One memory about my time as a member of the Writers’ Club in my high school sticks out to me. The English teacher who organized the club had reached out to a local writer, asking her to meet with our group at the local coffee shop in the tiny town where our school was located. My area oozes writers—probably because of some cosmic vortex that churns them out of the dry dirt, reaching hands up toward the vast, impossibly vast blue sky overhead for literally anything beyond a monotonous high plains landscape—so she could’ve been anybody. I didn’t catch her name because I was a teenager and bad with names.
I’m still bad with names but no longer a teenager. I wish I’d remembered who she was.
My friends and I met with this writer in the evening, early enough in the school year that the weather hadn’t yet changed to nasty, blustery cold. We sat outside, where we could barely hear each other every time a train rumbled past on the nearby tracks. We held our notebooks poised, ready to jot down any writing wisdom she thought to dole out.
Alright, we've discussed the concept of plotters vs. pantsers enough by now. Haven't we? I just know you, as a writer, have bumped into this question already. Probably you've read the descriptions of each to find which writing style you adhere to most. I bet you're sure which camp you belong to, aren't you?
Yet...maybe you're not so sure. Maybe you find a little of column A and a little of column B appealing? I know I do. There's just something about having some preparation to guide my way, while still leaving room for inspiration and surprise as I go.
I'm not the only one who's felt more kinship with a planning process between plotting and pantsing. In "Plotter, Pantser, Architect, Gardener," EV Emmons posits a third type: landscapers. Her description seems to indicate landscapers land closer to the pantser side of things.
So in addition to landscapers, I wish to suggest one more in-between planning style. One similar to but opposite landscapers, closer to the plotter side of this binary.
Writers get burned out. Maybe now more than ever. Hustle culture for writers comes with all the struggle—late nights, weekends, and maintaining an online presence squeezed in around a day job, family, and health—with very little of the reward that should come with hustling. In fact, a 2018 Author's Guild survey shows the median American author income in 2017 had dropped to an annual salary of $6,080.
Yikes on bikes, that's bad.
Writing advice often relates to the same two topics: show, don't tell and write in the active voice. So, say you're taking on these two nuggets of wisdom. You're ready to incorporate the advice you keep getting from your critique partner(s) and your writing group! You've learned everything you need to know about how to change passive voice into active voice and how to show rather than tell. Yet, even though you've made certain to use verbs that aren't being verbs and you've incorporated adjectives as descriptors, your writing still feels clunky. It's still getting dinged at your critique group meetings.
This is because oops! in trying to fix one problem, you've introduced a new problem. And that's the use of filter words and filter phrases in your writing.