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 Jinni Bert: Introvert, Sixth Grade Stinks, 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! 


Jinni Bert, Introvert: Sixth Grade Stinks

Meet Jinni: a painfully shy eleven-year-old who daydreams about being popular (and capturing the attention of a certain boy). As best friend and sidekick to Julie Pastroni, an outgoing extrovert and coolest girl in the entire grade, Jinni and her social status have always skated by. But when Julie announces she’s moving, Jinni finds herself at the bottom of the totem pole, left to face the first year of middle school on her own.

To make matters worse, puberty has hit, and Jinni’s mom has just informed her about mandatory post-gym showers—-and the communal setting in which they take place. But after a visit to the family doctor where Jinni discovers she’s developmentally different, Jinni is determined to avoid the class (and being nude in front of her classmates) at any cost. The price is raised when a mishap with nemesis Delaney Miller threatens to expose Jinni’s secret.

Jinni’s roller-coaster of a ride through sixth grade is set in a small-town school where you can run, but you can’t hide. The story runs about 35,000 words and is in the same vein as Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.

Want to read Chapter 1?

Chapter 1

What they tell you about puberty is that it happens to everyone. What they don’t tell you is there’s a ten percent chance you might turn out different from everyone else. I had to find that out from Nancy Swanson, MD, and she’s practically a stranger. 

Besides Doctor Swanson, nobody else on planet Earth knows about my “abnormality.” Not even my mom. 

Which is probably why she didn’t think it would be a big deal when she decided to casually announce that in middle school, after gym class, you have to take showers. 

Community showers, with no stalls or curtains or anything. 

Mom says it’s mandatory—that all the kids have to do it—that I should remember to bring my flip-flops and soap case and towel. 

Luckily, she only waited until THE DAY BEFORE SCHOOL STARTED to tell me. Which, according to the kitchen clock, gives me about negative nineteen hours to mentally prepare. 

But you know what? That’s only the second problem I’ve had to deal with today. 

The first? 

Julie Pastroni. 

And the fact that she wasn’t coming with me to sixth grade. 

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Want to find out more about Jinni and her story? Read the synopsis here.

Interested in becoming a Beta Reader? Let me know here