How I went from pantser to avid outliner

I wrote a book. It was a whole book. I was incredibly excited. I had written this whole big thing and it came from my brain and I just sat down and barfed 60k out into Scrivener (I like to use Scrivener because it makes me feel oh so professional and hipster, and also because I can’t format in Word.) and was feeling pretty boss. Then I read my 60k. This is what pretty much happened:

It took my twice as long to fix what I had written than it actually took me to write it. Then my agent read it and she said something like “Did you pants this?” and I was like:

How did she know? I fixed the plot holes and stuff. But she did know and she requested a full rewrite. And I being new at this whole thing set out to do that. She told me to make an outline. So I sat down and I took a month. Yes, a month because the idea of outlining was so foreign to me that I didn’t really know how to do it. I knew I wanted to go chapter by chapter and I wanted it to say AND THEN THIS HAPPENED PAM, OH AND DON’T FORGET THIS SHOULD BE HERE, FFS DON’T PUT THAT PART BACK IN CAUSE THAT WAS CRAY CRAY.

After I outlined the first half of the book I took a break and I thought about my characters. All of them, even the kids who send our duo off and never see them again. I wrote bios for each of them, I wrote what they looked like, and little anecdotes about them that no one would ever know.

Then I stuck the whole thing in a box and four months later I haven’t touched it again and I’m not rewriting it yet (sorry agent of awesome) but I took what I learned about outlining and I applied that to the book I am writing now.

AND OH MY GOD Y’ALL. It is so much easier to write, its going faster, I know my characters better and its easier to get inside the mind of my protagonists and add subtle nuances to the plot. I know there are a lot of writers who say they are pantsers and if that is true I am not only awed by that but a little jealous.

In the end my point of all this is it takes a while to find your own style, and to find what works for you and when you do find that thing it can be glorious.

What about you guys… pantser or outliner? Something in between?

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Today…

Today is my last day at the Arisia Convention in Boston. I’m writing this post on my iPhone sitting in the lobby relaxing before my final panel. I just finished a group reading with the fabulous contributors in the unCONventional Anthology from the lovely Spencer Hill Press and did a signing. This whole signing books thing and hearing from people who have read the book is maddening and humbling and so incredibly awesome. I’m going to share some photos of my time here. I hope you guys enjoy them! I’ll be back to regular programming soon.

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Its a contest… with words

The lovely folk at YA Lit Chat are having a writing contest. There are all kinds of fancy rules and such at that link, so if you have any questions feel free to ask me and I will try to get an answer for you. The cool part however is what you get if you win the contest. A story in an as yet untitled anthology with the biggest names in YA Literature at the moment! Here are the contributors:

Cyn Balog
Nina Berry
Sarwat Chadda
Leah Cypess
Shannon Delany
Debra Driza
Leigh Fallon
Angie Frazier
Heidi R. Kling
Nancy Holder
Suzanne Lazear
Karen Mahoney
Lisa Mantchev
C. Lee McKenzie
Georgia McBride
Gretchen McNeil
Pamela van Hylckama Vlieg
KM Walton
Suzanne Young
Michelle Zink
Jessie Harrell

Why yes, that is my name you see there! The theme is Mother Goose done darkly. I chose Ring Around the Rosy a really dark version and am pairing it with the Morrigan legend.

I hope you are all as excited as I am and will consider entering the writing contest!

A ring, a ring o’roses,
A pocket full of posies,
Ash-a! Ash-a!
All stand still.
The King has sent his daughter
To fetch a pail of water,
Ash-a! Ash-a! All bow down.
The bird above the steeple
Sits high above the people,
Ash-a! Ash-a! All kneel down.
The wedding bells are ringing,
And boys and girls are singing,
Ash-a! Ash-a! All fall down

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Query Hell

I thought it might be fun to take a break from the writing and think about what I will eventually say when it comes time to look for an agent. As unpublished writers, we tend to build our dream team and long for sending out that first letter (to probably be rejected) (over and over again). So I wanted to share an early draft of my query letter with you and let you comment on what you like or don’t like about it to help me revise that later. If you post yours let me know so I can return the favor.

Dear Agent McAgentson,

I am writing today to query my YA cyberpunk Terra Nova which is completed at 65,000 words.

I live in the Silicon Valley and am married to a Senior UI Prototype Developer who works for Yahoo! doing very secret things. Tech and industry secrets are a huge part of my day to day life.

If I were to sum Terra Nova up in one sentence I would say:

If your Sims were sentient, would you play God?

Longer Summary:

When Joel is asked by long-time friend Chrissy if he would like to move from San Francisco to Japan and work for the largest virtual reality landscape company in the world he quickly agrees.

Upon starting his job and finishing his first prototype -Mika – A London tour guide- he realizes something is off at Terra Nova.

Mika is sentient and Joel is asked to delete her and her landscape from the system.

This command from the higher ups sends Joel on a journey of right vs. wrong – full of life or death decisions and situations. Secrets and betrayal lurk behind every closed door – real or virtual- and there is seemingly no where to go that Terra Nova can’t reach him.

Will Joel be able to complete his mission and save Mika before time runs out?

I have been blogging about kidlit at Bookalicio.us for four years. I also write for the San Francisco Book Review and YA Warehouse. I partner my blog with my local independent bookstore Hicklebee’s in sunny San Jose California. I also record podcast reviews for Brain Burps and video blog at Youtube Channel InterrobangYA, I am a judge in speculative fiction for the Indie Lit Awards. I have a short story in the unCONventional anthology coming in January of 2012. Member of SCWBI, a critique group, NCIBA, NCCBA and NBCC.

Best,

Pam van Hylckama Vlieg

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Pam tries to write a book, the process:

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