ROW80 – Round 4 – Check-in #3

Buckle up! For the next 80 days, we are going to rock Wednesdays. First in the morning (ok…maybe lunch hourish…)with some hard-core ROW80 progress reports and then in the afternoon, we’ll have a giggle fest with some urban word insanity!

So let’s get to it! You can find a list of my ROW80 goals here.

Work In Progress Goals:

  • Did not get any further on Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success by K.M. Weiland
  • Monday, I put 3 hours in on my WIP outline (actual writing/outline hours – does not include my obsessive pondering – see note below bullets):
    • Second thoughts on first story idea (I didn’t think it had enough depth for a novel) so I flushed out 4 other story ideas with a basic premise, a couple big moments, and a pile of “what ifs” for each. And ended up at the same point with each and more confused than ever.
  • Checked-in with my ROW80 Sista Nancy J. Nicholson!
  • Reported on my ROW80 goals on schedule.

Note: Honestly, after Monday morning I felt very frustrated (and so early on?!?!) because I am scared none of my story ideas have enough depth for a novel – they seem too light and I couldn’t wrap my brain around the details. I couldn’t see how the pieces would all work together; how I would connect big moments and MY GOD what happens in between. It seemed like nasty piece meal!

Started wondering if I should do character development first? Felt a lot loss.

I spent a lot of time pondering. I sort of came to accept that it’s a huge learning curve. I have to constantly tell myself that it’s not about writing the perfect book (or even a great book), it’s about writing A book to learn how to do it – and learn how to do it better next time. It’s a “Fucking Learning Opportunity (FLO)” (as my mother likes to say…yes…Mom rocks!)

In the end, I accepted that I don’t need to know or understand how it’s all going to work. I shouldn’t necessarily have all the ideas up in my head and ready to go. I should just stick with idea 1, read the book, follow the process, play around, and push forward regardless; fill in the missing blanks and backtrack as required.

But man, it’s hard to let go of the need to know it ALL NOW and have it PERFECT!

I do think I’ll do some research on story engineering and the snowflake method (while pushing through and finishing K.M. Weiland’s book) and see what I can learn from that to add to the mix.

Blogging Goals:

  • On schedule, blogged 3 days (4 posts by this evening) including this post.
  • I read and commented on over 15 blogs since Monday night.
  • I retweeted/tweeted on over 14 blog posts since Monday evening.

How is your ROW80 progress going thus far? I’d love to hear your experience of outlining your first WIP? Where you as afraid and lost as me? PLEASE GOD let me be normal!!!



  1. Natalie
    Your ideas are probably better than you think. You can also check out Kait Nolan’s site for her worksheets – they’re great at developing the story. I like to sit down with a notebook and pencil at the beginning and just start thinking about why I like the premise. Then I start with the what-if questions. If it’s the idea that drives you, ask questions about it. If it’s a character, focus on them.

    Sometimes it can be tough to find a method that works for you, but keep pushing. You can do it!

    • Thanks sooo much Stacy – you’ve been a great help! I will definitely check out Kait’s worksheets and I love your advice to see which (idea or character) speaks to me strongest and focus on that. I agree, it takes work and the guts to just keep pushing! Thank you for the great words of encouragement!

  2. Coming from experience, I used to do my outlines with little or no basic character info. I kept getting feedback that said the characters weren’t three dimensional enough. They were just there and the conflicts were artificial. Since then, I’ve started with the characters (which takes more time that I like) and I’ve found the outline/plot comes via their goals and their conflicts on reaching those goals, rather than something I’ve trumped up for them. Just remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect- it just has to be written.

    • Ryan – you are a saint! Thank you so much! Your advise is spot on and I think that’s the biggest issue I am facing. Without a character developed to pull from, it’s hard for me to picture the entire story line. I get so far and then I’m like “well I don’t know…jeeeze…I don’t have a character so?!?!?”
      I think I might stop where I am at, take the initial premise and do some character development before going back to plotting and see if that helps me get a sense of things.
      Thanks so much for sharing – I realy appreciate it! And love that – it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be written – soooo TRUE!!

  3. I agree with Stacy. It is all very daunting, getting a story down. Personally, I don’t write in a linear fashion in the beginning. I write scenes whenever the idea hits. It could start with something someone says or a look, a feeling, whatever, and I build around that. I did that for a long time with my first novel and did that as well with my second. I then took all of the pieces (scenes) of the puzzle (novel) and put them in some order and continued to build. Scenes shifted and finally solidified. Also a lot of ideas came to me when I would read craft books – character development, plot development, etc.

    We are all impatient. I know I definitely am. Hang in there, Natalie. I will come. Don’t try too hard.

    • Wow – wonderful to hear the different perspective of how people pull it all together. I am feeling less anxious about my stumbling block and more normal. I really appreciate you taking the time to share your method with me because I think each comment gives me a perspective/idea to pull from, to try, to play around with and I am feeling much less boxed in now. You guys are uberlicious!!!
      Love that – it’ll come, don’t try to hard – SOO TRUE!!
      Thank you very much Diana!

