Embracing Self-Plagiarism

One of the questions a writer is most-often asked is whether they are a “Plotter” or a “Pantser.” We’ve talked about it here on the Waterworld Mermaids a few times. Do you painstakingly outline things, or do you just fly by the seat of your pants and just write like the wind?

I tell people I’m a Plotter, only because the NaNoWriMo goal continues to elude me. The most I’ve ever been able to write in a month is around 36,000 words. Folks who can “Fast Draft” and do something like 50,000 words in a weekend completely blow my mind. *looks at Denny Mermaid*

Am I a Plotter by the true definition? No. Do I actually write all these things down on notecards and post-its and poster board? Not really. I’ve tried it. Short lists, sure. Bullet points. This sequel I’m working on? I outlined it for the publisher three times. The actually manuscript? Well…it kind of looks like the latest outline…

My online SF writers group came up with a great term I’ve embraced: The Athena Writer. Athena Writers don’t necessarily have to have something on paper before they write it. They could look like they’re napping, or staring off into space after a big dinner, and then once in front of the computer the scene springs, fully-formed, from their minds. This is how I write. I have to have everything figured out in my head before I write a scene down. I don’t feel comfortable writing it if it doesn’t make logical sense.

Let’s be clearer: I don’t feel comfortable typing it into the manuscript if it doesn’t make logical sense.

While writing this new book, I’ve stumbled upon a process that I’m definitely going to try more of. I don’t really have a name for it yet. Maybe you guys can help me out.

I go places while I’m writing a novel; it’s inevitable. The doctor’s office. Job training. Lunch dates. These are places where it’s unlikely I’m going to have enough time to “get in the zone” and spend an hour cranking out 500 beautifully poetic words.

However, like most writers worth their salt, I carry a notebook with me everywhere I go. In whatever time I have, I scribble down things that I know need to be said, or that will happen in the next scene. Doesn’t even have to be full sentences. Key words, bullet points, clever dialogue. In essence, I’m “fast drafting”, but in very short bursts, on paper. And because it’s on paper and not in the Word Document, I feel less like I’m having to go back and redo work I’ve already done.

There may be some people who enjoy redoing work they’ve already done. I’m definitely not one of them.

This way, I feel like I’m cheating. Like I’m copying off someone else’s paper while I massage the details into my own style. Only this time, the paper I’m copying off is my own.

It’s all about the paper. I still love writing longhand. Writing on paper gives me the freedom to write crap,. I can do it short-hand, or in the margins, with picture doodles. Then when I sit down in front of my computer later, I spend less time staring off into oblivion or rummaging through the fridge because I already know what’s supposed to happen next. I’ve written it right there! All I have to do is make it a little more flowery and move the scene along. Next!

In the last week, thanks to some of this on-paper-scene-drafting, I’ve raised my daily word count from 1000 words/day to 2000+. Granted, I’m getting closer to the end of the book and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. That always helps. But I’m still going to keep it up. They’re not groundbreaking numbers, but to me it makes a world of difference.

I am all for anything that can make the act of Putting my Butt in the Chair less painful.

So does this make me a Plotter? A Pantser? A Fast-Drafter? A Self-Plagiarist? I suppose I’m a little bit of all these things. Not that any of it matters.

My editor doesn’t really give a flying fig about how I get to THE END…just as long as I get there.

14 thoughts on “Embracing Self-Plagiarism

  1. YES!!! Someone who I can relate to!! Thanks sis! So yes, I too find myself not really either (though I put myself as a pantser when questioned between the two, I’m definitely not a plotter).

    But I too write those little thoughts, pieces of lines/scenes, etc. down when they hit me (could be 0200 or while I am waiting to pick up my daughter from school). I am never without my litle yellow notebook in my purse or by my bedside–heck they are all over my house, because I never know when that great moment will kick me.

    Thanks for speaking up and making sense to me. Maybe I am an Athena Writer, too. 😉

    Hugs this morning!

    1. It does make sense, doesn’t it? Perhaps we should term this “Being a Mermaid Writer.” xox

  2. Finding your process is a key step to writing. But watch out–according to Julie Leto, your process changes from time to time. I think she’s right. I’m in a constant state of defining and redefining what works. However we get there, it’s great to get to The End!

    1. True–as log as that process gets my Butt in the Chair, I honestly don’t give a crap what it is. 🙂

  3. Hey, Alethea! I’m your kind of writer. Exactly. I can’t really plot because it always leaves me (and the characters) feeling kind of cold. I write in the moment, but it’s not like I haven’t lived the moment in my messed up head several times. I was always a daydreamer, and I still am. I’ll have people honk behind me because I’m caught up in a scenario and thinking of how my characters would react to what another character just said. LOL.
    I think I even talk to myself at those lights. And then I pick up my cell phone and pretend that someone is on the other end of my imaginary conversation.
    I think it’s important to have an idea where you want your story to go, but I think it’s also important to leave room for character growth and personal growth along the way.
    When I’ve written a synopsis first to just plot out the structure of the story, the story never follows. Never! Hey, my kids don’t listen to me. Why should my characters???? 🙂
    Thanks for your wonderful post! I’m glad I’m not in the boat alone. But, please tell me you’ve pretended to be on a cell phone while talking out a scene….

    1. I have always wanted a fake banana in the car to talk into, so people would know for SURE I was insane. 🙂

  4. I love writing longhand. In fact, it makes me feel like a “real” writer. Especially when you’re done and you have pen ink all over your fingers. I’m like Jo March in Little Women!

    Anyhoo, I’m the same kind of writer except I call myself a pantser. Interesting! I try to outline and think ahead but I can’t seem to get it down. But like you, I make notes, doodles, etc. and then I head over to my laptop. Of course, in real life, I’m a total plotter so my writing habits seem to come out of left field.

    So I’m often left wondering what kind of writer I am too. I shall now make up my own term. I am a sparkle writer. Done! 😉

  5. You are a Mermaid Writer!
    There is something organic about holding pen to paper, scratching out words as you go along and adding things in the margins. It would be daunting writing the whole thing that way, a la Harry Turtledove, but it’s so very useful when I find myself stuck.

  6. Enjoyed this post, Alethea, because it reminds me of how much I love my Moleskin notebooks. The first was a gift from my son several years ago, and I’ve carried it back and forth since then. I also believe in writing with pencils! There’s nothing as powerful as the eraser, in allowing you to clean up the crap. Of course, it means I need better lighting to decipher the hieroglyphics, but that’s art.

    (Tossing them in my satchel right now. Thank you!)

  7. Great post, Alethea. I think the Athena writer applies to a LOT of writers. I’m like you — if I really know what happens next, I can write 2000 good words a day. And I tend to sketch out my scenes before writing them, in what I call my “zero draft.” (Zero draft, of course, has no limit to the amount of words written in one day!)

  8. Hey Princess,
    I like it that you doodle. What’s the most surprising doodle you’ve ever sketched in the margin while writing? I like it when faces pop out at me. Cool post!

  9. Perhaps “Framer” from a construction sense – Framer on a construction site gets the bare bones up, “someone else” does the finish work

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