Podcast: Download (Duration: 1:03:25 — 51.6MB)
Subscribe: Google Podcasts | Spotify | Stitcher | TuneIn | RSS | More
What is discovery writing (sometimes known as pantsing)? How can you write a novel with structure if you don't plot in advance? How can you build a writing career for the long-term? All this and more with Patricia McLinn.
In the intro, “98 percent of the books that publishers released in 2020 sold fewer than 5,000 copies,” [NY Times]; How much do authors earn? [BookRiot and Jane Friedman]; All About Audio conference [BookWire]; Google auto-narration video [YouTube]; Spotify partners with Storytel for audiobooks and introduces transcription for podcasts [The Verge].
Today's podcast sponsor is Findaway Voices, which gives you access to the world's largest network of audiobook sellers and everything you need to create and sell professional audiobooks. Take back your freedom. Choose your price, choose how you sell, choose how you distribute audio. Check it out at FindawayVoices.com.
Patricia McLinn is the award-winning and multi-USA Today bestselling author of over 50 books across mystery, contemporary, and historical romance, women's fiction, and nonfiction. Today we're talking about discovery writing and the Survival Kit for Writers Who Don't Write Right.
You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript is below.
- What is a discovery writer?
- How to manage story structure as a discovery writer
- On retroactive plotting and how discovery writers use it
- Tips for organizing pre-orders
- How important is a ‘series bible’?
- Tips for a long writing career
You can find Patricia McLinn at PatriciaMcLinn.com and on Twitter @PatriciaMcLinn
Transcript of Interview with Patricia McLinn
Joanna: Patricia McLinn is the award-winning and multi-USA Today bestselling author of over 50 books across mystery, contemporary, and historical romance, women's fiction, and nonfiction. Today we're talking about discovery writing and the Survival Kit for Writers Who Don't Write Right. Welcome, Pat.
Patricia: Well, thank you so much, Joanna. It's wonderful to talk to you. It's been a while. We were in London back in 2020.
Joanna: Goodness me. It feels like a long time ago.
Tell us a bit more about you and how you got into writing.
Patricia: I was one of those kids who read everything I could get my hands on. I haunted the Helen M. Plum Memorial Library, and I loved it. Her husband was Colonel Plum. We actually had a Colonel Plum and they donated their house and garden to my town, and that was the library.
I thought everybody had stories in their head. It was a real shock to me to find out that people didn't. As I was reading and growing up, I can remember specifically going down to the kitchen to my mother and reading her this passage from Dickens when he describes Uriah Heep as unctuous. I got the shiver down my spine and I told her, ‘I want to do that to people.'
And then I discovered, it seemed to me, Dickens was so far away over there, a different century, a different country, a different world. And what really struck me was when I found out that a woman named Marguerite Henry who wrote horse books, as somebody said, girl-meets-horse stories, Misty of Chincoteague and Sea Star.
I had read these and I was fascinated. She lived in the same county I did. And it was like, ‘Holy moly, real people writing books. This is a possibility.' So, that probably really sparked the dream to do it someday.
Understandably, my parents thought something more practical would be a good idea. So I went into journalism. Not totally practical, I went into sports, especially at a time when women didn't do it.
The last part of that career in journalism was 23 years editing at ‘The Washington Post.‘ And in that time I started really writing, because I had been goofing around with writing before that but I could never get past the first couple of chapters.
I would send them off to my sister-in-law who babysat for me when I was six because she and my brother were high school sweethearts. And she'd say, ‘This is great. Now what happens?' ‘I don't know.' She said, ‘No more. Send me no more until you've finished it. I can't stand it. I get invested in these people and then you just leave them.'
I got involved with the Washington Romance Writers and I got into traditional publishing. As I said, my first book was out in 1990, did 27 books in 25 years of traditional. Kept being told I was pushing the envelope, never felt like that to me, but it wasn't a great fit.
When indie came along, I was more than ready to explore that. And I was hybrid for a while, and then in 2015 I went a hundred percent indie, and it has been a ride. It's been terrific. All-encompassing in some ways, as you know, we can work all the hours, right?
