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Confessions of a Recovering Pantser

Photo by Brady Withers (cc) via flickr

Hi. My name is Barb and I’m a recovering pantser.

Yes, I admit it. At one time I insisted I couldn’t plot a novel in advance because it would kill the creative process. (My art! My art!) I needed to let the story breathe and live and do all those artistic things a story should do on its own. I was the penultimate pantser. Then a strange thing happened. I actually wrote an entire novel. Not the false starts I’d toyed with over the years–A real, honest to goodness, all the way to The End, novel.

About 200 pages in, the story completely derailed and my inner editor had a meltdown.

Talk about killing the creative process. In order to get back on track, I spent an entire week reorganizing scenes, unraveling tangled plot lines, and shredding subplots. I also took to cackling “Delete, delete, delete!” at random intervals. The sight of me with a stack of index cards and a Sharpie marker in hand was enough to send friends and family members alike running.

Let’s just say it wasn’t pretty. No prettiness here.

That’s how I learned that the idea of writing a novel is very different from the process of writing a novel.

I don’t mean to suggest that writing a novel by the seat of your pants cannot be done. I’m simply saying I’m far too lazy to attempt it. I have a hard enough time getting through a draft to create one I know is going to need ten times more work in the end than it would if I just did a little advance planning.

For me, the Plotter vs. Pantser debate comes down to one simple question: Would I rather do some of the work up front, or tackle it all at the back end?

Do I plot out every detail? Of course not. At best, I map out a basic story arc and leave myself plenty of room for improvisation. Do my stories flow flawlessly? Of course not. The characters sometimes boycott the story, and the plots wander off course. Nor does plotting in advance mean I don’t have to revise and edit at the end. But my trusty map keeps me from creating more work than necessary.

What about you? Are you a pantser or a plotter?

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6 comments on “Confessions of a Recovering Pantser

  1. This is pretty much *exactly* what happened to me with my novel. The end result is that the last part (the part I plotted) is useful where the beginning really isn’t. This time around, I made a skeleton of an outline before I wrote and the result is that my second novel is making a heck of a lot more sense.

    • Ally,
      Thanks for sharing. I learned so much about my writing process when I wrote that first novel. Experience is definitely the best teacher in my case. 🙂

  2. After going throughmuchthe same mentality you did I’m now a pantster when it comes to short stories and a plotster when it comes to novels. Which is why nanowrimo is so hard!

    • Did you know it’s perfectly within the rules for NaNo to start plotting ahead of time? When I participate I usually work on outlines in September and October. Even a bare bones outline is better than nothing for that free-for-all! 😉

    • I haven’t yet written a novel…can’t wait to say I have! But just finished a short story I plotted! Not entirely, mind you…it started out like all the others. But it got long, and complicated, and I had to do a little plotting to make it work. This whole idea of plotting v. pantsing has a lot to do with why I’ve never dipped my toes into the novel-writing pool just yet…feels too much like a university assignment!

      • Congrats on the short story! I completely get the whole University assignment thing. It’s one of the reasons I was such a devout pantser. Outlines? Pshaw! Those were N-O-T F-U-N. And I do (still) believe that first drafts, first and foremost, should be fun. If you aren’t having fun, how are you supposed to get to The End? Now I think of my planning more in terms of telling myself the story. It’s still fun and it makes it easier to get into “the zone” when I’m writing because I don’t have to stop and solve plot problems as much.

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