Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Planning, Plotting, Pantsing: What Matters, What Doesn't

by Multi-published, Award-winning author Ruth Logan Herne

You're a planner.

You're a plotter.

You're a pantser.

Guess what?

It doesn't matter. Not all that much. Not nearly as much as some would have you believe.

How you write isn't nearly as important as how you spend your time. If you're spending all of your time planning or plotting or researching and not writing, well... then your production may drop. Or be non-existent.

What does that mean, you ask?

Simple. We follow the math. Some creative types hate to look at numbers. It stifles their creativity.


Like so many things, it comes down to numbers and a writer is actually running a small business. You need to know and understand the numbers of your business to make it work, right? We'll keep it simple, I never get complicated if I can possibly avoid it.

If you plan or plot your book for a month... then write it for two months and have a full book 90 days in:


And I mean that most seriously.

If you didn't plan or overly plot and you still have a book done at 90 days, YOU ROCKED IT, TOO!!! PARTY BONUS FOR YOU AS WELL!

So you're equal, correct? Both with a book done at 90 days, equating the possibility of 4 books/year if they're 70,000 to 80,000 word books. Leaving some editing time there.

You two can go grab coffee now. I'm not talking to youse at the moment. I'm talking to them.

You know who you are...

You've over-plotted four books and haven't finished one.

You've written three great openings, and sent them out to editors and EVEN GOT A BITE ON ONE, a request for a full manuscript, but alas... you haven't finished a manuscript.

And therein lies the problem.

It's not the writing for some folks.

It's the finishing.

When someone does the dishes and leaves them on the counter to air dry: UNFINISHED TASK.

When someone walks out of a bedroom leaving the bed unmade: UNFINISHED TASK

When someone adds pool chemicals but doesn't vacuum the weird things on the bottom: UNFINISHED TASK

When someone washes a car, but doesn't wash the inside of the windows: UNFINISHED TASK

Do you get what's similar about all of these tasks? They look good on the surface. Effort has been expended. Stuff's gotten started, but nothing is finished.

That's a common conundrum, and the basic reason why many authors never get published...

Because writing the whole book isn't easy. It's not the fun part. It's a challenge on a daily basis.

Now I love what I do. Like that cute GMC truck commercial, and the wife that claims the big gray truck, exclaiming "I LOVE IT!!!" And the crazy cute guys acquiesces and nods toward the big red SUV. "I like red."

That's me and writing. I love it.

So maybe I'm jaded because I love what I do, but if you also love it, then why aren't you finishing things?

Here's a probable cause: Your conflict isn't strong enough and your characters are under-developed.

That's another common cause of the malady they call "Writer's Block"... when the brain just can't wrap its head around the story, it's usually because the story is too weak to write. Once you've added layers of conflict, reasons to avoid one another, and big bumps in the road, the kind that are organic to the story, not just thrown in for the author's page count, you have the depth to keep writing. Otherwise it's very hard to know what on earth these characters should do next?


We are all guilty of this at one time or another. And the world didn't end. We re-write.

We deepen the conflict, we add reasons why the characters can't ever get along (Mother/daughter, sister/sister, hero/heroine) and then we have them creep toward the middle...

Not like Justin Timberlake in "Can't Stop the Feeling"... 

And by the way, Justin can creep up on me anytime. The guy is two thumbs up stinkin' adorable, but I digress...

And along those lines, as an author I would be REMISS to not remind you about my newest Love Inspireds "A Cowboy in Shepherd's Crossing", a great story about a cowboy who thinks he know just who he is, what he's doing and where he's going...

Until he finds out he's been living a lie for thirty years.

Great story. Heart-grabbing characters. And a beautiful Western Idaho setting that makes you want to move there, like right now.

I've got a copy to give away to one lucky commenter. It could be you... and I promise: It's a really good story.

What's your plan for this brand new year with no mistakes in it yet? Well, hardly any!

