Monday, December 12, 2011

Guest Post: Debra Burroughs, author of She Had No Choice

Debra Burroughs is the author of She Had No Choice, a women's fiction novel inspired by a true story. 

Guest post by Debra Burroughs:
How to write by the seat of your pants: outline or no

When I first began to seriously write my first book, a writer friend asked me if I was an Outliner or a Pantser. I asked, “What’s a Pantser?” The answer came back, “A Pantser is someone who writes by the seat of her pants.”

So, I asked my friend, who is a cozy mystery writer, which one was she. “A Pantser,” she replied proudly. “When I sit down to write, I have no idea where the story is going, and I just let the story take me wherever it wants to go.”

I said my friend is a cozy mystery writer, but I didn’t say she was a successful one. Experience has taught me that to be a successful “Pantser”, you need to at least have a good idea where your story should go. Otherwise, you can go off on rabbit trails and end up with considerably more editing and re-editing, ripping out scenes here, re-writing scenes there, than if you had given it sufficient thought and planning up front.

Stephen King claims to be a Pantser. But I dare say he has had enough decades of experience to know where his story should go as he writes it. Plotting a story as he goes is a muscle he has well developed and a skill he has well honed. It comes to him as second nature at this point in his career. I’m not convinced he was a Pantser early on.

Another successful author who doesn’t feel the need for an outline is John Locke. He is a bit of a “Pantser”, too, but he says he thinks the whole story through in his head before he ever sits down to write one word. When I last checked, he had done 12 books, all on the Amazon Bestseller Lists, in the last 3 years.

I believe being a successful Pantser takes becoming an expert at the fundamentals first. It’s like Picasso who learned and mastered the fundamentals of art first, then he could take his painting in unique and different directions. If you master the fundamentals of good writing, then you are free to create and experiment, confident you have a solid foundation guiding your work.

Writing by the seat of your pants can seem freeing and creative, like going on a road trip with no plan, no reservations, and no idea where you’re going to end up. But, I find that having at least some kind of outline helps me to write faster and saves me from having to do quite so much editing. Professional editing can be expensive in both time and money, and it can keep you from moving quickly on to that next great book you want to write.

      My suggestion, whether it’s just in your head, in your computer, or on paper, have some idea where you want to go and where you want to end up. It makes for a better all-around writing trip.

About She Had No Choice:
Follow Sofía’s journey from a perilous midnight crossing into the U.S. as a child to a life of hard labor and bad relationships with the wrong men. Hungry for love, her first lover leads to a daughter, Eva, born out of wedlock. When he abandons her and their baby, another unsavory man is quick to come to her rescue.

Sofía’s difficult, yet inspiring life unfolds over the next twenty-five years, through a series of highs and lows, with her devoted, headstrong daughter by her side. As a young woman, Eva hopes to avoid the mistakes her mother made with men, but she is not always able to steer clear of them. When life becomes dangerous and unbearable for Sofía, will Eva and her beau be able to save her, or will Sofía have to save them?

About the author:
Debra Burroughs grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area during a tumultuous time when the Civil Rights Movement was gearing up and racial tensions were mounting. Her parents moved the family to a more peaceful small town in the Central Valley of California.

Over the years, with a large Mexican family, she heard many stories about their history, particularly from her mother and grandmother. As she would relay these colorful and heart-wrenching family stories to her friends, many times she would hear them say, “You should really write a book about that.”

After continual encouragement and gentle prodding from her husband, she finally decided to do it. Now that their children are grown and gone, Debra has found a quiet place to write in their home in Boise, Idaho.

She Had No Choice is her second novel.

You can connect with Debra on her blog, Twitter, and Facebook.


  1. Good post. I agree that most writer's who say they don't outline probably do so in their head before they start writing.

  2. Great post! I am definitely a pantster. I would love to think I would have the whole book etched in my mind before I sat down to write. I have a basic idea but every book I've ever written was by the seat of my pants, lol.

  3. Hi!
    I have this book to review for the author! Debra Burroughs! I had NO idea she was Mexican!! I just don't see it in her face AT ALL!! It doesn't matter, but I was just surprised that she is!!! That was a GREAT post written by her!! I'll have to let her know that!! Great review and post by the author! You and I seem to have similar tastes in books!! thanks for this article!
    Laurie Carlson
    laurieisreading at gmail dot com
    If you talk to Debra, say HI for me! thanks!



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