter’s condition could turn out to be in Chicago. In all cases, you change things in Mary’s world to see if you can nudge her in the direction you want (or need) her to go, but in the end, you can only nudge. Mary must go on her own.

If you choose to use story beats in your writing, remember that they are guideposts, not rigid plot elements. If your characters start to deviate, you must be prepared to adjust your beats and keep massaging as you go until you reach a satisfying conclusion to your story.

I think that rigidity is what Stephen King doesn’t like about plot, and we agree with him on this one: An inflexible structure forces characters into a predetermined framework rather seanandjohnnythan letting them be what they want to be and prevents them from finding their own organic (and often better) ways. Working with flexible beats that can change on the fly can be a very nice happy medium, wherein you have that organic character feel while also having an idea where your story is headed. Plus, it satisfies Stephen King, which is important because he’s the sage and all.

* * *

That excerpt was only half the relevant chapter from Write. Publish. Repeat. and you can read the second-half, showing how to apply this same method to non-fiction, here (PDF).

More importantly, it’s available at a special launch price of $2.99 (raising to $5.99 in a day or two, so act fast) from Amazon, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo (Apple soon).

As I hinted on Monday, when I previously featured a writer with an ostensibly “competing” book, I got asked why I’m giving free advertising to the competition. Some quick thoughts on that:

1. I noticed from checking out the reviews of Digital and Visible that I have a lot of crossover readership with authors of other books on self-publishing. Writers seem to purchase multiple how to books and take bits that work for them from each. So I don’t consider this competition, but what Joanna Penn calls co-opetition. My readers may check out their book, but their readers may check out my book.

2. Books don’t really compete with each other anyway. And even if that’s less true of a how to than a thriller, I think that DigitalVisible, and Write. Publish. Repeat. (and indeed Joanna Penn’s How to Market a Book) complement each other very well. My books are about the nuts-and-bolts of self-publishing and what you could call visibility marketing. Joanna’s book is a very holistic approach to marketing and platform building, especially great for anyone afraid of the whole idea of marketing. And Johnny & Sean’s is a wonderful guide on how to divest yourself of all sorts of analog thinking that’s holding you back from writing faster, publishing better, and building a sustainable writing career that isn’t reliant on fads or tactics that will be useless next year.

3. It’s a great book and I got a lot out of it, and I think my blog readers will too.

That’s it! Don’t forget to check out Write. Publish. Repeat. Aside from being incredibly useful, it’s an entertaining read. To save your overworked hands from scrolling back up, you can grab a copy for the special launch price of $2.99 (raising to $5.99 soon) from AmazonAmazon UKBarnes & Noble, and Kobo (Apple to follow).

David Gaughran

Born in Ireland, he now lives in a little fishing village in Portugal, although this hasn’t increased the time spent outside. He writes novels under another name, has helped thousands of authors build a readership with his books, blogs, workshops, and courses, and has created marketing campaigns for some of the biggest self-publishers on the planet. Friend to all dogs.

67 Replies to “Using Story Beats To Increase Writing Speed”

  1. The concept of the story beats just seems like pantsing it in shorthand, then going back in for full rendering. I can see how well that would work if you are writing to a specific series structure/genre. I’ll keep it in mind when I tackle book three of my series, but I’m currently slinging out stand-alones. The muse only knows what she likes, so I try and keep her fed promptly.

    1. I think that’s spot-on, and I’d never considered it before. I don’t like rigid outlines and can’t abide them, but beats are loose and I deviate often… but, as you said, I’m pretty sure that Sean is pantsing them as he goes.

      1. I’m going to give it a shot on my next project. I just hope that the faster version doesn;t remove the first draft rush I enjoy so much. It might take longer the way I approach it, but the endorphins are food for the muse! Of course, I do have to rewrite many passes to get it honed down to a point where another readere will enjoy it. If story beats can cut down on the rewrtiting, then it will be a great new tool. I’ll be happy as long as some of the mystery of process remains. I like a bit of not knowing.

    2. Interesting way to put it. I’ll explain further why it resonated with me so much.

      I’m a pretty slow writer, and I’ve been examining my process and trying to change it. In short, I thought I was a pantser and then began to wonder if I was a plotter. This year I’ve oscillated between outlining too much and killing any interest in the scene before writing it, and outlining too little and getting stuck/writing myself into corners/etc.

      It’s very different when I write non-fiction (which is fast and easy), and the process I use is pretty similar to the Story Beats approach. I don’t know why I hadn’t tried to apply this approach to fiction before, it’s one of those things that seems obvious in retrospect I suppose, but it all fell into place when reading this chapter – which you could also characterize as a kind of “third way” between plotting and pantsing.