Let me know below and I've got the Keurig set up, delightful creamers and raw sugar. You know you love raw sugar.

I just love saying it!

Raw sugar.

What's the plan, Stan? Answer and I'll tuck your name into the cowboy hat for this latest Shepherd's Crossing book... and a favorite of readers nationwide already!

Multi-published, award-winning inspirational author Ruth Logan Herne is living the dream of writing books that touch the heart-- and soul-- and leave the reader wanting more. Book #50 will be published in 2019 and she is over-the-moon about that! Find her on facebook or Twitter as Ruth Logan Herne, stop by her website and email her at to sign up for her newsletter or just to chat. She's a people person most days, as long as caffeine and chocolate are involved!


  1. Random fact: over 912,000,000 people HAVE WATCHED THAT JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE VIDEO "CAN'T STOP THE FEELIN'"

    Just thought you'd like to know that.

    1. Your crush on Justin Timberlake has me giggling. For some reason, I was not expecting this of you. :-) I love it! Although I prefer Justin from N*SYNC days, myself.

    2. Hahahahah! I was too busy raising the kids that loved N*SYNC to know who he was, LOL! But oh my stars, he grew up and he's crazy talented and by his own admission, a little crazy/focused/type A.

      What's not to love??? :)

      So I may have been personally responsible for 9,000,000 of those views. (True? False?)


    3. You're hilarious, Ruthy! I can't believe you're crushing on Justin T. LOL I vote that you couldn't possibly have had the time to watch the video 9,000,000 times. You have too many other things going on. Maybe 900,000 times, give or take a few thousand.

  2. My plan for 2019 is to make the most of every day! I would love to win a copy of this book! Thanks for the chance!

    1. Good morning, Tiffany! I like your plan... while I love to smell the roses, I'm typically weeding them or mulching them while I smell 'em! :) Making the most of every day sounds good to me! You're in!

  3. Oh Ruthy! Your post has hit me hard. My goal for 2019 is to FINISH all those books that had great beginnings. Okay. At least one. My problem isn't writer's block or anything like that. It's just plain laziness and...oh look, there's a cool meme on FB. Thanks for giving me a kick in the pants this morning!

    1. LeAnne, this is a universal problem. The contracts and sales don't go to the most talented: They go to the writers who don't quit.

      You are so totally not alone, so we pull up our big girl panties and we finish ONE THING. The only way we get good at writing a middle, is to write middles. Beginnings are easy... endings are fun. But middles are the meat and potatoes of the meal, the cake of the dessert, the ice cream beneath the sundae. Everything else is window-dressing if we don't have a handle on the middles.

      Go get 'em!!!

  4. I usually call myself a plantser. I plan a bit and write the rest by the seat of my pants. Although I notice my planning becomes more the more I write...
    Goals: to finish edits on the ms I started editing last year, to do some rewriting on at least one of my three ms's that need overhauls, and to start sending out submissions. Also to market my two books published and being published. And maybe to do my normal nanowrimo craziness in November to knock out the fun idea I came up with for a Christmas story this year. That should be enough with two small children and a full schedule of "normal" life, right?

    1. Yes, that's an awesome line-up! The only thing I'd add is to look forward as you work on this year's projects, and finish or edit them, is to start planning next year's projects. I use a two-year calendar purposely so if I get a week of down time (waiting on approvals, etc.) I always have back-up projects to work on. Those down time weeks aren't vacations... they're opportunities to rock the socks off of readers or editors!

      I am a total carpe diem person. Let's seize the day together!

  5. Ruthy, can't believe how timely this posting is for me! I started working on a new idea and have been working on my beats and GMC, my character and town profiles...and I found myself asking the question last night, how much is too much planning? I bet it's a question to ask my fellow seekers! I knew I needed stronger conflict and inspiration hit while I was at the library last night. Thanks for giving me the answer this morning. �� Guess what I am doing during nap time today... Lee-Ann B

    1. Perfect! Another thing that helps me is to write those opening chapters... that's my way of getting to know characters, and leaving openings for more things to happen, etc... And then I REWRITE them once the plan is in my head. It sounds silly, but it cements things in my brain and then I can carry the threads through more easily.

