Friday, April 29, 2016

How to Use Different Points of View in Your Story

Teri, a blog reader, sent in a great question about points of view.  I've gotten variations of this question often in my online classes.  Teri's two narrators switch back and forth, alternating chapters. 

She wondered if she needed to make their amount of chapters equal.  Does she need as many chapters from her male character's point of view as from her female's?

Variations of this question crop up often in my online classes. 

How many points of view (narrators) can you have in one book without confusing the reader?

Can I use both first person and third person in one book?

Can I switch narrators in the middle of a scene?

My experience:  In early drafts, the golden advice is just to keep writing.  Get the stuff on the page, don't worry too much who is telling the story.  I often find that I will write a scene or chapter from one narrator's point of view, then go back and switch later.  I often don't know who tells it best, when I begin.

I cite Barbara Kingsolver as backup for this:  She wrote each chapter of The Poisonwood Bible from all seven points of view (she had seven characters) to determine the best narrator for that chapter.

I'm not going that far.  I don't have seven narrators (not yet, anyway).  But I do find a lot of juicy information comes from trying out the same scene from different points of view.

If you get the draft on the page and it's a rough SFD (shitty first draft, a great term coined by writer Anne Lamott), you can begin thinking about these finer details of narration.  Let's look at each question individually.

Do I need to have equal amount of real estate for each narrator?

No.  But you do need to make sure that narrator doesn't drop out of sight.  If the reader loses track of one of your narrators, it'll be hard to bring them back.

When I am not using that narrator's point of view in chapters, I'll try to keep them in view in other ways:  dialogue about them, for instance. 

How many narrators can you have without confusing the reader?

One of my teachers said this:  "Seven people is the most we can keep track of onstage."  In my experience, that's true. 

If you're writing a saga, and you have more than seven narrators, include a diagram or chart in the front of the book (if you need to use the DVD jacket to follow who is who in Game of Thrones, you know what I mean).

Otherwise, try to trim back.  I had four when I first drafted my current novel.  I'm now at two narrators.  I find it easier to craft a really strong story with fewer people's thoughts.

Doesn't mean you have to avoid crowds--just don't make them people we have to track by getting inside their heads.     

Can I use both first person and third person in one book?

Tricky.  Fun to try!  Most important:  these two voices (first person=the "I" voice and third person = the "he" or "she" voice) have very different effects on the reader.  First person is traditionally self-focused, third slightly more distant.  When you switch back and fort, we readers not only have to jump heads, we have to jump voice. 

Be sure to craft those bridges very carefully, to make sure we don't slip out of your story as we slip from one voice to another.

Can I switch from one narrator to another in the middle of a scene?

Commercial fiction does this a lot (think Nora Roberts).  It's also tricky to pull off.  It happens more in novels that are plot-driven than character-driven, since the characters in these books are often subordinate to plot.  We get breadth rather than depth. 

Not a problem.  But, again, you need to be really good at those bridges between the two narrators. 

Study a published writer who does this well.  Test out your choices on your writers group or beta readers before you assume it's working for the reader.

Easier to switch as you start a new chapter.  That lets the reader get into one narrator's head, then take a little pause before switching to another.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Tips on How to Read Your Own Work Objectively

Mary Beth is working on a memoir and has taken my online classes and my week-long writing retreat in Tucson.  She's got a solid draft of her manuscript and is now going through the chapters, revising and tightening the focus.  She emailed me recently with a great question--something we all run into.

"How can a writer learn to read her own writing from a reader's eyes/brain/comprehension?" she asked.  "When I reread my work--it's me --how I write.  I'd like to be able to reread it and go 'You're doing the same thing.  Change this or that.'  Maybe I'm looking for a magical way to reread my work."

She wondered if there are any tips to learn to see your own writing as a reader might--that wonderful objective viewpoint that we all need before we finish our books.

Techniques to Get Distance
Mostly, it's about getting distance.  You know your own story--much too well. 
You need to somehow move into the viewpoint of a person who doesn't know it at all. 

Why?  Because this "knowing" will prejudice you.  You may think the writing is amazing or terrible, you may worry over stuff that's already working well, you may miss the overwriting (where you tell and show the same thing) or repetitions.  And if the inner critic gets involved, that protective part of the ego, you may even abandon the manuscript you've worked so hard to create.

