Over the weekend I attended an online writing conference, one of those that manifests as a series of posts or videos you can access at will. I dropped in on a few presentations, but there was one that gave me an epiphany of giant proportions. To explain I’ll need to take you back a bit…
First, a couple of definitions, in case you don’t know what these two terms mean.
Pantser: a writer who writes without a plan or plot outline, i.e. writing by the seat of their pants
Plotter: a writer who plots out the story before they start.
When I wrote Roses, I had no intention of letting anyone read it, let alone publishing it. I wrote it with joyous abandon, doing a chapter here, and then leaping forward in time and writing another chapter, and finally cobbling it all together into one story. There was no plot outline, no plan of where it would go, it just went.
Next up was Retribution. I finished Roses and almost immediately began writing the next book. Again, I started with no plot outline of idea of where it would go. I reached about the one third point and came up against a wall. I had no idea of where the story was going or what would happen next. So, I stopped pantsing and drafted a plot line for the rest of the book.
The next book was Seeing Red. This was another one like Roses in that I’d had the story developing in my head for a while, so I started writing with confidence. Then the wall again, followed by a plot outline.
And so it went for all books I’ve written since. Last year when I was writing I really struggled to get the creative flow happening and I vowed that in future I would spend time plotting an outline so that I would have something to refer to when writing. I wouldn’t get stuck any more. It seems logical and would allow me to let the creativity flow.
Then came yesterday’s session with Dean Wesley Smith. His presentation was called ‘Trusting the Creative Process: How to Write a Novel Without an Outline’. I was going to follow it up with another about creating an outline before you start, giving me both sides of the argument of Pantser vs Plotter. I really believed that plotting was the way for me to go, but I wanted to hear what Dean had to say. Also, Dean is the husband of another writer I follow, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, who gives out great solid advice, so I knew Dean would be worth listening to.
Well. It was as though he’d been watching my writing process. He talked about how he starts without a firm idea and lets his creativity take over. He talked about hitting the ‘I don’t know what happens next’ wall and how he deals with it. And he said he writes like he is reading the book himself – he doesn’t know what’s going to happen next, and that it’s exciting to write that way. He believes that writers who prefer the pantsing style often hit the wall and give up without allowing their creativity time to come up with the next idea, or next sentence, out of fear. That panic that hits when you get stuck. His advice? Write one sentence. Then write another sentence. And your creativity will take it from there.
I listened to him at it felt like a huge load had been lifted. I like to be organised, but I’ve always found the pantsing style more exhilarating when writing. Writing seems to be the antithesis of the other aspects of my life. I like rules, schedules, and planning—except when I write. I think it’s healthy for me to be able to let go of the need to control things. It feels weird, but when writing, it feels right. It feels joyous. And now I use Scrivener for writing, I can be organised in terms of research, characters, and more – the best of both worlds.
Where to from here? I had already decided I wanted to rewrite large chunks of the book I wrote last year, changing the plot a little and the female protagonist a lot. In the spirit of pantsing, I’ve now archived the book in its entirety and I’m going to rewrite all of it. Okay, it won’t be true pantsing as I do know the basic plotline, but I guess that is now open to change as well.
No fear. Just write.
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