Posted by: nancyisanders | May 24, 2013

Formula Writing


I’ve been quilting now for over 10 years. At first, I took a couple of quilting classes. Step by step, an instructor showed me how to make each different quilt. I started small with a wall hanging of 3 patches. Then I made a tabletop quilt of only 4 patches.

After that, I made baby quilts.

After making several quilts at classes, I decided to try to make one at home without a teacher. I got stuck a couple of times, but I had some quilting friends so asked them for advice. It was a success!

From then on, I made quilts at home. I always used patterns and followed the instructions carefully.

The quilt in this picture here is a quilt that for the first time ever, I’m creating without a pattern.

I used the Crazy Nine Patch pattern in the center. But around the center I added strips I sewed together. And then around the whole edge of the quilt, I sewed on Prairie Points as the edging. I even created a fun design on the back (which you can’t see in this picture).

Writing is like quilting. When you’re starting out, it may feel like you’re using a formula. Put plots points in chapter 5, 10, and 15. Write scenes that start with dialogue and end with a cliffhanger. Interview our character and find out what her favorite colors and favorite desserts are.

Formula writing is okay. You have to start somewhere.

I’ve sat in conferences and read writing posts that tell you not to use formulaic writing. But for beginning writers or learning how to write in a genre that’s new for you, I think it’s good to learn how to write using a successful formula that has worked for others.

Then, gradually, as the formula becomes part of you, it becomes more intuitive. You can step away from the formula and use a more organic approach because you’ve LEARNED the basics about plot or setting or dialogue or character development.

The key is to just keep writing manuscript after manuscript after manuscript, improving your skills more each time and learning more about the formulas found in writing until your work improves and you grow as a writer.

I started out writing using various formulas. And I got published, too. Many smaller presses are okay working with beginning writers.

I still like to use formulaic writing today as I’m experimenting with a genre that’s new to me or trying to improve my craft in a certain area. But as I write manuscript after manuscript using a particular formula, the formula starts to fade into the background and a unique voice emerge in my stories.

So now, I’m starting to connect with the bigger publishers. It’s an exciting place to be. And it all started out following formulas.


  1. Good analogy, Nancy!

  2. Great post, Nancy! I guess I’m still tied to the pb formula. Lovely quilt! Will there be a grand baby in the future?

    • Thanks, Tina. And what formula do you like to use when you write picture books? (No grandbabies yet, but lots sure to come hopefully!)

  3. I enjoy quilting, too, and have made a number of patterns. Since I found a way to streamline the Trip Around the World pattern I’ve done a lot of that. But I’ve never written by a formula; I didn’t know they existed.

    Inspiration comes for a scene or way of portraying a certain issue. I think it out in my mind, more scenes open up, I start to hear dialogue, and end comes into focus — if it didn’t right at the beginning — and away I go.

    Maybe I’ve read so much over the years the formulas are implanted in my brain like pathways and my inspiration naturally follows them?

    • Hi Christine! I wasn’t familiar with the Trip Around the World pattern, so I peeked at it and it looks like fun.

      It was so fun to hear about the writing process you go through. It sounds like you’re more of an intuitive writer and it comes naturally to you. Good for you! And you’re right, it probably comes from reading so much.

      I don’t know why, but I tend to need formulas as part of my learning curve. Even though I’ve been a voracious reader all my life. For example, lately I’ve really tried to follow the 3-act structure closely as I develop my plot whether for picture books or novels. My writing has been improving so much! In fact, I’m going to share about this in an upcoming post.

  4. Dear Nancy,
    Can you give us more info about formulas?
    Are there formulas for writing picture books and chapter books?

    • Great questions, Virginia! This is a huge topic, so here’s a little nibble:
      How to Write a Picture Book: Volume I: Structure is great on formulas that work for picture books
      The 3-Act Structure is a concept that’s been around a long time and it’s great for learning a successful formula for developing the plot in any story from magazine to picture book to novel. I developed a 4-part class on how to write a middle grade novel in one month that is based on a type of formula (I’ve used it successfully to land multiple book contracts). That teleclass has been recorded and will be offered for sale hopefully soon…I’ll give more details as that is finalized.

  5. A beautiful quilt, Nancy! I bet a grandbaby will love that some day. 🙂

    • Oh thank you, Ev! And we’ll have fun with grand babies and the quilts one day!

  6. Hi Nancy, Can’t wait for the teleclass info to be posted! Chris

    • Thanks, Chris! I’ll let you know here on my blog. Hopefully soon!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: