Tag Archives: discovery writing

A Pantser’s Plight

I was in elementary school when I first recognized that I hated outlining. I didn’t see the point. I remember watching The Return of the Jedi with a misperception that each scene was written then shot sequentially. I thought that George Lucas dreamed up Endor after he had already filmed the demise of Jabba the Hutt.

Writing after brainstorming always felt bland and shallow. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized my condition had a name. I am a discovery writer.

I’d rather get a root canal than put together Ikea furniture. I can’t stand building something from plans. There’s absolutely no joy in it for me. My wife on the other hand loves these type of projects. She likes seeing them develop exactly as they should. When I cook, I seldom use a recipe. If I have a recipe, it’s more of a suggestion tool than a plan. In fact, I make a note to deviate from the recipe. I think that the reason I don’t like Ikea plans and recipes are the same reason I don’t like to outline. For me, the fun is discovering the end result. With recipes, plans, and outlines I can easily visualize the ending and so the final result isn’t gratifying, it’s just expected.

But discovery writing while fun and enjoyable is probably the least productive form of writing. I knew that I’d have to face these demons if I ever wanted to be a successful writer.

David Farland wrote a book called Million Dollar Outlines. For it’s title alone, I avoided it like a plague thinking that it would chastise me for being a pantser and seek to take some of the fun out of my writing. A couple of years ago, after months of less than productive writing, I consulted this book.

First off, it doesn’t push you to outline or discovery write, but helps you recognize your writing tendencies. Second it gives a ton of information on how to use your style to write really good stories.

After reading Million Dollar Outlines, my productivity shot through the roof. I realized that everything I had written before was pretty much garbage, and I started integrating tips from the book to help my stories develop.

Before the book, I had this hangup where I viewed anything that I discovery wrote as “artistic inspiration” and therefore was off limits to modification. After reading the book I was able to give myself permission to make adjustments that greatly enhanced the story.

A little over a year ago, I came across a story idea that I just had to write. Before He Was Commodore is a middle-grade historical fiction based heavily on actual events. In a way, the actual events provided an outline. I was able to map out a skeleton of the story and then discovery write parts of the tale that were missing. Even though I kind of knew how the story went, I still experienced it as I added the meat to the bones.

Another problem with being a discovery writer is my WADD-writing attention deficit disorder.  I am currently writing four novels simultaneously. It’s absurd, I know, but I’ve learned how to make it work. The trouble is that what I read, what I watch, what I play, all has influence on my writing. Two weeks ago I was working on my novel Veil Breaker because I was also reading Maze Runner and something there pricked an idea. This week I am watching Breaking Bad and Reading a John Grisham novel which means I am working on my thriller Unknown Soldier. Mistborn and Way of Kings lead to me working on The Broken Amulet. Steelheart to me working on Biverse.

I use to get frustrated with my methods, but now I realize that this is how I eat an elephant, or four. One bite at a time, off whatever one sounds appealing in that moment. All four stories are progressing and I know that I can finish them, as I finished Before He Was Commodore.

I’ve given myself permission to take it easy. I can discovery write a bunch of crap and that’s okay because I can tune it up in the the second and third and fourth passes. I’ve given myself permission to write what I want when I want. I’ve written near thirty thousand words this month and edited another thirty thousand. Even though that word count was across four different stories, they are all further ahead than they were last month. I’ll get there eventually, just got to keep writing.


jace 1I live in Arizona with my family, wife and five kids and a little dog. I write fiction, thrillers and soft sci-fi with a little short horror on the side. I’ve got an MBA and work in finance for a biotechnology firm.

I volunteer with the Boy Scouts, play and write music, and enjoy everything outdoors. I’m also a novice photographer.

You can visit my author website at www.jacekillan.com, and you can read some of my works by visiting my Wattpad page.



They say there are no new stories. I didn’t really know what that meant, other than there are common themes through some stories, similar character arcs and that sort of thing, but Twilight and Hunger Games were both very popular “new” stories, right?

I’ve been cranking along on a novel that I’ve now been writing for about two years. It’s a YA fantasy, so word count isn’t the reason for its slow development. I’m a discovery writer and I’m learning, feeling the downsides to this writer type. I started the novel as an exercise, trying to implement point of view and showing versus telling. Fifteen thousand words in and the story began to take shape. Then I learned about pacing and yes my craft was full of pacing problems so I rewrote the story. Then I learned about strong character development and so I rewrote the then twenty thousand words to develop stronger characters.

A year into the novel and a quarter of the way through, after several reworks, I got bored of the piece and went on to write a few short stories, my novel calling out continually to my subconscious, letting me know that I have yet to compete a story of length. So at the beginning of the year I recommitted to writing, adding 5000 words to my story each month. Well, had I done so, I’d be completed with the writing phase of my novel.

lego movieEarlier this year (not long after my recommitment to this story) I watched the Lego Movie. I love legos, always have. The start was entertaining. Then as the story developed, I saw my story, the one I’ve been writing, developing for the past two years, come together on the silver screen. Well it was much better than my story and it was completed, but the underlying morals, messages, the character development, all of that was my story, just with legos in a lego world versus some magical realm I had concocted.

This killed my buzz, my energy and momentum. Why bother writing a story that is already told so beautifully?

My dad taught me how to play the guitar when I was fourteen. He showed me four chords, C, Am, F, and G. It took awhile to build the muscles so I could play the sequence without pausing. My dad showed me that those four chords in that sequence were the base of La Bamba, Can’t Help Falling in Love, Sherrybaby, Hang on Sloopy, Mr. Bojangles, and just about every Peter, Paul, and Mary song.

All these songs have different words, different rhythms, different tunes, but underneath, they’re all the same. La Bamba evokes a different emotion than Mr. Bojangles. And I like them both.

So while my story might have been told, it wasn’t told by me, with my characters, in my style of writing, in my world, from my character’s point of view.

I bucked up and recommitted.

Million Dollar OutlinesI knew I needed to deal with this discovery writing problem. I wanted to finish the book, not spend the rest of the decade rewriting it. I decided to buy Million Dollar Outlines.

After describing me to a T, David Farland suggests that if authors are set on being discovery writers, they shouldn’t bother purchasing his book. Well I do love discovery writing, but it’s not entirely working for me, so I kept reading, after all I had already paid for it. He later suggests that many writers take a hybrid approach, using outlining methods but leaving themselves room so they can still discover the rest of the story.

That’s what I needed to hear. The book is a tremendous help and has great stuff for any type of writer. After reading through it, I was able to outline the rest of the story, and it gave me some great ideas on my already written part, so yes, I’ve rewritten the completed section once again, aligning it with my outlined plot and am currently 32,000 words into the novel. I’m back on track and recalibrated. My new goal is to turn the novel over to beta readers by the end of the year. To steal a line from the movie, “Everything is awesome.”