      Writing is pretty idiosyncratic. Even among long-time pros, there will be all sorts of different approaches. This approach may not work for everyone, but I know it’s going to work for me. I can feel it in my bones!

      But the book is full of great stuff like this, on all aspects of writing and publishing, and got me to think in a fresh way about a bunch of different things. I couldn’t recommend it more.

  2. Thanks for telling us about Sean and Johnny’s book! I just bought a copy and can’t wait to read it!!!

  3. David, about 10 minutes ago I tried to reply to Letidelmarl. It wouldn’t ‘take’, so I tried again and got a message something like ‘you’ve said that before’. I don’t know if the problem is on my end or yours, but just wanted you to know.

  4. I find the concept of story beats very interesting – as I tend to do a one-liner per scene right now, but only for about 10 scenes before I start writing. I tend to get lost after about 20,000 words and replot another 10 scenes, and then carry on like that – I want to switch to writing more detailed ‘beats’ or plot outline before I get into the writing and see if I can retrain my creative brain a little. I have a list of 7 fiction projects on my wall that I want to tackle – but right now, I could only get to 2 of those in 2014 based on my fiction output history. I would LOVE to ramp up to Johnny & Sean’s output, so perhaps this method will help … I will be trying it 🙂

    I love Write, Publish, Repeat – and I’ve read SO many books on writing, publishing and marketing over the years! I think we all learn different things from each other – and the co-opetition works very well since we all share that knowledge (thanks for the shout out, David!)

    1. I was doing something kinda similar. I would start writing out a couple of bullet points about where things were going next, but usually I’d get interrupted by the chapter just flowing. Then, of course, I’d quickly write past my “outline” and get stuck. When I read about quick writers like Sean, Johnny, and Dave (and when I read stuff like From 2k to 10k by Rachel Aaron) the key moment they stepped up in terms of speed seemed to be when they started preparing for each writing session, or going into it knowing exactly what they were going to write. It’s that last bit I could never get a handle on, until I read the story beats approach.

      1. That’s spot on. It IS the prep that makes ALL the difference. I set up my next session, complete with reviewing the beats and having them below my writing area on the page, the night before. Like how some people set out their clothes for the next day.

    2. I think you can grow into it. I never used beats on my own (when not writing with Sean) until Fat Vampire 5 and 6, and it was a very different process. I had to keep adjusting them as I went, whereas when Sean writes them, I mostly just keep surging ahead even if I really deviate. There were only two stories — Namaste and Unicorn Genesis — where the deviations were big and troubling enough that we both had to reconvene and re-beat a bit (Genesis way more than Namaste).

      But I think you can just try it a little. And if that works, you can beat a bit more thoroughly.

      You need to get faster so you can write your Beam story! 🙂

  5. I’m in the midst of reading Sean and Johnnie’s book right now. It’s both extremely helpful and entertaining in massive doses.

    Just know, David, that I still find “Let’s Get Visible” to be one of the best books for indie publishing on visibility and marketing out there. I do agree that these books on the marketing and publishing aspects of the indie publishing business all tend to complement one another. As you say, writers can take elements from each and apply to these various ideas/tactics/strategies to the business of writing and selling books. I certainly do.

    Congratulations on the move to Prague! It is so nice to see you back online ~ you were missed.

  6. I was an avid pantser before these guys convinced me to try story beats. I’m not as detailed as they are, but I have more than doubled my daily word count between that and not editing as I go. I was writing about 800 words each morning over the summer. Now I’m averaging 2,100 words in the same writing block.

    Oh, and I just finished Write Publish Repeat, and I have to say it’s awesome. I can’t recommend it enough. It should be required reading!

  7. Note: my Amazon review of Write. Publish. Repeat. wasn’t live when I posted this blog, but you can now read it here (if you need any more convincing…)

    Oh and the book is #270 in the overall Kindle Store, so I’m not alone in thinking it’s pretty damn good…

  8. This is very much how I work, though I’ve always called it a story guide. It’s there as a prompt, but if the characters have other ideas, give them their heads and adapt the guide to take on the new situation.
    Thanks for the heads up on this book. I’ve just ordered it and look forward to reading it.

  9. So glad you’re back online, David.
    I still think Let’s Get Digital will be hard to beat in How to Self-publish stakes, but tomorrow’s payday, so I’ll pickup a copy of Write Publish Repeat, then.

    Hope you’re enjoying life in Prague. Raise a glass of Svatovavrinecke for me. 🙂

    1. They’re very complementary. We actually recommend in WPR that people pick up “Let’s Get Digital” for nuts and bolts how-to and “Let’s Get Visible” for understanding visibility. Dave covers those bits so much better than we ever could, so we focused more on marketing and strategy and process.