      As a visual learner, putting it down on paper (well, computer!) focuses me on the real story. Not in outline form, but book form, so I can start developing a sense of dialogue, character, angst, joy, backstory. Because once we've nailed that initially, it's so much easier to stay in the groove for 250 pages.

      I'm pretty sure this was a Holy Spirit moment, my friend! :)

  6. Whew, boy, did I need this kick in the pants today! Thanks, Ruthy!

    1. Happy to provide, LOL!

      You know me, I do what I can. (truly laughing, but in total understanding!)

  7. Ruthy, this is a good post. Even more simply put, if you know your characters inside and out, a Book Will Come.
    I don't submit anything to a contest, or even my crit partner, unless it has a full draft with beginning, middle and end. I don't want to be caught short, and I don't want to get off the schedule with my crit partner if my personal life goes off the rails. I want to have something to send her so she'll send something to me! (She's really good.)
    I'm not starting anything new right now, waiting on the Lord for direction for my next project, and learning as I go.
    Cold and wet in northern New England. We had snow, freezing rain, freezing drizzle, and even something the meteorologist called "Freezing Fog." Sheesh.
    Kathy Bailey

    1. I apologize for sending that weather your way from Western New York!

      I like being ahead, too. We never know what life might hand us, day to day, and if I'm ahead of the curve, I don't have to fret.

      Although... (stops and thinks...) I'm not a fretter by nature, so maybe that's a help?

      Not to waste time with worry, because worry is not of God.

      (I tell that to everyone I know who has the 'worry gene' and then they want to smack me. It's how I have fun.) :)

  8. Such a great post! I plan on finishing some edits and going back to finishing a novella. Goal overall this year is to write more books!
    And Justin Timberlake is awesome! I may have contributed to those views. ;)

    1. Hahahaha! Great minds think alike, Toni! :)

      Your goal is the best.

      I've watched so many folks worry and wonder about how to increase readership and I am not being glib when I say: Write More Books

      Unless you hit the NYT bestseller list (and 99% of us don't) production is your new bff (after the good Lord, of course!) when it comes to writing.

      Write more books: Brilliant! :)

  9. I am taking a break to rest my back. I am waiting for my friend arrive and we are going to to finish getting Christmas put away and decluttering so I can write later and not feel guilty.

    1. Oh, I have to do more of that too, Wilani, but there is a CRITTER living in the attic, so I'm not crawling in the crawl space to pack things away in an organized fashion. #catchthecritter #haventgottenhimyet #stilltrying

  10. Oh this is just what I needed. I had great plans to finish my 2nd novel by the end of 2018, but was given a puppy and...well, let's just say that I must learn to work on my story REGARDLESS! No excuses.

    I just read somewhere that cowboy stories were all the rage right now and I'm looking forward to this one! Thanks for the chance to win a copy!

    1. Sherrinda, I know exactly what you mean about puppies and dogs. I love my dogs!!! And my grandbabies, but there is something so fun about a puppy. Fun and work, LOL!

      But yeah... I had to train the dogs that when I get up in the wee smalls, they don't get up. It took a couple of weeks and scoldings and "Go To Bed" in my mean mommy voice but they figured it out... and now don't get antsy until 7:00 AM, leaving me three hours of work time.

      We should form a #noexcuses club!!!!

  11. Hi Ruthy! This new book looks intriguing. Thanks for the chance to win a copy.

    I love cowboy stories. When I was a young woman, you know just a FEW years ago, I loved rodeos and those cowboys were definitely part of the draw!

    1. Terri, I love rodeo, too... and the cowboys are a big part of that. There's something about a cowboy or a sheriff or a military man.... :) Putting your name in!!!