Published writers are subject to the same tendencies as newbies, but they know certain methods to get objective.  Here are my favorites.

1.  Read aloud.  You've heard this, right?  Pro writers always read their work aloud.  Hearing your writing allows you to catch repetitions and pacing errors pretty fast.  It can be just you and the page in a quiet room, or you can read to a nonjudgmental friend or writers group.  If there's one tip you take home from this article, this would be the most important.

2.  Print it out and spread it out.  I learned this tip from novelist Alex Chee, but many writers do it.  Print a chapter at a time and spread out the pages on the floor or a table.  Squint.  Look for the balance of white space to dense text.  White space is all about faster pace.  Look for too-uniform paragraph lengths.  Break these up. 

3.  Work from the end.  When I am too close to a chapter (or a whole book), I'll read it backwards.  I start with the last page, then read the page before that, etc.  It sounds weird, but it works.  It kicks me out of "writer's brain" into "reader's brain."  I catch a LOT of mistakes and clunky stuff this way.

4.  Use text-to-speech software.  There are some cool ways to get your work read to you.  Programs like Natural Reader take your written pages and make them into a recording.  Listening to your own work is a fantastic way to catch stuff. 

5.  Let the writing rest.  It's often hard to see writing flaws and strengths when it's fresh.  Sometimes I can, but often I need to let a chapter rest.  It's important not to let it rest too long, though.

6.  Revise in batches.  Working on a book means lots of pages to revise when it's time.  I section my manuscript into three acts, then each act into thirds.  I work with the small group of chapters (say, 3-5) within a section.  More bite size, less to manage at once. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

How Do You Find a Good Editor--When You're Ready for One?

Kathy, a writer who has attended my Madeline Island retreats and online classes, has almost reached the finish line with her memoir.  

I've watched her work hard over the past few years, creating a strong structure for her book, workshopping her chapters, and fine-tuning.  She wrote me this week about her recent trials, trying to find a good copyeditor who will help her catch errors and get the manuscript ready to submit.

Kathy wrote, "I have been working with a copyeditor and am ready to give up on her.  I did not have good vibes when we first met but because she came highly recommended, I decided to override any doubts I had.  The first thing she wanted me to do was change my prologue from the ambulance ride to another prologue I wrote in 2011.  She was very insistent and it was almost if I didn't agree, she wouldn't work with me.  I haven't made any decision about what I'm going to do but feel we are not a good fit.
"My question is, how do you find a good fit?  This leads me to ask if you have ever written anything on your blog about how to interview an editor.  Other than asking about previous books they have edited, what are some good leading questions and other professional qualities we should look for?  Are you comfortable making any recommendations for a copyeditor in the TC area?  To get this far and not have it work is frustrating."

There are several kinds of editors  who can help with your book, at different stages.   I was trained in all three levels:  structural editing, substantive editing, and copyediting.  They are each important.  Tasks you can train yourself to do, but even us trained editors rely on other eyes at the end of a book project.  Sometimes you can't see your own mistakes.

Structural editors used to only work in publishing houses.  They were the ones who took apart manuscripts to see why they didn't work.  Sometimes called "book doctors," structural editors look at the big picture.  They study the big fight and little fights, find out what's tracking and what's not.  I'm often asked to give this kind of feedback, using storyboards, chapter summaries, and other macro-revision tools, which is why I created my Your Book Starts Here retreats and online classes.  It's way past time for writers to learn this important skill!

Substantive editors are also big-picture workers, but they work in tighter focus:  they move around chapters, pages, paragraphs sentences.  They work on the smaller architecture of the book.  But if the writer hasn't done a good job with structuring, substantive editors may say "I felt like the book fell apart here"--although they may not be trained to see exactly why.

Copyeditors, or line editors, are the fine-tuners.  They are last to help, since they're responsible for wordsmithing--catching typos, grammar mistakes, awkward sentence structure--tasks that only make sense once the book's structure is solid and the chapters have enough (and not too much) content.

Finding a Good Editor
Kathy did her own structural editing via my classes, by building a storyboard.  She hired me to do the substantive editing, to give comments on the chapter structure, which chapters weren't quite solid yet, which needed to be broken into two.  But she needed the third task.