  10. Plots. They’re kind of like gravy, they either thicken or they don’t. I just make up some notes about a basic idea and how many chapters I want, and go from there. Otherwise, it gets too much like following directions when you’re putting a desk together from parts and directions written in pictographs.
    No, you have to stay flexible, because as I have found, people you didn’t know existed suddenly appear out of nowhere and smack you on the back of the head to let you know just how important they think they are to the story. I do like to interview the characters, however, but that’s a whole different thing.
    Following a rigid schedule or page/word quota or time schedule is silly. Creativity doesn’t have boundaries. It doesn’t even really have rules.
    See, now I have to get a copy of ‘Unicorn Western’, and I don’t have a digital reader.

  11. Putting the book on my list to get. Sounds good.

    I’ve done a looser version of the beats. Not a chapter-by-chapter beat, but what I simply call major plot points, which may take 3-4 chapters to flesh out. I’ve only done one novel truly in panster mode. But I can’t work from a detailed outline. I’ve got to write the story as it happens for events and reactions to be natural. That said, I feel like I’ve got to have an idea where it is going to even start to write. Even if that totally changes as the story progresses.

    The truth is, full pansters figure out where the story is going by writing until it comes to them. Which often means cutting a lot of backstory and irrelevant scenes once the novel is finished. It isn’t really a matter of whether you are going to figure out where the story is going, but what method you use to do that. Plot by outline, writing, or a combination of the two.

    II liken it to the fact I don’t like to pull out of the driveway until I know my destination. For me, major plot points work, which sounds one step down from the beats your talking about.

  12. Thank you for sharing this, David. The stuff about story beats looks really useful, speaking as someone who is a natural pantser (and procrastinator). I also think it helps enormously if there is someone else involved, whether another writer, beta-reader or editor. I will almost certainly get the book! (Have yours already).

  13. Bought it! Until this year my best and fastest book was written via synopsis and talking through the (thriller) plot first, and then writing. But this year has been so productive that I’ve beaten that record, and now use something very similar to what Johnny and Sean suggest. A sort of messy prediction of what I want to cover in each chapter.

    I believe this works because it’s easy (well, relatively) to jump in and start the beginning–once you’ve decided where the beginning is–and fairly common to know where you want to end up, but it’s that soggy middle that can bog you down and halt forward progress. And when you don’t KNOW what to write, it’s hard to keep writing. I ran into this in NaNoWriMo and it derailed me. Having even an approximate plan is great so that you don’t feel as though you are wandering in the desert.

    Thanks, as usual, for pointing us to great resources, David. Hope you are settling in to Praha!

  14. if the book is mostly as good as the excerpt, it should be one heck of a read

    and if it isn’t, then “we could point to that unicorn whenever someone suggested that the story seemed unrealistic” – brilliant 🙂 truly

    all the best wishes you guys 🙂

  15. As a beginner, I think this compromise of pants/outline would be smart. In my own work (and also in some very successful published works), I’ve noticed that some books take a little too long to get to the conflict or danger. I don’t think of myself as someone who seeks formula writing, but then I’m reading along and the danger/conflict comes in and I think “now we’re cooking” and then I can’t put it down. If something else had stopped me prior to that point, I might have dropped out entirely.

    So I think it’s a helpful way to prevent this in my writing. I might have a really clever set-up to the conflict, but I need to hit that conflict beat sooner than later.

  16. I just wanted to acknowledge all the good work that has been performed to date by David, Joanna, Ed, Johnny, Sean, and Dave. You are the inspiring DIY leaders in the publishing industry and have taught me (as I’m sure thousands of other writers) how to maximize my chances–and minimize my mistakes–for success. Thank you!

  17. Feeling inspired enough to start writing after hours to cool down a multitude of ideas stuck in my head. Desperately need to create a productive ambiance to light up the writing process. Being a pantser by nature, thank for sharing this article most of all.

  18. Fellow slow writer here who JUST completed beats (a very rough, non-rigid outline) for the latter portion of my second novel to try to light a fire under my ass. Glad to see it’s working for others and hope it does for me, too. Thanks for sharing.

  19. Pingback: Syndicate Shout Out!: Write. Publish. Repeat. by Sean Platt and Johnny B Truant | The Literary Syndicate
  20. Thanks for the big excerpt of the book. I just realized that I’ve been following the “beats” method without being aware of it so far.

  21. Loved the Blog. But this is not pantsing, it’s outlining. One paragraph of notes to a chapter; that’s a pretty big outline for a 30 chapter book. Probably more detailed than my outlines; but I work on scenes rather than chapters and usually use one or two lines per scene on a scene card. The fact that it’s flexible doesn’t mean it’s not outlining. Outlining is a process that continues after you start writing — the outline is a moving target that allows you to look at the impact of your changes as you move off piste. Bought the book and read it. Lots of common sense advice. Loved it.

  22. Good post as usual, David.
    To prove that the co-opetition theory is correct,I actually bought your book and Write, Publish Repeat at the same time. No competition at all. I like reading different points of view so why not buy both? And the same for fiction. For example, I’m hungry for space opera. Does that mean I only stick to one author? No, I devour every space opera author out there. That’s the kind of reader I am. Not sure about others.

  23. Pingback: Syndicate Spotlight #43: Unicorn Western: Full Saga (Books 1-9) | The Literary Syndicate
  24. Excellent stuff!

    Here’s a request: I would enjoy seeing more examples of actual beats that led to finished books… by Sean and Johnny, or any other authors who work with beats.

    For someone wanting to migrate into this type of “plotting”, seeing the actual beats and being able to read the book they built is highly instructional.

    1. I used this method for the first time in January and wrote a 75k book in 24 days, which is infinitely faster than my usual speed, so I’m definitely a convert. I’m starting the edits today, so I hope to have it out soon enough (March/April, depending on how much cleaning up it needs).

      I wrote the beats (and the book) by hand, so I don’t know if I could bring myself to type them up, but maybe I could do the first few chapters as an example for a follow up post, then people can view the end result by downloading the sample or viewing on Look Inside on Amazon.

      I’ve been meaning to do a follow-up post on the Story Beats method as it was a revelation for me. I felt that as I read it, it felt like the final piece in the puzzle (after flailing around on my own, somewhat improving my approach through sheer dumb trial and error, reading 2k to 10k by Rachel Aaron, then Write Publish Repeat seemed to help all the pieces fall into place).

      I think this stuff is quite subjective. But I also think that (if you aren’t fast and want to speed up) it’s worth experimenting with different approaches to see what can work for you. If you had asked me 6 months ago, I would have told you I was a pantser, more or less. But I’m a complete convert to outlining. Which was a huge surprise tbh.

      1. That was a fast reply! 🙂

        In my early days I thought of myself as a pantser – then realized that it was more about daydreaming than productivity. Then I schooled myself into the outlining process doing the complete, thorough outline that reads like a synopsis but ends up being 8000 words for a novel. By the time that was done, I was often left empty, bored and done with the idea after lining it all up with precision.

        Really short beats, one-liners, is what I am going for now. My goal is to be able to “outline” my coming stories on a single piece of paper, preferably with just a line or two per chapter 😀

        Looking forward to seeing your post on the subject!

        1. I’m loathe to give anyone writing advice because (a) I’m still wet behind the ears and (b) my process is so screwed up (last book aside). But one thing I was struggling with as I attempted to change my process was outlining the right amount. I think I got it from Rachel Aaron’s 2k to 10k book, where she spoke about finding the right amount to prepare for each session so that you don’t stop and stare at the page not knowing what to write next (my biggest problem when pantsing) but also that you don’t outline too much and wring all the joy and excitement from what you are about to write before you even write it (my biggest problem when experimenting with outlining).

          I suspect that “the right amount of outlining” will vary greatly from writer to writer, but all I can say for sure is that the Story Beat method worked really really well for me this time. I pretty much had four or five sentences written out for each chapter (and my chapters are quite short on the first draft, 1k to 1.5k tops, and I then fold some of them into each other on the next pass). That seemed the “right amount” for me and I hit the ground running and kept up that pace all the way to the end – bar a couple of days where I got cocky and tried to write without doing the Beats in advance. I quickly learned my lesson!

          I should also note that I didn’t plot out all the Beats in advance, but worked several chapters ahead so I had several days of Beats in front of me most of the time. I don’t think that’s what the guys do, but it worked for me to keep the story fresh etc.

          Although we’ll see how it looks in a couple of hours when I start editing. I may retract all the above!

  25. Kudos to Sean and Johnny for their success and finding their stride. That’s key for any writer in this game, from pure plotter to pure pantser and everyone in between.

    As a lifelong fan of King, however, I’m compelled to point out he wouldn’t advocate story beats. He admits to having plotted in the past, and I’m confident he doesn’t begrudge a writer their preferences in the end, but in On Writing he says he won’t jot an idea that comes outside the moment-to-moment act of writing itself. He insists writing is like archeology where you find the story as you go along, an idea for him that precludes pre-writing. Not that we’re beholden to his ideas on the matter; writers should do what works for them. I just wanted to tidy up the misconception about King.

  26. Pingback: Writer’s A to Z: B for Beats | Creative Musings

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