It's well known in the writing community that there are two main types of writers: those who plot and those who 'pants'.
For those not in the know pantsing is short for "by the seat of your pants". These are writers who like to write as their fingers, or muse, dictate. They scoff in the face of your outlining templates and systems. They pooh-pooh on your cork board of colourful post its. "Do not trample on my garden of creativity!" they cry.
For others the idea of pantsing their way through a manuscript, blog post, script, or recipe, gives them terror sweats and sets their knees quaking. How can you know where you are going without a road map? How can you know where to place the perfect foreshadowing if you don't know what to foreshadow? Writer's block- what is that? How can you get writer's block if you already know what is supposed to happen? "Order and structure wins the race!" is the Plotter's rally cry.
I have been on both sides of this debate.
In the past the idea of planning before writing was foreign to me. Sure, I had done some basic outlining in University for my larger projects. Generally, I was a 'the paper is due at 8 am and it's midnight- guess I should write that now' kind of student. It worked for me and my night owl proclivities. In fact, the few projects I tried to plan out and work on ahead of time were some of the lowest marks I received. It cemented my belief that outlines stifled creativity and weren't of any use. I defended pantsing to the death...metaphorically, of course.
Why was I so loyal to pantsing?
There are a lot of pro's to pantsing. The foremost is that there is a lot of freedom. If you have no plan you can't go off the plan-which means you always feel good about your productivity. You don't have to feel bad for going off course. You don't wonder how an idea that pops up out of blue is going to work in the grand scheme of things because you are letting the story develop before you. Surely, if you are excited about the path your writing is taking your readers will as well. You get to uncover mysteries, plot twists, and new worlds as your characters do- in real time.
For me, I often know where my stories begin, my main characters, and the over arching dilemma they will face.
I usually don't know the ending.
I find it difficult to write in a linear fashion. I have a poor memory, so if I do not get an idea written down within minutes I will lose it. This means I often write a lot of random scenes and then have to figure out how to link and transition between them. This is why I thought pantsing worked well for me. It didn't limit my ability to write whatever, whenever.
One major con to pantsing is that there is no accountability. You can write for hours, days, weeks, and generate a solid body of work. You can then point to that body of work and say: "See! Look how much I can create." It's easy to feel productive after writing several thousand words in one writing session. However, if you are like me, all that is useless because nothing ever gets completed. I have hundreds of thousands of words, nine half-written novels, and a smattering of started and stalled short stories/novellas.
Pantsing was an acceptable cover for my laziness. I just did not want to sit down and think ahead. I wanted to write. Words on paper, word count climbing, writing. Sitting in coffee shops looking sophisticated writing. I didn't want to plan (ugh). I didn't want to finish anything.
Now, let me be very clear that not all Pantsers are lazy. I am lazy.
Pantsers = not lazy.
Me = lazy.
Clear? Happy? Ok good.
For some pantsing works. It is a bona fide and legitimate method of being creative. Some Pantsers can sit down and write their novels to completion with nary a plan in sight. If this is you give yourself a high-five. You are awesome. Pansting doesn't work like that for me.
I defected from the Pantser's camp to the Plotter's camp November 2014. I was gearing up for NaNoWriMo and doing my best to come up with a viable novel idea. I looked over all my half written novels and realized that what I was doing wasn't working. I would finish nothing at the rate I was going. I couldn't focus on one project without another tapping me on my shoulder. My NaNoWriMo novel from 2013 remained strewn about like a strawman after a flying monkey attack. Why, then, should I start yet another novel that would not be finished.
So, I did something unprecedented and researched some outlining templates. It was a painful process but I found an outlining system that seemed to make a lot of sense. October 31st I outlined my novel.
It was transformational. I cut through my word count like butter, stared less at my computer wondering: what now? The whole process was easier and more enjoyable. Having a road map meant I could focus more on the internal struggles of my characters because I wasn't working out how I would get them from point A to point B. It meant that at the end of November I had a complete novel in my hands. December 1st I handed in my pantsing card and printed out outline templates for all my unfinished projects.
Outlining gave me the structure I needed to complete my novel. It was not as limiting as I once thought. Maybe I just needed to find the right outline. I didn't find outlining hindered my ability to create; it enhanced it. It was nice knowing I had a destination, a goal to reach.
I believe I will continue to make use of outlining, though I may still keep the ending a secret- even from myself.
Whether you are a Pantser or a Plotter it is less about aligning yourself with a single philosophy as it is finding out what works for you. This might mean you waffle between pantsing and plotting, discover one way has stopped working for you and switch, or stay loyal to your original method. If it works then keep at it! If it doesn't don't be afraid to defect and try something new.
Don't worry- the court-martial is purely a formality.
Are you a Pantser or Plotter? Why do you prefer the style you use?