As I said, 27 books in 25 years in traditional, and now I'm pushing, or I may be over 60, I don't keep real close track, but I've done a lot more books indie in a shorter span than I did traditional.
Joanna: That's fantastic, because I always find it interesting when people have had a much longer journey and started out when things were very different. And we're going to come back to that. I wanted to talk today about your discovery writing.
For people who might not be clear, what is a pantser or a discovery writer? What do you mean by those terms?
Patricia: What I mean primarily is that I don't plot ahead of time. I dive into the book, writing whatever I know at the time. And for me, most of the times the books start with almost like I'm eavesdropping on two people in a restaurant.
I hear voices, Joanna, and I just start taking down what they're saying. I don't know their names, I don't know their situations a lot of time. I have this feeling and I'm hearing them talk.
I can say specifically with my first book, it started with an argument on a basketball court between the heroine and the hero, and there was this back and forth, and that's what I started with. And then I had to think, ‘Who are these people? Where did they come from? How did they get to this point? Where are they going to go from here?' And then you play the what-ifs.
One of the ways I think of it is that, I did a talk with a really good friend who writes totally differently, and our talk was writing from the inside-out or the outside-in. So I think of it as writing, the way I do it is writing from this feel and hearing who the characters are and then writing out to structure.
Where plotters tend to start from structure, they know the story, they know the events that are going to happen, and they write into the guts of the character. You have to have both to have a really good book. But it doesn't matter which way.
Joanna: You mention that your friend who writes totally differently. Even within the broad pantser and discovery writing to the plotter, there are different people within that.
For example, you're talking now about almost taking dictation, some people call it, and they hear those voices. My mum who writes as Penny Appleton does exactly the same. And it's so funny when she gave me the first draft of her first novel it was totally talking heads in an empty white room. It was a conversation between two people with no setting, no nothing.
It's like she just heard the conversation. Whereas I don't hear that at all. I don't hear any voices. I'm a discovery writer, but I usually start with an object, or a thing, or a myth. But that isn't the story that I'm getting to, or a place. For me, dialogue is one of the last things that happens.
Patricia: Would you consider the thing that you start with like Hitchcock's MacGuffin?
Joanna: Yes. I usually start with a MacGuffin, or I start with a reason for a bad guy to do something really bad. Bad guy, meaning, whatever gender. So I might start with a reason to destroy things.
But I'm still a discovery writer because it doesn't really tell you anything about the plot, and then I just start writing. But isn't that interesting? I want people listening to really get this, and part of the reason you said writers who don't ‘write right' by the supposed rules.
People write differently. Everybody writes differently.
Patricia: And sometimes the same author writing different books, for whatever reason, a different book will come to you in a slightly different way. It's multi-choice and all these things can be combined.
The other thing, as I said, I often start in the middle. I don't write in sequence. I write what I know when I know it, as long as those words will come to me. And then there's usually a point at which they stop and then I have to really work, then I have to be the grownup.
But hopefully, it's far enough along in the story that I feel connected to the characters and I use the skills that I have, so I use guilt. I feel guilty if I don't give those characters a full life. That will push me to do the not as much fun stuff.
Joanna: That's really interesting. I am exactly the same. I don't write in sequence. I think that maybe one thing that pantsers or discovery writers have in common is that they don't write in sequence.
Although now I'm thinking, Dean Wesley Smith is a discovery writer (see his book, Writing into the Dark) and he just starts and just carries on until he's done and writes what he calls one draft, although he does this circling while he's going through it. But I totally write out of sequence. We're going to come to that moment of stopping because I'm also the same. I write about 25,000 words and then I have to stop.
Let's circle back to a question I know people have, because, at the end of the day, story structure is critical for a book to work. You can't just ramble on a page.
How do we manage structure when we are discovery writers?
Patricia: The good news, but people can't rely on this, but the good news is that I think a lot of us have internalized the rhythm and the sense of a story.
What I do is, when I get, and I probably overwrite more, so I have like 30,000 or 35,000 words, is where I come to this, okay, the goodies from the sky are stopping, now I have to really dig in. I look at it and spread the pieces out and check that against usually three-act structure from a book called Making a Good Script Great by Linda Seger.
I believe strongly that different people will connect with different expressions of structure, that a lot of the structure is at core the same, what people are teaching, but that you need to find the expression of it that works for you, that makes sense in your head. And, for me, it was that book.
I'm looking at it on my shelf. It's getting pretty tattered, but I think I have probably sold so many copies of that book by telling people about it.
I had taken all these courses on structure, the W course and the W structure and there was something else that, oh, some people who had colored postcards and you had to do the scene and have that seen in this color.
I can remember coming home from a conference with a friend driving and saying, ‘I can't do that. If that's the way you got to do books, I am done for.'
She said the immortal words, ‘Pat, you idiot. You are doing it.' I think at that point I had two books published and the third was sold. And that was a great lesson. So many people teach out of the goodness of their hearts and want to share what's worked for them, but you've got to filter it through your own process and what works for you, and not abandon your process. Improve it all the time, always been looking for ways to improve it, but at the same time, protecting it.
Joanna: I think that's really important. You really only need a few things. You need one character who wants to achieve something and something else, or another character who wants to stop them in a setting. And then you go, ‘Really?'
I'm similar to you in terms of just trusting. I feel like I'm always trying to improve my process, but I think it was Rachael Herron, obviously wonderful writer and podcaster as well. She said the same thing to me. I was like, ‘Oh, I really want to do this, that, and the other, and do more plotting, whatever.' And she said, ‘Yeah. But you've written 17 novels in the way that you do them, so, what's the problem?'
Patricia: I'll tell you the truth. I had tried plotting three separate times and each time I lost a book. Well, two times. One time I finally regained the book. But it was partly I guess squirrel mind or my mind said, ‘Okay. You got a plot? You told that story. Let's go do something else.'
We know how that one turns out. And the only way I think you really learn your process is by doing, and I also think your process tweaks and grows with you. So you're constantly watching it a little bit and playing with things.
Joanna: I know what you mean as well. I think you lose the fun when you say lost a book there. I know what you mean. If I knew everything that happened, I'd be bored.
Although, to be fair, some people who are plotters will say that they will do an outline and then the book will never turn out exactly like the outline. So I feel like maybe they just set some guidelines…maybe even plotters have more stuff written down. We have things in our heads that we haven't quite got hold of yet that they're more running around in our brains and we don't get to them until we write them, whereas the plotters would have write them out first.
Patricia: Do you find that as you're writing and you're discovering things, I sometimes will have, well, I always have another file going beyond the book, and I will write notes in there.
I refer to it as retroactive plotting that I'm just, as I'm writing, I am, in fact, discovering the plot and I'm going over it and making these little notes so that I can keep up with what's happening. Do you do that?
Joanna: It's funny, because in your book, I read retroactive plotting, and that's not what I call it. I do that, but I do something slightly different. So I get to, say, 25,000 words, and then what I do then is I stop and as if I'm plotting, I start from there.
So I say, ‘I'm missing this bit and I'm missing that bit, and I need to write a scene there.' Now I know that this might happen. And the other thing that often happens around then is that I realize that I haven't gone big enough, because I write thrillers, obviously.
A lot of the time what happens is, I'll get another bigger idea. So I might've had a scene or a thread or a reason for the bad things to happen and then I'll discover something about 25K in that takes it up a level, and this has happened so many times.
My retroactive plotting is almost stopping at that point. And I'll read what I have. So I will read at 25,000. Some people say wait till you finish the draft, but for me, that basically is the draft that I have and it's not finished.
Patricia: And don't you find wonderful little nuggets in there that you don't even remember writing or you didn't realize the import of them as you wrote them and then you go, ‘Ah, that. Okay.'
Joanna: Exactly. When I talk to plotters, they'll say they found that in the process when they did the outline. So maybe it is timing and maybe we're just doing that while we're writing.
Can we come to one of the biggest criticisms of discovery writing, which is when people say you ‘waste time' because you end up having to do so much editing?.
Patricia: I think it is very much about the timing and where in the process you're using what time. Because the plotters, and this is one of the things that just drives me crazy, they'll talk about how many words they can write, but they discount, they do not count the time that they spent plotting.
For discovery writers, the plotting is integral to the writing. They're combined. It's all at once. So you're not writing necessarily as many words per day, but I think the overall process is comparable and more fun for me. A lot more fun to do it my way.
Joanna: Wait. Can I just restate what you said because it was really important? Which is, you said basically that the plotters I think that books that are 5,000 words per hour always have, you must know what you write before you write it.
Whereas what you're saying is, for us, for discovery writers, we might write slower, as in, we might do 2,000 words a day, which is about my normal rate, but we don't spend all the time in advance preparing what we're going to say.
Patricia: Right. So it's do it as you go or it's do it in two separate steps. But if you do it in two separate steps, you have to count both steps when you are talking about how long it takes you.
Joanna: I think that's really important. And it's interesting because, again, very prolific writer, Lindsey Buroker, who has been on the show and she says that she got a lot more productive when she started plotting. But then I also look at, again, Dean Wesley Smith who is just incredibly prolific and doesn't do that. You can be prolific either way, right?
Patricia: Yes. Absolutely.
Joanna: But you don't have to be prolific either. We're not saying you have to be.
Patricia: Right. And I look at it from my standpoint, how prolific is it if I keep losing books by trying to plot? By losing interest in them. That's not going to help me any. It just makes me sad that that book didn't come together.
And to go back where you were talking about discovery writers and do we always write out of sequence, there are infinite varieties of discovery writers as there are infinite varieties of plotters. I think that's one of the marvelous things about it.
You don't have to do it the way anybody else does it. In a way, you can't. It's like how they talk about if you gave a room full of writers the same writing prompt, each person would come up with a different story.
And I think in a way we're also saying, ‘Okay. Get what's in your head onto a page to be able to convey it to another human being.' And there are infinite ways to do that. However you do it is what works. I hate when there's this pressure to do it a certain way or a pressure to not do it a certain way. Because it makes you question it and that takes so much of the joy out of it.
Joanna: Exactly. If you want to go and do something miserable, then stick at the day job!
Patricia: Isn't that the truth? There's so many other jobs you could do where you make you more money, easier hours, and frankly, an easier boss.
Joanna: Yeah. That would make you more money but you may be miserable.
I do want to ask a practical question though on pre-orders. Because this is something I really struggle with.
When we publish wide, one of the best tips is to do long pre-orders but I can't do a pre-order because I might not know the title. I don't know what book I'm going to write. I definitely don't know the plot.
So how could I do a pre-order? Yes, there are assetless pre-orders where you just put a placeholder, but I don't see much point in doing that. What I normally do now is when I finish the first draft, then I put a pre-order up because I know what's happening.
How do you do pre-orders? Or do you wait?
Patricia: I come right up to deadline. Deadline, it makes me let go of the book. So, pre-order, first, is an element of a deadline for me. Well, it depends. I have several series going, actually, I have three mystery series and six romance series going.
Joanna: Oh my goodness. That's crazy.
Patricia: It is crazy. I'll have to come back to this. In fact, there was just a discussion on an author group about this, a Facebook group about what do you put, and I was just astonished that some people put, not only the finished book, but the finished cover rather, but the finished blurb.
I tend to have a finished cover in these series because I know what the series look is for the cover. And so there's only a limited number of elements that are changing. So the cover can be done. And besides that it's somebody else doing it, not me. The blurb, however, is sort of a book will be here someday. Book 10 in this series is coming and it's called this.
Joanna: I think that's good to know because pre-orders are important, but this doesn't stop people doing them.
Given that you mentioned how many series you have, do you have series bibles for your books?