Copyeditors are easiest to find, believe it or not.  They should cost less too.  But make sure you don't need substantive or structural editing, because some copyeditors can slip out of their area of expertise and begin reworking your manuscript.  Ideally, a copyeditor will make margin notes and corrections, perhaps ask questions, but not begin to rearrange your manuscript without consulting with you.  A good copyeditor, if she or he finds the manuscript isn't ready for fine-tuning, will come back to you with the suggestion that you find a substantive editor or go back to your storyboard first.

Editors naturally like to mess around with stuff.   That's why we hire them!  But some can do too much, change your entire vision for the book.  That can make you mad or frustrated, or help you spend money for unusable results.  If you have to go back and rethink the book concept--or even a chapter concept--wordsmithing and the editor's time is pointless.  Why would you want sentence structure, spelling, or grammar corrected when you are going to rewrite half the chapter?

It's your responsibility as the writer to know this, before you agree to anything.  Set up some discussion--by phone or email--about what the editor feels the manuscript needs.  Some editors, with justification, may tell you they don't know until they get into the manuscript.  True, but that leaves so much open-ended for your bank account.  How long does it take them to "know" and what will you pay for it?  These are fair questions to ask in the beginning.

I am often asked for copyediting.  I've worked 18 years as a copyeditor and substantive editor, so I know how to do both.  But I always (now that I've learned better) recommend a close read (also called a "read-through") first.  I don't want to begin copyediting then find out there are major structural problems. 

If your editor doesn't suggest this, ask for a "sample chapter" read-through.  Editors can tell a lot about what's not working by reading one chapter.  There may well be structural problems later on, but if the chapter sings, it's a good possibility that the writer has spent time on the structure.  They know how to craft good sentences, etc. 

Send one chapter (about 10 double-spaced pages) and get a flat rate for a close read of this chapter.  Or, use it as a sample for copyediting.  You'll pay for this, but you will also find out if you and that editor are on the same page. 

Here are two wonderful writing schools to check out for possibly editors.  They both have instructors who offer all kinds of editing. 

The Loft Literary Center (Minneapolis) manuscript critique program
Grub Street (Boston) coaching program

There are lots more out there.  Best way:  ask a friend who's done this.  Personal recommendations are usually the easiest way to find a good fit.

Friday, April 8, 2016

How Do You End Your Story? Where to End, How to Decide, What to Make Sure You Include

Andrea, one of my online students, send me a great question this week:  "I haven't quite decided how my story is going to end," she wrote.  "I have been mulling this very question for months, and I cannot come up with an answer. It's really perplexing and I think it's keeping me from moving forward."
She also mentioned being worried about covering too much time in her novel (one whole year).  Funny thing, these two questions are related.  If you solve one, you can solve the other.

Creating a Satisfying Ending
For this week's writing exercise, here's an article that really helped me know how to write a satisfying ending for my stories.  It's from The Atlantic, and it's about how John Cheever taught this writer the secret to endings.

And if you get inspired to work on your own ending (your book's ending!), here's my personal checklist:

1.  Do all the major plot threads wrap up in some way--even if they are not happy resolutions, will the reader feel like the author didn't leave anything hanging?

2.  Does the ending chapter loop back to the beginning?  Often, skillful writers will make their last chapter echo back to the first chapter with repeat of location, people, or the major conflict being discussed.

3.  Is there anything started in the last chapter (a significant event)?  This is usually not a great idea, unless you're writing a sequel.

4. Has the narrator or main character changed in some way?  Is there something they didn't get that they really wanted--which is quite human--and they need to accept that?

5.  Is there too much "Hallmark channel" feel about the ending?  How could you twist or alter it in some way, to tone down the overly sweet feel?  (Ignore this advice if you're writing a fairytale or a Harlequin romance.  They usually end very sweetly.)  

How Much Time to Cover
Decide where to end based on questions 1 and 4.   If you work with a storyboard and a chart about how your character grows or changes, you should be able to see what question each thread asks as the story begins. 

The event thread (shown on a storyboard) will present a problem at the beginning.  The story's plot will try to address it--perhaps solve it, perhaps come to a different resolution.  When that happens, your event arc is complete.

The narrative arc, or how the character grows and changes, also presents something at the beginning.  The character usually has a need, a fear, a longing, something she or he must do or have or become.  When they reach a point of resolving that--or accepting who they are, even without that--the narrative arc is complete.

