Write what you know

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Annalisa Parent has worked as a full-time writing coach for three years, helping aspiring novelists reach their goals without following a structured outline. (Courtesy photo)

Resident writing coach publishes how-to book

Sometimes, the best piece of advice writing coach Annalisa Parent gives her clients is simple: Put your hands above your head, stand up and dance around. The extra bit of oxygen can often clear up even the worst writers’ block, she says.

This fall, the Colchester resident took her own recommendations and published a how-to book for wordsmiths who like to throw out traditional writing wisdom and fly by the seat of their pants. In between personal dance parties, Parent produced the first draft of her resulting publication, “Storytelling for Pantsers,” and accompanying workbook in an astonishing four weeks.

A writer of all genres, Parent has tried her hand at everything from journalism, poetry, picture book, novel to television script writing. In each case, she said common themes and strategies emerge.

“No matter what you write, it’s about clarity,” Parent said. “If you’re writing a shopping list, you’ve got to be clear. If you’re writing a novel, you’ve got to be clear.”

Parent, who has coached full-time for three years with a small team, noticed many of her charges struggled to release their creativity when bound by the confines of a structured outline. Sparse were the resources for those who liked to write Chapter 8, then 1, before circling back to Chapter 5, she said, and may have started the same novel dozens of time.

About 20 million American’s say they’d like to publish a book in their lifetime, Parent said, but just a million actually achieve that goal per year. The aforementioned re-writing cycle strikes the vast majority of 19 million unfulfilled writers, Parent presumes.

Eventually, Parent said she realized she had a unique view on what it means to be a “pantser,” and decided to take on her “very meta” project — writing about writing about what you know. In Parent’s case that is, you guessed it, writing.

“There’s no reason you need to write an outline,” Parent said. “I had this conversation enough times that I [saw] there was a need here.”

Parent said she uses an extrovert-introvert analogy when helping authors decide whether they are an outliner or a “pantser.” The former sources creativity from an external outline, she explained, while the latter source creativity from the lack of an outline. Many who term themselves organized are surprised to learn they fall into the “pantser” category, she said.

Clients from around the world have responded favorably to that teaching model, enrolling in Parent’s various coaching programs in droves. One of her most popular offerings, a writing “boot camp,” requires wannabe novelists to finish a first draft of their book in just eight weeks.

The camp, which requires an application for acceptance, provides concrete critiques on elements like pacing and dialogue, but also helps writers overcome the inherent fear of putting their swirling ideas down on paper. With that in mind, Parent tries to handle her review sessions delicately.

“Storytelling for Pantsers” is available at The Crow Bookshop, Bear Pond Books, Phoenix Books, Barnes and Noble and Amazon. Visit www.datewiththemuse.com for more information. (Courtesy photo)

“We start at, ‘what is it that works here? What is it that you’re doing well?’” Parent said. “Once people start to hear that, it feels a little more comfortable to jump into [a] section that isn’t quite as clear … and here are some things you can do about it.”

Many clients stick with Parent after completing their book, working on marketing plans and elevator pitches. With an eye toward the back end of the business, she’s able to guide creative-types through the often-complicated publishing world.

All of Parent’s clients have been published, she said, albeit in a wide range of forms. One elderly woman was happy just printing out a half-dozen copies of her finished memoir on her own and filing them into three-ring binders for her grandchildren. Another is currently courting the five major publishing companies in New York City.

No matter their publishing goals, Parent said “pantsers” and outliners, alike, thrive best when they find a method tailored to their unique style of creativity.

“The writing project is creativity [and] organization,” Parent said. “The pattern might be different for varying people, but at the end of the day the process itself doesn’t change.”

“Storytelling for Pantsers” is available at The Crow Bookshop, Bear Pond Books, Phoenix Books, Barnes and Noble and Amazon. Visit www.datewiththemuse.com for more information.