Category: Writers’ Tips

Do You Outline or Write by the Seat of Your Pants?

I write by the seat of my pants and I don’t outline. Those words make me cringe. They’re a recipe for mediocrity without a few qualifying sentences. Maybe more than a few.

I’ve written all of my life, academically and professionally. My writing got high marks and was well received by my professional peers. Does that mean I was a good writer?

Absolutely not. In 1995, I began writing nonacademic fiction and nonfiction full time. In that year, I had a cataclysmic and extremely painful personal breakthrough. The idea for an entire series of books was “injected” in my head almost instantly in a healing transcendental breakthrough. I had had big experiences before, but I’d never had one associated with writing.

A lot came with that Big Bang of the mental/spiritual type. With the idea for the series, I received the self-discipline to finish my books and see them in print. The discipline to finish was a big thing. Before that experience, I’d started dozens of books only to peter out about chapter three. Not any more. I’ve got six or seven award-winning books in print and eBook form. The just-released Mogollon: A Tale of Mysticism & Mayhem is the second book in the Bloodsong Series. Another  Bloodsong book or two will be out in 2014.

In 2007, another personal tragedy resulted my writing in the Earth’s End Trilogy, my dystopian sci-fi series.

Mogollon (Bloodsong Series 2) A great Native American shaman meets the richest man in the world. Hot off the presses!

Mogollon eBook

Earth's End Trilogy - Three Books in One Giant eBook. Winner 7 National Awards

Earth’s End Trilogy eBook

How did I do that? I employ a writing technique I call “literature through disaster.” Giant personal catastrophes jar my depths and somehow kick out ideas for books. And more books. After these ideas appear, I’m able to cut through procrastination, writer’s block, laziness, fear, and all the other demons that bedevil writers. The impetus for the writing outflow is very painful emotionally, but I’m able to finish books, including all the very hard work involved in getting them into print.

It’s a personal gift, literature through disaster. I don’t think you really want this gift, but it’s how I work. What I get when I have one of these experiences is a gestalt, which means a big, integrated hunk of meaning, images, feelings, memories, and physical sensations delivered as a whole. The gestalt is more than the sum of its parts.

Bazaam! An entire book pops into my head in a second. I don’t have to outline it; I just write it down.

Carl Jung on the cover of Psychology of religion & Synchronicity by R. Aziz

In a blog article, I discuss Jungian personality types as they apply to writers. This is very important information for scribblers. What I have just described is how an intuitive type creates. A thinking type would do things very differently. The rational and orderly thinking type is most likely to write with elaborate outlines and methods of tracking his/her work. That’s how a thinking type operates. The other two types––sensate and feeling––might or might not outline, depending on how they’ve learned to be creative and successful.

A sensate, for whom physical sensation and the present moment is important, might outline as a way of creating structure. Think football players and sports types when you think sensate. The feeling type, interested in relationships, and orientating him or herself with feelings, might outline a book as a way of providing a logical structure that is hard to muster internally. The romance genre is to province of feeling types.

I don’t outline. I get big, intuitive explosions occasionally that provide me with years’ worth of writing material. I just write it down. Does that mean I spend my days floating in a swimming pool, chugging down Margueritas while thinking positive thoughts?

No. I work really hard, seven days a week. What I didn’t say when I said I don’t outline is that I spent nine years in a writing group run by a local poet. I spent an additional two years in a writing group run by a professor of literature and English. I’ve spent the last seven years working with an excellent content editor. She’s tougher than all of them. I know when may editor gives me a manuscript back, it won’t have an extra word.

I’ve internalized her comments and apply them automatically when I write. “Your point of view is wandering. This doesn’t move the story forward. Why did he/she do that? Shorten this. Give me more on this. The totally leaves me cold. I don’t understand this part.”

I’ve got my own writing group automatically functioning in my head.

In Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell says that individuals require 10,000 hours of practice of a skill to become outstanding in it. He cites all sorts of examples from the Beatles to Bill Gates. My experience in writing (as well as riding horses) indicates he’s absolutely correct. You must spend your hours in the saddle before you can ride the horse.

As a writer, you can’t just not outline. You have to train your mind to order and discipline the words coming out of you. You have to learn to feel the flow and pacing of plot. Outline or not, you have to work like crazy. And you have to have your work edited by as good an editor as you can find. Maybe do a couple of go-rounds of content editing. Then you have to have your work copy edited and proofread.

If you want to sell your stuff, you have to do the work. Otherwise, you’re perpetrating garbage on your fellow human beings and contributing to the sorry reputation of indie publishing.

So. I don’t outline. I write by the seat of my pants. It’s really hard work and I’d do it another way, but I don’t know how.

Do what you have to do.

Image of Sandy Nathan Sandy Nathan, Sandy’s Website, Sandy’s Amazon Author Page




The Magic of Social Networking by Pat Bertram

Pat Bertram

Pat Bertram

TODAY’S GUEST BLOGGER IS PAT BERTRAM. Pat is the author of four acclaimed novels and a master of using social media to promote one’s books and career. Pat demystifies on-line book marketing and presents an array of social media tools for her fellow writers. Be sure and follow the links to her blogs and the resources in the article below. These lead to practical, easy to use information to make you a social media pro.  Pat’s easy, conversational style brings out the social in social media.

I absolutely LOVE Pat’s attitude. She plunges into an area that leaves so many of us confused and overwhelmed and makes it fun!

Sandy Nathan
Your Shelf

* * * * *

Writing a book was hard. Editing it was harder, and finding a publisher even harder. Waiting for it to be released after acceptance was murderous, and now promoting the book is . . .

Daughter I Am by Pat Bertram

Daughter I Am by Pat Bertram

Ha! Bet you thought I was going to say it was hardest of all — most authors find promoting to be an arduous task, but not me. I enjoy it. What’s not to like? I get to meet wonderful people and have wonderful conversations. I get to write articles about anything I want and post them all over the internet. I get to . . . well, those two points are enough. Or should be.

Goethe wrote, “What you can do, or dream you can, begin it; boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” So, gather a bit of boldness and begin. Join sites like Facebook and Goodreads. Add friends. Take the time to get to know people by commenting on your new friends’ content, by sharing with links to some of your new friends’ articles and content. And bit by bit the magic happens.

Let me share some of the magic that has happened to me.

I was a recent guest on Dellani Oakes BlogTalk radio show, “What’s Write for Me”. Being a bit nervous, I posted articles asking for advice on both Gather and Facebook, and I received the most wonderful tips and suggestions. So when I screwed up, it was my own fault. (I stammered a bit, used too many “actually”s but overall I did okay. The worst thing was when I said, “my books are good, but everyone says that, ‘my books are good,’ so it really doesn’t mean anything.” I meant that all authors say it, so it means nothing. But it comes out completely different when you hear it because you don’t hear the quotation marks. Ah, well, all part of the learning process, and that learning process is part of the magic of boldness.)

I had the privilege of meeting Bruce DeSilva on Facebook before he became a bestselling novelist. He introduced me (virtually speaking) to his wonderful wife, the poet Patricia Smith. Or is it his wife, the wonderful poet Patricia Smith? Either way, a remarkable experience.

I managed to impress award-winning ad exec Marshall Karp with the way I promoted his stop at Bertram’s Blog during his blog tour. Still don’t know how I did that. I just thought I was having fun.

I had the honor of hosting Michael Palmer’s very first guest appearance on a blog. How magical is that?

More Deaths Than One by Pat Bertram

More Deaths Than One by Pat Bertram

Am I bragging? Maybe, but the truth is, I am honored to have met these people and to have shared a moment of their lives. But it would never have happened if I hadn’t created a presence on Facebook and various other social networking sites.

Creating that online presence is part of the magic. This is one time and place where you can be the person you always wanted to be. What image do you want to portray? Witty, wise, intelligent, forward thinking, funny? Down-to-earth, optimistic, casual, youthful, enthusiastic? Helpful, creative, disciplined, worldly, romantic? By acting as if you are that person, you become it. This online persona is not a fabrication, it is the better part of you, the bold part, the magical part.

You might be shy in real life, but on the internet you can be as social as you care to be, and that is the key to social networking: being social. Spamming people with mass emails is not social. Nor is setting up a profile and expecting it to run itself. You need to add friends and take time to get to know them. Update your status frequently (people love to know what you are doing, and what you are eating). Include interesting links so your new friends seek you out. Reward those who post great content by leaving a comment or participating in their discussions. You need to take an interest in them. It’s up to you. You can treat book promotion as an arduous task, or you can be bold, give a bit of yourself, and perhaps create magic.

(If you don’t know how to get to know people on Facebook, start by joining the Suspense/Thriller Writers group. It’s an active group, and you don’t need to be a thriller writer to join, because in the end, we all try to write suspensefully.)

For more information on Book Promotion, see Book Marketing Floozy.

A Spark of Heavenly Fire by Pat Bertram

A Spark of Heavenly Fire by Pat Bertram

Pat Bertram is a native of Colorado. When the traditional publishers stopped publishing her favorite type of book — character and story driven novels that can’t easily be slotted into a genre — she decided to write her own. Second Wind Publishing liked her style and published three of Bertram’s books: Daughter Am I, More Deaths Than One, and A Spark of Heavenly Fire. Her fourth novel, Light Bringer, is scheduled for release in March, 2011. Bertram blogs about writing and the writing life at and is the moderator of two online discussion groups that help both new and experienced authors further develop their craft: No Whine, Just Champagne on and Suspense/ThrillerWriters on Facebook. Her website is Pat Bertram’s Website.

Worth Every Penny: Why Pay for Proofreading and Copyediting? by Kathy K. Grow

Kathy K. Grow

Kathy K. Grow

“She’s the best proofreader I’ve ever seen.” A prominent editor recommended Kathy K. Grow to me with those words. I followed the editor’s recommendation and ended up agreeing with her assessment. Kathy proofread and copyedited my book, The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy, and I’m exceptionally pleased with the result. I’m delighted to welcome Kathy K. Grow as a guest blogger on Your Shelf Life. When Kathy’s finished imparting her wisdom, I’ll give you an example of how true it is from my life.
Sandy Nathan, Your Shelf Life


Proofreading—correction of typographical, grammatical, and spelling errors

Copyediting—correction of typographical, grammatical, and spelling errors, and basic style (not content)

The much-in-demand executive leadership coach with impressive and impeccable references—let’s call her Diana—wanted to put some of her wisdom down on paper. She hoped not only to bring in additional dollars, but also (her real goal) to help clients and other readers benefit from the tough life lessons she had learned.

So, Diana wrote a book, a good one. She was an excellent storyteller, able to pull persuasive and universal messages out of her experiences.

She began with an epigraph, a quotation from a major writer with whom, for many reasons, a person in her position should have been very familiar.

And Diana misspelled that writer’s name.

Fortunately, she had decided to spend the money to have her book proofread before sending it on to a publisher. When I returned the manuscript, her reaction was immediate: “Just your catching the misspelling of that name was worth every penny.”

But . . .

Are you saying, but I can spell? And I don’t make grammatical errors? And by the time I’ve finished reading my manuscript for the hundredth time, I’ll have spotted any typos?

If so, I (self-servingly, you may think) respond: Ha!

That’s what I thought, too, until I wrote a 125,000-word regional history. After six other people—a mixture of friends, family, subject-matter experts, and one real live copyeditor—read it thoroughly and marked every problem and correction, I was humbled.

I was also so sick of reading my own words that I couldn’t see them anymore. What I perceived at that point in the process was what I knew I meant, not necessarily what I had written or what someone else might understand from reading those same words.

By the time I sent my masterpiece to the printer, I was profoundly grateful for the help of those proofreaders and editors, and the one I had to pay was—yes—worth every penny.


But, but . . . what if I’m just self-publishing a back-of-room book to sell to people attending my presentations? Or what if I’m getting a manuscript ready to send off to publishers who will have their own editors? Or what if my book’s only audience will be family and friends? Do I really need a proofreader or copyeditor?

Self-Publishing for Back-of-Room Sales: Do you want to follow a bang-up presentation with a take-home full of factual, typographical, grammatical, and spelling errors? What do you want your listeners to say about you and your services and products when they talk to others?

Manuscript for Publishers: Over-the-transom discoveries happen less and less often; authors have to send in books that stick out, that grab the attention of those in a position to make them succeed. But they must stick out and grab attention by being beautifully, imaginatively written, full of truth and useful information—not for reading like bad high school term papers. You want to delight professional readers, not irritate them.

Book for Sale to Family/Friends: Okay, this depends entirely on your real purpose and your resources. After all, most readers of such works already have a vested interest in the story being told, and will wade through whatever is there to read it. However, some works originally distributed only to a narrow audience have later been picked up by major publishers. More important, wouldn’t you feel better about a book that is the best it can be, for those you care most about?

And right there is the real reason to scrape up those pennies: because writing a book—no matter what kind—is hard work. If you didn’t care about your subject matter or your story, you wouldn’t have spent all that time and energy, would you? You wouldn’t have made all those sacrifices.

After all that, don’t you want the finished product to be excellent? To be done right?

Yes, Really

If I’ve encouraged you to think of the writing you are doing as worth proofreading or copyediting, then I’ve accomplished my goal.

And, yes, I’ll admit that goal serves my purposes as well as yours!

But I wouldn’t be doing what I do for a living if I didn’t believe I really was providing a service not only to authors, but also to readers. (In fact, I actually think editors are working for readers; it’s just that authors pay the original bill! But that’s a topic for another day.)

I care about words . . . I love books . . . I want to help others make their words and their books communicate as clearly and engagingly as possible.

The written word should be apt, appealing, and accurate, and professional copyeditors and proofreaders can help that be true of your written word.

Even if they catch only that one, potentially humiliating error.

Believe Diana, the great writer I told you about earlier—getting every word of your book right is worth every penny!



Here’s a true story from my publication history. I once “saved money” by not having the advanced reading copy (ARC) edition of my novel, Numenon, professionally proofread. After all, the book had been edited to death and I’d read it a dozen times.

We had 100 copies printed at very high cost. When I got the ARCs, I breezed through a few pages, then pretty near fell over. The book was riddled with errors no one had picked up before.

Well, okay, it was an advanced reading copy and not the final book. It was intended just to be sent to reviewers.

JUST to reviewers? Who would choose to review it (or not), based on its professional presentation? When would clean copy matter more?

Bottom line––we still have most of those 100 copies. I could have paid a half-dozen proofreaders for what that print run cost. Ouch.
The experience shook me so much that I had Numenon professionally proofread twice before its final publication and public release. Double ouch.

Ringbinder theme by Themocracy