  12. Ahh, Ruthy! You always force us out of our comfort zone! Lol I've always been a planner and mostly a plotter...but in recent years, I found some of that planning and plotting was holding me back and preventing me from moving forward. Don't get me wrong - I still use prolific notes and vision boards and notecards... I just don't spend daaaays on end plotting the snot out of a scene. I WRITE it! Thanks for the kick-start again!

    And I LOVE the cover of a Cowboy in Shepherd's Crossing! 'Bout time! Can't wait to read this story!

    1. Amen to that on the cover... and the beautiful relationship these two develop because she's not exactly a shrinking violet steel magnolia type. :)

      And yes, I'm glad you see the sense in this... sometimes it's better to just write the scene... and move along.

  13. Great post, Ruthy!! I love how you likened not finishing a book to cleaning the outside of the car, etc. And you're right: finishing is hard! But there's nothing better than typing The End! So worth the effort. :)

    1. I totally agree. I always gift myself with something I've been putting off when I finish a project... it might be free time to write something totally out there!!! Or it could be an Abbott's Sundae and I think that's a reasonable reward, LOL!

      I love getting to the end.... but it's not always an easy path.

  14. Hi Ruth:

    First let me say I like your byline. To quote
    Matthew, 5:15 and 5:16:

    "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."

    I would think that writers of Christian Fiction are especially called to follow this dictum. Indeed, placing the author's name at the very bottom of the post, particularly when the name could easily be confused with the Seeker administrator uploading the post, seems very much like placing one's light under a bushel basket. (To say nothing of the fire risks.)

    As for your post, I think it is spot on. This has been the major problem for me. Here is what I have found to be a major factor in not finishing:

    For the longest time I had no idea of what being finished meant! Every year the realization of what 'finishing' was kept being expanded in work and time! Expanding knowledge kept moving the goal posts! Not fair!

    I've learned from James Patterson that being finished for him is editing the whole work six to seven more times after it was good enough to be published. Imagine doing that much more work after you know the edit would take what you've done up to then?

    Steve Martin, in his class on screen writing, reports that he edits his screenplays about fifty times! He develops a "God's eye view' of the whole manuscript and knows when a change/edit anywhere in the manuscript can require edits in other parts both before and after where the edit occurred. Humor needs roofs as well as foundations just as mysteries need both clues and red herrings. (These scripts can have 300 pages, btw.)

    My experience has been like training for a marathon for months, running that 26 miles, and then being told, while dead exhausted, that now to finish the 'marathon' I'd have to run an addition 260 miles. But not so bad because I had 60 more days in which to do it!!!

    Like I said, I think you got it right about finishing but that makes it no easier to do... only more daunting to contemplate.

    "Oh duty, why couldn't thou be a cutie." O.N.*


    *Remember the time when O.N. was all a publisher or editor had to note? While I don't live in the past, the past does live in me.

    1. Uh oh.

      I don't even know what O.N. means, Vince!!!!!

      And thank you for all of your kind words. They are so appreciated.

      Is finishing hard?

      I don't find it hard. To me it's the reward. It's the "Atta Girl!" the job well done.

      Having work unfinished is the pain in the neck and I often have to table something while I jump to something else, and then it takes time to re-establish my pattern.

      But life interferes, doesn't it?

      I hope we all edit consistently. Those who take this job seriously and aren't just looking to get a few coins in the bank on Amazon...

      Or serious money, in some cases!

      I'm glad you're taking the studying seriously. There's so much to be learned!!!

      You know I never read about writing... I just keep writing. It's what makes me happy, my friend!

      I do occasionally make it through a magazine article or blog. When it comes to writing advice, I don't want the full scoop... I want the bullet pointed edition! That's the joy of this, we are all wired differently.

      I'm so glad you came by!