Joanna: So glad you said that, because every time I finish, I'm like, ‘I really need to do a series bible' and then I just never do, because again, it feels a bit like a plotting thing.
Patricia: Well, two things I do have, the woman has been proofing my books for me has created a character list, because in this one mystery series I'm looking at book 11, there've been a lot of characters and I've killed them off and I find I have a tendency to reuse certain names. So, that's an effort to keep me controlled so I can go and check whether I've used the names or not.
The other thing I found was this fabulous app called SeekFast. I have the first 10 books of this series, and then I can search. And one of the names I use a lot is Henry. If there's a walk-on male, he's Henry. So I can go in and search Henry and it will pull up the references to that in all of the books and I can see how many times I've used it, or what was the specific name of the museum that I just threw off and thought I would never use again and here I need to know the name again.
So I can go in and search museum and it will search across all of the books in the series.
Joanna: I do that. I have a one Vellum file with all my books in each series in, so I do the searching. That's basically how I manage it too, which is, again, interesting, isn't it? That we do something similar.
Whereas I feel like people who love all the detailed plotting and all the spreadsheets have these really intricate series bibles and sort of very extra material, I think. I don't have extra material. I just search my existing material like you.
Patricia: We're a need-to-know basis. The information as you need it.
Joanna: For people who are still interested in traditional publishing, because you obviously did so much in traditional publishing first. A lot of traditional publishers want three chapters and an outline.
What happened when you were in traditional publishing?
Patricia: It was hell. It was hell, especially the synopsis. And used to refer to it as the S-word because it was just so brutal.
And the other thing that happened to me in traditional publishing is I had, with one publisher I think had 24 books and I had 32 editors. And it wasn't because I was so difficult by any means. One thing, I would hit deadline and they'd say I'd screwed up their schedule because they hadn't planned on it coming in on time, so they'd give it to somebody else. But a couple of them that I had were wonderful because they would say, ‘Give us the gist of the story.' And then I'd get into the process and they'd say, ‘How far along are you in?' I would say, ‘Well, I've got about 30,000 words, but not…' And we'd say together, ‘necessarily the first 30,000.'
But it was not a good fit for me. And I wasn't a good fit for traditional because there are reasons they need that information. It isn't just arbitrary. But it was not a good fit. And it's one of the reasons I think indie has suited me so well and has been such a relief.
I don't do ARCs. I don't do advanced reader copies. I don't try to get early reviews because I'm not early. I meet deadline, but I am not early.
Joanna: I pretty much send out ebook ARCs two weeks before when basically I've uploaded my book and everything's finished. And again, similarly to you, I think a lot of the ARCs in traditional publishing need to be three to six months before, and that's just not how we work. So I think that's great.
I think that will help people. Your book is absolutely full of tips, but any final one thing that you think is most important?
Any other tips for discovery writers that come up often?
Patricia: Okay. My number one piece of advice for all aspects of writing is, all writing advice, whether it's process, or business, or any of it, is, a buffet. It is not a fixed menu.
You get to pick and choose what you're going to try. Somebody gives you six steps, you can take just one. You can ignore all of them. And try it, see what happens, but in a controlled way so you don't just turn your whole world upside down. So, that's my number one.
A really practical thing for those of us who don't write in order and don't use… You use Scrivener, right?
Patricia: I tried it, but it didn't gel for me. I'm in Word. But I have discovered, actually, a good friend, Dale Mayer, pointed out, using headings. And what I do is I will be writing something and I will just call it chapter/break and then they find out something whatever it is. Some descriptive and I make that a heading.
Then over on the left side of my document, and I can toggle it on or off, I have this whole list of headings and then you can just take the heading and move it. And you're moving the whole chunk instead of cutting and pasting chunks, which is what I think I had in, I know I had it in ‘Survival Kit.'
So this has been fabulous. I love this. And then I just discovered a few days ago that you can print out just that heading information. And so you can see it on paper.
Joanna: That's pretty much why I love Scrivener because it does all of that and it's really designed for dragging and dropping and I can put all my research in. And I did my first novel with Word and I just hated it. But again, there are no rules, as we said.
Patricia: Yes. No rules.
Joanna: Find what works for you and use what you're comfortable with. I haven't been on a PC for over a decade. So, for me to go anywhere near Word would just not work.
Patricia: I found Scrivener, to me, I couldn't see all the pieces laid out as well and it felt more siloed, but I know it works for a lot of people, so that's why I tried it. And I think that if you don't try it, if you don't try many of these things, you could be missing out. So, give it a shot, and that goes for everything. That goes back to my buffet; see what tastes good. Just don't fill your whole plate with it and give everything else away.
Joanna: All of that is fantastic, and I totally agree on all the writing process. And obviously you've now got, as you said, over 60 books, we think, everyone stopped counting. So you've learned how to do this writing journey and obviously you're still experimenting, which is fantastic.
The other thing is, you've been in this industry for 30-plus years now. And I really love talking to authors like yourself and obviously Kris Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith, who've been on the show and Kevin J. Anderson.
I just love talking to authors who have managed to keep a career going for this long. Because, let's face it, I love indie authors, but there's a lot of indie authors who are like, ‘This is the answer and I've been doing it a year, or five years.' Or even me, I've been doing a decade. But that's why I wanted to ask from you is, how have you kept this going for so long?
What keeps the longevity going?
Patricia: Stubbornness doesn't hurt. I will say that. I think knowing the reason that you're writing, what is that core drive?
I did a keynote for the Australian Romance Writers in 2015 and then I recorded some of it, and within it, and it's on YouTube, I think it's called ‘Three Words on Writing.' I do an exercise that helps get you to what is the number one reason that you're writing.
For me, the first time I did this, it was actually, it was a shock. But the number one reason was to get these people out of my head. And that is very telling because there's so many things that you do, in the business especially, that have no benefit to getting the people out of my head, but I need to get these people out of my head because more people are coming in and the waiting room gets really loud, and cranky, and jammed.
So I keep coming back to that. Is this going to help get these people out of my head? I think that is one, knowing why you write. And it can be that you're writing for the money, or it can be that you're writing for fame, or it can be that you're writing to make a point about something specific, or you're writing to work through things that happened in your life.
Joanna: Or figure out what you think, that's one of my reasons.
Patricia: Yes. Isn't that interesting you realize what you think as you type the words?
Joanna: I don't know what I think until I write it.
Patricia: Me too. So, that is one thing. I also think taking a long view of it is important. I don't want to write just one perfect book. I actually, in a way, I don't want to write a perfect book because what would be the push to write more books?
I want a career. I don't want a one mega-bestseller. I'm very happy being not super well-known, not well-known six-figure author who has 60 books. That works for me. I get to keep telling stories and I get keep getting these people out of my head.
Joanna: I really like that because I've also been thinking about this in terms of the not very well-known six-figure author who just enjoys writing this. I think this is actually perfect.
Because most of us are introverts, most of us don't want to go on TV, don't want to be famous. Look at the people, the writers who get these seven-figure deals and then get totally shredded in social media or whatever and I'm just like, ‘Do you know what? I'm just quite happy being in our little friendly corner of the internet.'
Patricia: Absolutely. Yes. I love that.
Joanna: That's very encouraging to people. And to have a long-term career like you have and still are having, that's probably the most important thing, is that there's a contentment with just being happy writing.
Patricia: Absolutely. Some of the beginning writers can get caught up in the market of people saying, ‘Oh, get rich quick. Do it this way. You can have a big career really fast if you follow these five steps, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.' What I have seen is that a lot of those people are not writing, especially long-term. They may still be in the industry, but they are publishers or related entrepreneurs. They are not writing. I want to write. I don't want all that other stuff.
I do the business and it's important, it supports the writing. But it supports the writing, the writing doesn't support the business.
Something really practical, I will say, for long term, so my number one thing would be tend to the writing. Take care of it. Enjoy it. Enjoy the process. And then I would also really warn people about not getting on a financial treadmill where you have to produce so many books a year to support and you're always behind.