This is how you decide how much time to cover.  And how to choose your ending spot.

It sounds pretty simple, even formulaic.  I get relief from it.  All I have to do is ask myself two questions:  did the event I started with come to any resolution, and did the character grow and change and come to any acceptance. 

Back away from your story this week and try it.  It might help you move forward in surprising ways.  And even finish your book!

Friday, April 1, 2016

Planting Twists in Your Story to Keep Readers on Their Toes

You know that old saw about "nothing is certain except death and taxes?"  We expect unexpected twists and turns in our real lives.  Stories should be that way too. 

In life, we may dread the unexpected.  In story, we anticipate and delight in it.  It keeps us on our toes, as readers.  We're engaged, turning pages, wondering what's going to happen next.   Funny thing, though:  Writers who are living high drama in real time often avoid it on the page.  So their writing feels safe, predictable, an easy ride--everything we want our lives to be. 

Everything that writing shouldn't be.

How do you overcome the tendency to keep your characters safe, to tone down your plot, to avoid changing things up? 

Your weekly writing exercise is actually four this week--pick one or all to try. 

Exercise #1:  Create More White Space in Your Life
It helps to have what novelist Dorothy Allison called "necessary boredom."  We write dramatic scenes because we've had a chance to live them in our creative minds, rather than in our adrenals and nervous system.  If you're constantly stimulated and stressed, you may not come out with the dramatic writing you're looking for. 

Take up something to give yourself that white space in your life--running, long walks with the dog, gardening, painting.  Wear out your running shoes while thinking up scenes, as one writer does.  I like painting: I let my mind daydream while my hands work, and I often come away with new ideas for my novel. 

Exercise #2:  Ask "What If?"
One of my favorite twist-provoking exercises is to ask, What if? 
Make a list of five things your character (or real-life narrator) would never do.  Then imagine them doing it.  You may not actually use the scene in your story, but it'll help you stop protecting this person on the page.

Exercise #3:  Work Backwards
If your story feels stuck and predictable, work backwards from the end.  Take the final chapter or scene and imagine the feeling you'd like the readers to take away.  What's resolved?  What's learned?  What's changed? 

Then create a reverse timeline, listing ideas on how you might get there, but write them in reverse order.  If you start at the end, imagine the scene right before it.  What would have to happen, to earn that ending?  Then proceed to the scene right before that.  Ask the same question.

Don't discard any ideas that come.  Just note them, let them simmer, see if they might help.

Exercise #4:  Ask for Wacky Feedback
Share your timeline (outline, chapter summary, or storyboard) with two other writers.  Ask them to give you five wacky ideas, unexpected ones that might shake up your story but still fit your book idea.  Ask, What are you noticing that I'm not? 

Again, take note without automatically discarding anything.  Let it sit and then revisit.  You might try one!  What do you have to lose?

Just predictability, boredom, and stuckness, right?

Friday, March 25, 2016

"Never Give Up!"--The Inspiring Story of Elizabeth Di Grazia's New Memoir

Elizabeth came to my classes a few years ago with her memoir-in-progress.  She was obviously a talented writer, but what struck me even more was her determination to tell this story, and tell it as well as she could.

At my July week-long retreat on Madeline Island, I watched her dismantle her book as she knew it--much writing already completed, but the structure not yet working--and we talked a lot about her options with timelines, backstory and present story, the threading of her life now and her childhood.  She came up with a unique and workable structure during that week and continued building her book through classes and mentorships. 

Not long ago, I got the announcement that her memoir was being published.  House of Fire has just been released by North Star Press. 

I interviewed Elizabeth for the blog this week.

Q: How long have you been working on this book?
I began Hamline University's MFA program in Spring 2000. I was 41 years old (I'm now 57). It was then that I began experimenting with how best to tell my story - through poetry, fiction, or nonfiction. I tried all the genre's and settled on nonfiction. All of my writing, regardless of genre, worked its way into the memoir. 
My first instructor at Hamline requested that I receive special instruction because I had the words to say but didn't know how to say it. She was right. When I look back at those early writings, I didn't even know how to string a sentence together or start a paragraph. She was concerned that I wouldn't continue with the program because of her criticism.
She didn't know me. You don't have a past like mine and quit because of criticism. It drives you forward to become better than who you are. I needed to tell my story for myself and others. In my early twenties, I wanted proof that a person could not only survive abuse but thrive. I want to be a role model for others who have endured trauma and be an example that abuse doesn't need to define you.
Never give up. That has been my motto in writing and in life. 16 years later, after first starting to write my story, I have a published memoir. One that I'm proud of. One that my first instructor at Hamline would be proud of.