  4. It took me more than a year and about 4 entire manuscripts to understand story structure, and character arc, and pace, and tone, and POV, and whatelse …
    But you what? My writing wouldn’t be what it is today if I hadn’t get through those 4 messy MSs. Seriously.
    Writing is an evolving art. We never stop improving, we never stop learning.
    It’s like Diana said. We are all impatient and we want to absorb it all at once and start writing bestseller from page one. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works …
    Just remember you can do this. You can learn and you will learn. Just keep writing 😉

    • Awwww…Juliana – thank YOU!! Love that!!
      Thank you sooo much for sharing and your words of encouragement. I am feeling less deflated and stronger and more motivated each comment I read. It is a huge learning curve – I had no idea! I’ll stick with it. With a cheerleading team like this, how could I not.
      Thanks again!

  5. FLO is now permanently tattoo’ed in my brain. I LOVE it.

    Yep, what everyone has said is awesome advice for all writers. We want it now and we want it perfect on the first draft. Don’t give up. Pondering is an amazing tool – don’t discount it! The ‘what ifs’ are also great. Get a character, find out what she’s like, what she needs, what will happen if she doesn’t get it, and how will she change if she does/does not get what she needs. Play around with it and let it grow. I don’t outline, necessarily, but I do like to know where the story starts and ends, then I fiddle with the middle. Hahaha, that rhymed and I wasn’t even trying. Ugh, I’m such a nut.

    Relax. Breathe. Write the story you want to read.

    • My mother actually has a little hanging needle point with FLO…LOL!!! 🙂
      Amazing – you are all so wonderful at helping me let go of this pressure I put on myself that I should know more or be able to do better. Love how you come about writing and fantastic character development ideas.
      Love – write the story you want to read!
      That literally just turned things right side up for me. I’ve been pushing against writing what I want to read because I wanted to pick what I thought was an “easy” story idea to learn from for this first WIP process. And maybe that’s my biggest issue. I should, regardless of outcome, be focused on the story I want to read. Even if it’ll take a lot more work etc (because it’s WAY more out there and will require loads of imagination and research)! Good point. Thank you so much Tameri! MUAH! xoxox

  6. Natalie, I think it is expected to get overloaded with ideas — that’s how the writers’ brains work! So this is a fabulous thing and I am excited that you come up with different plots.

    I make a rough outline and then change a lot of things as I write. Not everyone does that — some of my critique partners or other writer friends know exactly from the start what their story is about, who their characters are etc. etc. For me it’s a fantastic journey and I let my characters lead me. The twists and turns often amaze me and I know this is because I don’t stick to a rigid outline but develop the story with my characters in lead.

    Good luck. Start with the first idea and be flexible. Don’t worry if you decide to change the core of your novel even half way through or if you want to have a completely different protagonist. It’s all good — just allow yourself some creativity 🙂


    • Awwww…Angela – thank you!
      I am feeling sooo much better about things after all these great comments and uplifting ideas. Seriously – you guys are fantastic and I’d be lost without this amazing support community. Thank you for sharing with me your style and for your words of encouragement and cheerleading. Just what I needed today…HUGS!!!

  7. Couldn’t agree with you more Natalie about just getting through the process – no matter how nasty it is. 🙂 A lot of the questions can’t be answered until time is spent in front of a blank computer screen. But, like you, I wish I could just “do” it and “know” it all immediately.

    Sounds like you are really hitting your goals hard. Hope the rest of the week is as productive!

  8. Nancy J Nicholson says:

    My ROW 80 Sista, you’re a hoot! You do an amazing job reading blogs and re-tweeting. I’m going to have to work on that. Don’t get too hung up on your WIP and the ideas generated. Do a little of this and a little of that. I’m going to back off of my own WIP and let the ideas flow. Sometimes when you’re brainstorming, measurable can stiffle creativity. Maybe it’s more about hours put in, than a working plot. Just some thoughts. Keep your chin up and you’ll pull through.

    • Hey ROW80 Sista – thanks so much for the great advice. I agree, at this point it’s definitely more about hours invested including hours spent brainstorming and pondering. I’ll definitely be sprinkling a little more this coming weekend! How are you doing with your goals? Cheering you on!!!

  9. Hey, Natalie I thought I had my story idea down pat — then I got stuck.
    This isn’t going to work.
    This is crap.
    Oh GAWD, I am a fraud.
    Who the hell do I think I am?
    Then I read something completely inspirational — like Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat Strikes Back — AND on the same day learn about the snowflake method. And it’s all good. Well, relatively speaking.
    My advice? Try not to think.

  10. I you haven’t yet read Story Engineering by Larry Brooks, buy it now. I am only 50 pages in and I can see the light!! Soooo helpful.

    • Well, Nicole it was on my list to buy at some point but you just helped nudge me over. I’ll set off to order it today. Woot woot! Thanks for passing the good info along – really appreciate it! 🙂

  11. Howdy Natalie! You’ve already gotten some great feedback here so I’ll just add my perspective as a person also starting to write a novel for the first time. With short stories, I just write. I typically get an idea of how it will end or I get a strong character that speaks to me, then I go to town and rock it out. When I got the idea for the longer work, I also freaked out and had the urge to push myself through every “how to write a novel” craft book there was. Then I freaked out because I had no clue how or where to start and what to do about outlining since I’d never done it.

    I’ve started doing a balance of the two where I am reading and doing some outline craft stuff, but also letting myself write a scene, character description, etc. if it pops into my head. I may not use any of that draft stuff, but it allows the creativity to get out. As others said, the goal is to write it. Once I have a firmer plotted outline, t]I figure the writing flow will be more organized, but I’m willing to let it be whatever process is needed to get it done. Breathe. You have a major cheering squad with you and you can do this. 🙂

    • Thank you soo much Barbara – so true! I love your idea of reading a craft book while at the same time putting it down and just being creative (whether you use the material or not)! I think that’s part of the issue and I need to be open to it. If I feel like I can only get so far in my plotting and have the urge to do some character work to see if that helps me move it along, just because it’s not in the book at that very chapter, I need to listen to my instincts. I can always go back to the book and carry on. I am SUCH a rules girl and I can easily stifle my creativity with frustration by trying to follow the “regime” a bit too closely. Thanks for reminding me it’s OK to branch out and let the process also find me.
      I LOVE my cheering squad – you guys have TOTALLY picked me up and got me GEARED up again. I feel so blessed!!!

  12. kerrymeacham says:

    Hey Nat. Great advice above from all your ROWbuds. I have a new saying now. “I’m going to get into the FLO.” LOL, I kill myself. That’s great, and even better that it came from your mom. Story Engineering rox. Randy Ingermanson (Snowflake Method) rox. I’m also reading “The Plot Whisperer” and it rox. They overlap tremendously, with slightly different takes and perspectives. They’re all great, and I’m also in the “just complete a novel” mode. J-CAN. I love acronyms. Kinda like JLo, only not nearly as cool. Have a great one, Nat. ~clink~

    • As I saw your comment, it suddenly occured to me that I didn’t TWEET you my post as promised – sorry – habit to create! 🙂
      LOL!! Doesn’t FLO just rock – and yes, even better that Mom taught it to me. She’s fabulous! LOL!!!
      Thanks so much for the books/method feedback. They all sound amazing and I am going to check everything out! The Plot Whisperer…love the title…LOL!
      I work for the government so I am ALLL about the acronyms – bring em’ on. J-CAN! Fantastic….hahahaha..
      Thanks so much for stopping by and offering some words of encouragment Kerry – really appreciate it.

  13. For my current WIP, the character spoke so strongly, that I wrote the first two chapters down on post its and index cards while I was at my day job. Her voice kept yammering through the first act. (It was kind of distracting–I couldn’t sleep!). Now that I’m into the second act, I have paused and am currently working on the actual design of the story since I need to increase stakes, conflict, and put in all that “If I put this book down now before I finish reading it I just might die!” suspense stuff that readers seem to want.* 😉
    My first novel, I started outside in because the world was so intriguing, but I also eventually got to the point where I had to develop character bios on all the main characters to know them well enough that the choices they make are true to them. (I also had a notebook for culture, history, and all that good world-building stuff. It was a fantasy story, so I needed all that to keep track!)
    What I’ve learned from STORY by Robert McKee is the value of brainstorming scenes of all the possible choices my character can make, and then picking those scenes/choices that are the truest to the character and to her world. Finding the wrong path is just as valuable as finding the right one! No judgments at all! As my crit partner told me:
    “Your words are not waste! Sometimes you just have to keep going and any of the rubbish that turns out lining your recycle bin will have brought you one step closer to understanding your characters, their wants, needs, etc…All you’re doing is finding the paths that don’t work. This is just as important as finding the ones that do.”
    Oh, one other tidbit that might help your mindset: Stephen King said in ON WRITING that the story is there, like a fossil waiting to be unearthed. Sometimes you can get to it with a hammer, but most of the time, you’ll need to uncover it bit by bit with nothing more than a brush.
    Happy writing to you, and I look forward to following your progress!
    (*Since that bout of inspiration, the first chapter grew and morphed, and the original second chapter was scrapped and remade twice. A work in progress indeed!)

    • Thank you so much for sharing Liza (and for stopping by – welcome to my humble abode)! I love your take on things and what great advice on the wrong path being as important as finding the right one. I also loved hearing about your process and how you manage your WIP! Amazing. I’ve been thinking about writing fantasy and the idea of creating (and keeping track of) an entire other world is intimidating AND exciting! I love how you developed an entire notebook just the world – cool!
      Seriously, thank you for your words of wisdom – I really appreciate the time you took to share. 🙂

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