This Week’s M.A.S.H. Up: Pantsing, Planning, and Plot


How to Play: 

On the left, list three names. This is who you’ll marry. 

On the right, list three occupations. This is what you’ll be. 

On the bottom, list three numbers. This is how many children you’ll have. 

Note: You must include one undesirable item for each category. 

M. A. S. H. – Each letter stands for a different type of housing: Mansion, Apartment, Shack, House. This is where you’ll live.

Now have your friend draw a spiral until you shout STOP! 

Count the lines and proceed clockwise, crossing off whatever lands on that number. 

My friends and I used to play this little game when we were kids. 

The thrill is in the tension as your fate unfolds. It’s only fun because something bad could happen. 

The same idea applies when building a good plot. 


It’s the part of writing I get stuck with the most. 

I once spent more than three months trying (and failing) to find a suitable ending for a short story whose length totaled just 3000 words.

Meanwhile, Stephen King is off writing 2,000 words a day. That’s 730,000 words a year, and all by the seat of his pants. 

In the writing world, “pantsers” are writers who plot out their stories in advance. 

Others prefer to outline. They map out a sketch (detail included can vary widely) of a complete story before they begin to write. 

Personally, I like a combination of both. 

With my work-in-progress, I began with a single scene that I could visualize clearly in my mind. I drafted it quickly while the idea for the rest of the story brewed in my head. 

Next, I outlined the structure of my book, using key event points to drive my main plot. I repeated this process for each of my subplots. 

Once I had the bulk of my story sorted out, I used color-coded note cards to write out each scene. I spread my notecards out on three tables and weaved them together in an order that worked. 



Just couldn’t keep that index finger out of the shot…

Then I put the cards in a stack and began to write.  

Outlining made a huge difference for me. The words flowed more easily than they ever have in the past. 

As my story developed, I still had moments where I wrote by the seat of my pants—some plot points changed, an idea sparked over here or my character did something unexpected over there. And I still had moments where I hit a roadblock…

But thanks to my roadmap, I never got lost.

An Excerpt from my Actual Middle School Diary

When I’m not writing, I spend a lot of time reading about writing. 

One book suggested this exercise to get your juices flowing: 

Write everything you can remember about your life…

So, I began at the beginning. 

I typed…

and typed…

and typed…

Three days and 25,000 words later, I paused to read what I had written.

What I discovered was that a huge chunk of what I remembered had happened during my middle school years. For me, middle school was both traumatic and exciting, which is probably why even now, nearly 25 years later, those memories are still so vivid and clear. 

I became inspired…

I ransacked my trunk of old diaries until I found the one I was searching for: an emerald green hardcover with a lock on the side. 

Then I spent the next half hour trying to remember where my younger self would had hidden the key. 

At last, I found it. I inserted the sliver of metal, turned to the left, and popped open the latch. 

I had unlocked a time machine—a portal to my past. 

And Oh! The drama.

My entries made for perfect inspiration.

After a few laughs, I jotted down some notes and started planning a story that was forming in my mind. 

My One-Year Diary
*Page 1
*Page 2
*Page 3

*Names have been blackened to protect actual people (including myself) from unintentional embarrassment and humiliation. 

I got this diary from my Aunt Kim for one of my single-digit birthdays. I remember that she hid all of my presents and had me find them via a scavenger hunt! (So cool.) 

It was only a one-year diary, but I ended up using it for many more years…because it was the only diary I owned with a lock on it!

When I came to a date that had already been filled, I put a white sticker over the page and wrote my “better” entry on top. (I actually regret doing this because I would have liked to see what I had written when I was younger.)

Hope you enjoy!