Q:  What did you learn about structuring, and what methods did you try--and what ended up working best for you?  
I tried everything. Absolutely everything. Some suggested that I had two books. One book was my abuse story. One book was the adoption story. So, I wrote two books. That never seemed right to me. I tried putting the two together - one chapter abuse--the next chapter adoption. I tried using my poetry to tell my story. In October 2012, I took a class with you. It was the first time that I heard about the W [storyboard].

A spark ignited. It helped me map out the book. I now had a road map. I started, again.
While working with you on Madeline Island, you suggested that I put both abuse and present story together--even in the same paragraph or one following it. I thought that was impossible. Yet, by working with scent, colors, emotion, and place--I was able to do it.

It made me see how we naturally carry that ability within us and actually how we live our life. Aren't we often going about our day and a song, a smell, or an event will trigger a memory?

Elizabeth's first storyboard for her memoir--the two colors represent the two storylines (her childhood abuse story and her present-time adoption story).
Q:  What was your biggest low and biggest ah-ha! moment during the process of writing this book?   
My biggest low was right before your class. I thought that I'd never get the book published. I thought I had tried everything. I didn't think there was anything that I could learn. Your class not only gave me a road map, it inspired in me the want to take more classes from you and others. I found my interest in learning again and saw a vastness of what was out there for me.
My biggest ah-ha! moment was being able to trust that I could make connections from past to present and readers would be able to follow me. And, that it was natural. I started to look for connections.

Q:  Did you have to choose not to include anything or include stuff you didn't want to write about? 

I put myself out there. People who have gone through abuse needed to know that I knew what they were talking about and that I had experienced it. I was fortunate that my partner was okay with me revealing our relationship. Our relationship had links to my past and what I was experiencing. It was important to include. Also, I needed to have the courage to reveal our ups and downs and the stresses that were a part of our relationship.
It helped being a part of the Loft Mentor Series and having Mark Anthony Rollo as a mentor. He encouraged me to include the 'not so nice' stuff about my relationship with my partner. He taught me that tension was needed in the book.
For the book to be ready, I also had to be ready to come out as having two pregnancies by my brothers.
I used my writers' group to tell me if I was being too revealing about family members. There was a scene that I removed (with my son) because of their feedback.

Also, the scenes with my daughter's diagnosis of articulation disorder was one that I had to work and rework. My group was very effective in telling me if something was working or not. If they had problems with a section I took that to mean that I hadn't done my work as a writer. If I felt strong about keeping something in the book, I kept working until it did work.

Q:  How did you handle concern about people in your past reading this book?  Was it a concern?   
This story needs to be told. I can't imagine my surviving siblings getting past page 10 and continuing to read. In my Author's note, I wrote, This is my story. No one can say it didn't happen. I owed it to myself to write this story. This was my destiny. I wanted what I went through to have purpose. This book does that.
I was having some anxiety with my brothers and sisters about publishing the book. I imagined a brother lying in the weeds with a gun to sniper me as I walked into my house, imagined them talking to each other about me on the phone--like birds on a wire.  

Mostly for me, it was taking all the Likes I had on Facebook as people surrounding me and putting a barrier between me and these brothers and sisters.  As well as saying to myself, You can't hurt me. And, It is done. I didn't ask for permission and I won't ask for forgiveness.

That I fulfilled my destiny. The world knows. My story is out there.
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy) helped me a lot.  We  know that when a person is very upset, their brain cannot process information as it does ordinarily. One moment becomes "frozen in time," and remembering a trauma may feel as bad as going through it the first time because the images, sounds, smells, and feelings haven't changed. Such memories have a lasting negative effect that interferes with the way a person sees the world and the way they relate to other people.

