No Two Authors

Jan 30, 2012 | This & That

As it turns out, just as no two authors write the same books, nor do any of us work the same. Put four authors in a condo for a weekend and you will observe four very different methods of composing a novel. Let’s take a look.

My space with all my notes and scenes laid out around me

There are generally two kinds of writers: Plotter and Pantsers. Neither is better than the other, it is just how we approach the story. A plotter likes to have the story points laid out beforehand, a roadmap one might say of what will happen from A to Z. Some writers have detailed a synopsis of every point, character sketches, story arcs and a variety of information all written down before they even compose a single sentence. Others just notes that guide them from one chapter to the next. A pantser has a general idea for a story and that’s it. For them it is the thrill of seeing where the story takes them.

I was the odd ball of our foursome, being in the middle of the spectrum of plotters. As a plotter, I like my work organized, a good idea of where the book is going to go and I always brainstorm each section, chapter and scene before I sit down to write. My three fellow retreaters, Jane Porter, Liza Palmer and Caitlin Crews are more on the pantser side of the fence. Jane does do a bit more plotting than the other two, but the three of them definitely like to write without a safety net. I watched them in breathless awe.

Liza's work area

Really? You can do that?

Not this author. No way.

And I thought I was being really out there writing my scenes out of sequence.

What I found fascinating about Liza, was how she sits down, laptop in front of her and a blank journal beside her and she just starts writing. The pages fill up and the journal becomes her record of her journey. Like a diary of an unplanned trip. She writes down ideas, tips, revisions even as she hurries forward with her story. We debated desserts as she considered what to have her chef heroine make for a man’s last meal, and with a pie decided, she continued on. All the charm and grace of a road trip down Route 66. So very cool.

Megan hard at work in her corner of the condo.

Megan tends to hole up, a few notes and again, just writes. She looks online for visual inspiration—Tumblr and other sites, and after a while, the pages start to come forth. I liked her sparse style, which contrasts with her rich and in depth stories.

Jane's cast of character and composition

Finally comes Jane, who is the most visual of writers—she has pictures of all her characters, in all their moods. Sorting through her collection of magazine clippings, downloaded photos, she can show you her hero happy, defiant, angry, serious, all his stormy, Alpha moods right before her, contrasted with the photos of her heroine and secondary characters. And then with her cast assembled, they begin to speak to her and she writes. It is a very cinematic approach to writing.

We all use music to write with. Finding the right songs, soundtrack and moods using songs that we play over and over as we write. My current sound track is a mix of 70s hits that just seem to capture the light hearted mood of the book I am writing. We shared songs and musicians we’d discovered, each of us taking notes of the others tracks.

Really, there is no right or wrong way to work. It is all about what speaks to you. And one other thing I discovered—some of us mutter as we write. And I’m not pointing any fingers. ‘Cause some of us mutter all the rest of the time.


  1. Karen H in NC

    Interesting post today. Love to read about how the ideas get from your head to the book in my hand! Question for you: As a plotter, you spend the time to plot your storyline and develop your characters before you start to write their stories. So, have they ever surprised you and taken a path you didn’t expect, which changed your plot line either somewhat or totally? If so, what do you do, force them back to your plot or let them have free rein to the story?

    • Elizabeth

      I always am surprised–so I never worry that if I plan out a story I will grow bored with as I work through writing it. Characters and ideas abound as you write and I find that’s the best part, discovering the whole through the writing.

  2. Linda Mc

    Love this post. I’m definitely a plotter. And I can’t write to music, especially anything that has lyrics. And yes, I do mutter too…but certainly not only when I write. Thanks for sharing the story of your writer’s retreat. It must have been a really fun and productive writing time for all of you.

  3. Melissa McClone

    Great post. Love how each of you is so different and it shows up in your work space. When I went away on a writing retreat it was interesting to see how we each approached thing. Were you writing on an iPad and a portable keyboard?

    • Elizabeth

      Yes. I have my iPad paired with a blue tooth keyboard that came with my Mac. Makes writing so portable. Has all the functionality of a laptop with the portability of my Alphasmart.

      • Deanna Constable

        I love your posting, Elizabeth, and find this topic and the pictures you’ve shared incredibly interestings. You mentioned that you use your iPad with a bluetooth keyboard… does the iPad allow you to print? I heard that iPads could not print (though maybe it was the first iPad and other incarnations now can). Thanks so much for this look at writing differences!

        • Elizabeth

          I have the first iPad and I haven’t figured out if it prints. I don’t know. I use Simplenotes to sync and then print from my standalone at home. Now you’ve made me curious!

  4. Shannon

    Hi Elizabeth!
    I just linked in from Jane’s site. It’s absolutely amazing to me how different people work.
    I stumbled across author magazine and they have a whole slew of (addicting…I’ll just watch ONE more, I promise) writer interviews online. It makes you realize that whatever it is you are doing–writing, crafting, housework–your own personal process is the right one for you.
    Thanks for a great post.




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