I'm a big believer in no debt, stay ahead financially, put some aside each month for those annual bills that are going to come up, taxes.
Joanna: Mine's website hosting. That's a big one.
Patricia: Yes. With all your audio, it's going to be huge. So instead of just getting that huge bill one month a year and going, ‘Ah,' put some aside for it each month. I have cushions and then I have cushions for the cushions. And then I have cushions by category.
And then I have something I call bad month fund. So it's a line item on my budget that I just keep adding money into it. And if something falls off the cliff at some point, then I've got that cushion. And what it boils down to is, don't let the business run your writing. So I'm very practical about that.
I also, I know you've talked about investing. I'm with you all the way there. Low expense investing regularly and have time work in your favor, and especially those who are listening who are out there younger, put the money away now. So much less money that you have to put away now and come up with the same amount when you're going to need it when you're older.
Joanna: That's fantastic. And I think at the end of the day it's not sexy. It's not a get-rich scheme, but it's going to give you a long-term writing career, following those rules.
Patricia: Exactly. You get to keep doing it. You get to keep doing the writing.
The other thing, Joanna, is I hear, and I read, and I see authors coming in and approaching this with a sort of hunched over mode of fear, and I hate that. I think it comes from thinking that if they can find the exact right steps that they're guaranteed and if they're not a success, it's because they didn't find the right steps in the right order and they should've bought another program and all this stuff. I think that's so misleading.
First of all, it makes me sad that people are clenched. The people who are selling those programs can be doing it from a good space, but they're looking retroactively at what worked for them. What worked for them, so that's one factor, the individual, and then it's also the time factor because it has to be retroactive, which means they were doing it in a different time from when the new people are trying to do it. And things change so much that it's not always beneficial.
I keep coming back to, build your own career, build the career the way you want to succeed, and then that is success. If you're doing something that you like for a long time and you're able to keep doing it, holy moly, that is success.
Joanna: That is. And that is a great way to finish. So, Pat, where can people find you and your books online?
Patricia: patriciamclinn.com. Also, I do a podcast, authorslovereaders.com, where I interview authors from a reader's standpoint. So it's not as much the inside baseball discussion, but more about the questions that readers would like to ask authors, including you, J.F. Penn. Had a good time talking with you.
So, those are the main places. I'm on Facebook as Patricia McLinn. I'm trying to pull back, actually, but I'm on Instagram. I think there it's Patricia McLinn Author on Twitter
Joanna: Thanks so much for your time, Pat. That was great.
Patricia: Thank you so much.
Mind blown – that is my process, that is how I work, that is how I think. I am sitting here just thinking… wait, that’s me. Head full of characters, feeling shame that I don’t finish their stories after hitting the 30-50k word mark.
I don’t want to be famous; dear god, I could not think of anything worse. Ewww.
I ran off and bought her writing book immediately.
Joanna Penn says
I’m so glad it resonated, Anne-Maree!
Chris Bardell says
Really good episode. Great guest + great questions = excellent interview. Lots of info to mine there, will come back to this one again. Thanks as always, Joanna.
Joanna Penn says
Thanks, Chris. Glad it was useful.
Claire Fishback says
So many gems in this episode! I basically nodded along the entire listen. So validating to hear two super successful authors talk about discovery writing! I have a mug that says, “Trust the Process.” It reminds me to step back and remember plotting doesn’t work for me, that my “non-process” IS in fact a process.
I agree with Patricia: So many “lost” books because of trying to be a plotter.
Loved every moment!
Zayden Wood says
Hi Patricia! Yo are right, Not everybody has the capability to come up with a story. Sometimes it is hidden talent and kids or people do not know that they possess any such talent. As a part of any academic activity when students are asked to write story or essay, a few kids amaze their teachers and parents by their fabulous imaginary story or essay writing skill. Sometimes there are fantastic teachers and parents who figure out this talent in kids and motivate them for writing. The students in high school and colleges who want to pursue their passion of writing will be benefitted from your tips and tricks. Thanks for sharing this transcription and wonderful writing tips and tricks in your blogs.