    2. Hi Ruth:

      I guess ON was before your time. Ogden Nash had so many famous quotes that were true and funny that all that was needed after one of his quotes was: O.N. or just ON. Here is a list of just a small sample:

      I always thought of him as the New York Will Rogers. He was the guy from Rye.


  15. Excellent post, Ruthy! Odd thing is I'm all of the above? Some books I plan and some books I pants. Most books are a combination of both, but I have a different writing process for all of them. Hey, whatever gets them written right? You're definitely right about that finishing business. Last year I wrote so much, over 590,000 words, but those were all mostly first drafts and now this year I must focus on editing.

    Please enter me in the drawing for your book! It looks super interesting :)

    1. I have entered you, young Jedi, and I'm so proud of that word count! And yes, you go polish those like the gems they are. You are super talented, Nicki... and I love your drive and initiative. Would that everyone looked at this industry with your effort!!!!

    2. Oops, and thank you for your kind words!!!!!

    3. Nicki, it's good to see you! That's an amazing word count last year!!

  16. Ruthy! I love this post, and I'm reading a book called Finish by Jon Acuff right now. Hmm, a sign to finish this new book?! Great post, and I keep a spreadsheet to let me know how many words I write a week, and I love seeing the days and numbers add up. Thanks for the reminder to finish. Love it!

    1. Tanya, I love, love, love it when you stop by! You've got the tenacity and talent to do anything in this business! And don't you love how God manages to send us messages in multiple ways/formats??? :)

      Vince mentioned that finishing is hard... So if we're finishers by nature, we're a step ahead from the get-go.

      That's never a bad thing!

  17. I may not always complete my tasks because I often air dry dishes in the strainer but thisthi for a good reason...I am needing to get back to finishing the book that I am reading! Please add my name to your cowboy hat.
    Blessings to you!

    1. Laughing!!!! Connie, that's the BEST reason!!!!!

  18. Ruthy, I commented this morning, but Blogger at my comment. Have you been messing with Blogger again?

    At any rate, I just wanted to say that this is a great post no matter where you are in your writing career. You're right, you have to go that extra mile and push over the speed bumps, otherwise you'll never make it to the end. And that's just sad.

    1. Mindy, that's a perfect analogy! Extra mile over the speed bumps... and those bumps might slow us down, but if we don't quit, in the end WE FINISH!!!!

      And Blogger isn't my friend sometimes... and today Word Press wouldn't let me into Just Read Tours and I'm pretty sure Word Press hates me because it keeps wanting things to change.... and telling me I'm not where I'm supposed to be... and last week it told me to "SLOW DOWN! YOU'RE RESPONDING TOO FAST!!!" when I was replying to people on Petticoats and Pistols...


      What form of insanity is that?

      I'm a New Yorker.

      Most of us don't know the meaning of slow.

      BAD BLOG

    2. Hi Ruth:

      I'm a New Yorker and I think we do know the meaning of 'slow'. It's synonymous with broken.

  19. Ruthy, I always feel motivated after reading your posts. Last year I finished writing my novel, but got totally stuck on how to go back and revise. I am going to get unstuck this year and get it revised!

    Please enter me in the drawing. I just finished reading Her Cowboy Reunion and left a review on Amazon. I read the Christmas one earlier, so I was a bit out of order, but I look forward to reading the next one.

    1. Sandy, I agree with you. I ALWAYS feel motivated after reading a Ruthy post! Now if she would just bottle and sell some of her energy, wouldn't that be wonderful! LOL! ;)
      Hugs, Patti Jo

    2. I love you guys!!!!!

      I think Mountain Dew already bottled the energy, LOL! Diet Mt. Dew is my drink of choice so I'm readily caffeinated from morning 'til night. :)

      You know, kidding aside, your words mean so much to me. It's not about how much we do, it's about doing it steadily... not just when the mood strikes us because this industry will wad you up and toss you into the nearest circular file, if you get my drift... because productivity matters.

      So teaching ourselves to get something done each day... a weekly or daily goal and then hitting that goal... that's a huge step forward.

      Bless you both! And Sandy, thank you for the review!!!! I'm glad you loved it, and I read things out of order all the time. And Patti, thank you for posting Delilah with the book, LOL! I LOVE THOSE PICTURES!!! Discerning Cat!!!!

  20. Replies
    1. I got that sunshine in my pocket, got that good soul on my feet...


  21. Oh Ruthy, I ALWAYS love your posts! Seriously, you always motivate and encourage, so THANK YOU for that. I'm struggling with my WIP right now, but as I read your post I had an "aha" moment - - so THANK YOU (again)!

    No need to enter me in your drawing - - I am ordering your book and cannot wait to read it!
    Hugs from Georgia, Patti Jo :)

    1. Patti Jo, thank you! What a lovely thing to say... and don't you love how those AHA! moments hit us? Sometimes it will be something totally off the cuff, and my brain grabs it and says "this! This works for this book!!!" and we weave it in.

      We joke about Mary shooting someone... or me parking a baby or an orphan on someone's porch...

      But sometimes we need something electric to charge the air of the story and it takes us authors a while to see that!

  22. Justin - well, well.

    I just plan on reading as much as I can.

    1. That's one of my favorite comments, Mary! :) You know we love readers THIS MUCH. Without readers, where would we be?

  23. I plan on finishing my novel this month. I have a word count goal for each day. I have a request for a full ms so I have to finish it and get edits done asap. I'm a pantster but I did make a lot of notes regarding names etc and note cards of possible events and catastrophes of possibilities so the story moves a long. Great post. Thanks.

    1. It's so good to see you here, Cindy! How are you doing?

      And I like your plan. It's amazing how a request helps to put everything into perspective, isn't it? I'm glad you stopped by, always a pleasure!

  24. Hallo, Hallo Ms Herne,

    The writer's block I went through was personally attached to medical emergencies and personal loss vs angst / issues with writing down the story itself. Though in theory I can see how that could affect other writers. I'm personally in a better place now to be re-embarking on my writing career, as I have seen a lot of personal growth as a writer by being a book blogger for five years. Five years prior I won Nanowrimo and now, 10 years after that, I feel I am in a comfortable spot to re-emerge back into the craft. I'm spending the year on doing just that - whilst reading and blogging as well.

    Reading and blogging re-fuells me,... which makes sense as stories were what inspired me to write all along.

    I am an organic writer - I might have a few plot/character points with me as I sit down to write down the bones of the story but I'm not one of those overly organised writers who has the whole thing in multi-coloured outlines or uses a digital programme to write. I'm quite a heap old school - in fact what is helping me this year is the Brilliant Writing Planner as it is helping me section off time to blog and time to work on my fiction writings. I love it for that. Plus, I love journalling and I can't wait to see where I am in December.

    My plan really is to take a step back as a book blogger, re-develop my reading life outside blog tours and to re-establish myself into my own writings to where I am writing weekly/monthly at a pace that works for me. I'm also trying to remember to listen to more audiobooks to offset what I read in print to continue to curb my chronic migraines. Overall though? I really just want to feel comfortable again as a writer - I have gained confidence as a book blogger but what I need to do this year is to re-see myself as a writer not just as a blogger. (if that makes sense?) It is a humble goal but it is one I am truly eager to undertake.

    Thank you for the chance in the bookaway... I wanted to come back to Seekerville for the inspiration, the writerly encouragement & the conversations. The bookaways are golden but I love reading the blog and interacting with you all! I've been away for several years... it is a wonderful New Year.

  25. I've been a member of Seekerville, but haven't been active for some time. My word for 2019 is discipline. As you can imagine, your post hit home. I absolutely love writing when I'm underway, but I've been a bit stuck on my second book. (The first is being read...) Anyway, I'm just now back on the road and writing. Many thanks!


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