EMDR seems to have a direct effect on the way that the brain processes information. Normal information processing is resumed, so following a successful EMDR session, a person no longer relives the images, sounds, and feelings when the event is brought to mind. You still remember what happened, but it is less upsetting. Many types of therapy have similar goals. However, EMDR appears to be similar to what occurs naturally during dreaming or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Therefore, EMDR can be thought of as a physiologically based therapy that helps a person see disturbing material in a new and less distressing way.
The following day, after my EMDR session, I noticed I wasn't fixated on my siblings. My mind didn't go to images with them. I was less worried. I felt more free and much, much less afraid. They weren't part of my consciousness.

Q:  Tell us about your publishing process.   
Don't quit. I sent it to hundreds of agents. I had a number of them interested in the book. The end result was that they didn't think they could sell the book. I was okay with that. Who better to sell it than me? My goal is to reach the people who need it the most. Those men and women who want to know that it is possible to survive and thrive.
I continued to send it out. North Star Press expressed interest. I went to see them. It was a good fit. All through this process, I used my writers group for feedback as well as an agent, Scott Edelstein.  Scott was always available to talk with me about my concerns. I had him read the contract and offer suggestions.

Q:  One tip you'd give writers trying to get a book finished and published?  
Keep writing. Never give up.

House of Fire by Elizabeth Di Grazia is available on  Click here to read more.

Friday, March 18, 2016

How to Avoid Middle Slumps--Maintaining Tension in Your Story

Tonight I'm chatting with one of my online classes.  Our topic is slumped middles--not in our bodies, but our books.  Many books slide down the tension scale in the middle, as the initial action subsides and the finish line is still far in the distance.

Keeping the middle active and interesting is not easy.  On our chat, we're talking about a few proven techniques for brightening up the middle of your story.

Becky, who reads this blog, sent a great question about slumped middles.  She called this the part where "your character rallies and makes some kind of decision after hitting a low point, and things get a little better."  Yes, that's true, I told her.  The character (or narrator in memoir) will usually fall for a while after the story starts.  Things often get worse.  The character hits a low point and there's a kind of leveling out.  Some writers call this the "first turning point" of the story. 

Friday, March 11, 2016

Balancing the Three Key Elements of Story

I was talking with a songwriter friend this weekend about how his songs are put together.  An idea usually comes--about a person, a place he visited, or an experience he had.  He then begins to brainstorm ideas for the lyrics (some songwriters start with melody, but he goes forward from the lyrics).  They start telling a story, using his initial idea. 

If he begins with a person--say, he's writing a love song or a song about heartbreak--he knows eventually he'll also bring in details about where and when, as well as what happened. 

He says that there's a cool alchemy that happens when all three of these elements are in place.  They create synergy with each other.

If he leaves one out, the song just doesn't feel complete. 

Friday, March 4, 2016

Essential Tools for the Writer’s Toolbox

This week's post is reprinted from Writer's Block, an online newsletter from the Loft Literary Center, Minneapolis.

As a beginning writer, I pumped friends who were published, trying to find the secrets to writing well. There were plenty, and there were none--depending who you talk to. Some writers say writing can’t be taught, only caught. If you have talent to catch well, you become a good writer.
Talent is a big help. But I’ve coached many writers who were amazingly talented yet never finished their books, stories, or poems; who never believed in their talent enough to send writing into the world. Those who did had more than talent. They had collected a toolbox of craft skills, tangible and intangible. The more complete the toolbox, the more successful the writer.

Intangible skills include stamina, persistence, an ability to release what you know to learn the next skill, and believing in yourself. Intangible skills are gathered through experience, risk, and good mentoring. The longer you write, the more of these you have.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Plotting and Pantsing--When to Plan and When to Write, and Why Both Are Useful as You Build Your Book

Erin, a blog reader who has taken my online book-writing classes, wrote with a great question:  "I'm struggling a bit of time management in terms of planning vs writing. Case in point, I get about 30-45 minutes of writing a day. I feel like this should be used towards actually writing my book. The planning exercises are helpful but they don't feel like real, actual writing. So on days where I'm planning and world building and working on character profiles, etc., I feel like I'm not writing or progressing in terms of my novel."
Erin wondered about the balance between what she called "actual writing" and all the planning and plotting that goes into building a book's structure.
"Right now I feel guilty planning but stuck writing," she said.  "It's a terrible place to be!"

Welcome to the world of structure versus writing, or plotting versus pantsing, as it's known in many writing circles.  Some writers love to know where they're going ahead of time--the plotters or planners.  Others love the discovery process of just writing and seeing what emerges.