Ranee Boyd Tomlin says
I love Patricia’s “buffet” advice, and I can hardly wait to read *Survival Kit* because of many things she says in this interview. I’m also thrilled to find a writing pro who uses Word instead of Scrivener. I’ve tried Scrivener three times, and I still detest it. I can do everything in Word that other folks do in Scrivener, plus more.
To each their own, and it’s nice to hear a voice of experience who doesn’t push “one right way.” Thank you. My favorite podcast in a long time!
Joanna Penn says
Thanks, Ranee, and I’m so glad it resonated with you!
S. J. Pajonas says
Oh my god, thank you so much for mentioning that searching hack of yours by putting all of your books into one Scrivener document! Here I am, writing a spin-off series and I’m constantly re-opening books from the original series and searching. It’s such a pain when I can’t remember which book I mentioned whatever in. Today, I started a master Scrivener file and put all my books in. This is such a handy tip and will save me loads of time. Because I will never NOT be a discovery writer, so I might as well make the technology work FOR me. Thank you!
Joanna Penn says
Glad to help, Steph! I actually keep them in Vellum as I prefer the interface, but Scrivener performs the same function for this idea of a world bible 🙂
Rick Williams Sr says
Craft discussion was great and so was the “business supports the writing” last section. During my first “3 qtrs” I was a successful biotech entrepreneur. I followed the Penn/McLinn Model during that career-building phase and also funded my various writing sabbaticals (Amer history bks). Now I am able to pursue my “writing with grandkids” fourth-quarter without having the Democles sword hanging over my head. Thx to Joanna and Patricia for their open discussion!
Shannon O'Hara says
Before I read this, I didn’t know there were discovery writers and pantsers. I am kind of glad I relate to a discovery writer which is covered a lot in this interview!
I feel so understood compared to other articles/ podcasts that generally say let it flow or just do you.
There was a lot of useful information in this too! As a blogger about attaining skills and sharing what I’ve found to help on the journey of a writer, this has been invaluable 🙂
Joanna Penn says
Glad it helped, Shannon!
Clive Warner says
A fascinating article and I absolutely agree. I’m a discovery writer, too. There’s a thing I often notice in plot writers – most especially in film – that immediately destroys the story for me. And that is, making characters do something that is against their desires and needs. Here is an example:
In The Blair Witch Project, the girl in the party constantly urges on the guys. Even after bad things have started to happen and it’s beginning to get dark and it looks like worse things lie ahead, when one of the guys wants to sensibly turn back, she convinces them to continue. And they do! They continue depite the fact that inside MY head I am shouting, ‘Are you stupid, do you want to die? Tell the girl she can go on by herself but you’re going home.’
At that point I want to demolish the TV. I certainly turn off the film and then I spend the rest of my life telling everyone who’ll listen, what awful, rubbish, no-talent screenwriters must have written Blair Witch.
But how do you know that the writers of Blair Witch were plotters rather than discovery writers? And do you think that kind of thing never happens with discovery writing? Genuinely curious!
Anne DeMarsay says
I like the term “discovery writer” much better than “pantser.” Whatever name you give to this kind of writer, I am one. I can plot a few scenes ahead once I’ve gotten into a story, but plotting the whole thing in advance? I would “lose” the book, too. But then again, I hated outlining research papers in school, and the papers never followed the outline anyway (and turned out better). Thank you, Joanna and Patricia, for this enlightening interview, and I’m going to order the “survival kit” right away.
Deborah Monshin says
Fantastic interview, thank you both.
I also write in chunks and non sequentially! I thought I was ‘doing it wrong’, but its refreshing to hear I’m not alone. Lol. All the best to you both. Deborah
Thanks for normalizing my intuitive way of writing. When Joanna mentioned “squirrel mind” not being terribly interested in writing the story once it was plotted because you already knew how it ended, I recognized the feeling!