I Am Not Broken: A Pantser’s Manifesto

21 Feb

Over the last couple weeks I’ve seen several blogs/articles about “fixing” pantsers or written by “reformed” pantsers … one even “how to save a pantser” (wish I’d marked that one) – Lots of great ways to make people who have been pantsing successfully stop and become something else. Something that they may not truly be.

Let me give you the tale of two writers.

The first was me. I’m a pantser. I’m a fairly true pantser. I’ve talked about my writing process before, so I won’t go into it. The second is my CP. My CP thought she was a panters. And why wouldn’t she think that? She was working with someone who was…and who it was working for.

To people outside pantsing, sometimes it looks easy. You just sit down and write and the words flow. Um, yeah. No.

FIRST off, this: It is just as hard to be a pantser as a plotter. The challenges are different, the successes are different, heck, the rewards may even be different. But, the essential truth remains: Writing Is Hard.

Accept it, embrace it, because if you want to be a writer, that’s your new reality.

So, here I am, writing as a pantser, ticking the heck out of the woman trying to teach me how to use tools because I have an answer for each thing before using the tool and I meet my CP. She sees this, we get along, we click so she must be a pantser too.

Book two, she embraces plotting… When I say embrace, I mean there’s this notebook… it has cards and collages and outlines and timelines and photocopied research books and character sketches and and turning points and and and and and… She wrote that book, cleanly, in less than a month after putting together her plottery stuff. And I say, good for her! Because, after we edited and revised her book it was clear she wasn’t a pantser. She didn’t need to be reformed, she needed to start doing things the way that worked for her.

SECOND: Everyone’s process is different. Do NOT judge someone’s process. Judge their product if you must judge something.

So, I thought I should give plotting a whirl. I had a great idea for a story way outside my genre. What better way to test this plotting gig and to do it with something totally new and unknown. Only (and I’m sure you’ve heard this a ton of times before) once I plotted it, I couldn’t write it. I tried I wrote and wrote and then tossed the outline and tried again. That story? It’s dead to me.

THIRD: It doesn’t hurt to try to see how far into the other camp you can slide. You’ll at least learn something about your own process.

So, what about all those great tools? I have such spreadsheet love that it’s a running joke with my friend. I’d love to be able to play with sheets and tools and bright colors, but it just doesn’t work… until

There have been times when my story isn’t working…something just isn’t…right. How does a pantser fix that? For me, it’s a fast book map. For the fantasy it’s most indepth, so I’ll go there. I read the book and as I go I created a spreadsheet that has: Chapter/Scene/Page Start / Page End / POV / Plot Necessities / Romance Necessities / Character Necessities

I cut 19 pages from a 102 page section that didn’t work by mapping it. After mapping it, I combined, reordered and deleted the heck out of that. It sped the read and streamlined the story. And I totally stole the idea of mapping from my plotter friends — they just do it to build the book. I do it to fix the book… you know, if it needs it. Obviously, everything I write is now perfect *snerk*

FOURTH: Stealing is good. Pantsers steal tools (if you know when and how to use them for your process.) Plotters steal flexibility and adventure. Most plotter friends say they still feel that way, but I’d challenge them to let their stories surprise them…. even if it means replotting a little.

So, here I am. Three books under my belt and one more partially done… as well as the idea notes or first page to first chapter of several ideas saved… and what have I learned?

I’ve learned that this works for me. I’ve learned that as I grow I need to continue analysing my process. I’ve learned that Fast Drafting is still my friend. I’ve learned that works for me may not work for you. I’ve learned that what writing is about is doing the work.

Let me repeat that in case you’ve lost it in this long collection of words: WRITING IS ABOUT DOING THE WORK.

I don’t care if you sit down with a title and just start typing. If that’s what works for you — and you keep at it, completing the draft and polishing it till it’s beyond ready to go — or if you spend months plotting before writing a word, it’s all the same. It’s called writing. All of it.

And so, the next time someone tells you that your process is WRONG or STUPID (Yes, RWA I deleted a workshop off my mp3 player after the speaker called pantser “stupid” or “idiots” for the SEVENTTH time) you smile and nod. Those people aren’t worth arguing with… But, a little twangy part of me says, ask yourself… are they doing the work or just trying to rip yours down.

And so, here I am, a pantser. Now excuse me, I have to go write.

17 Responses to “I Am Not Broken: A Pantser’s Manifesto”

  1. Rebecca T February 21, 2011 at 9:25 am #

    For the longest time I thought I was a plotter. I finished my first full length rough draft only after planning the cheese out of it. But then the story died. I couldn’t rewrite, couldn’t revise. Couldn’t even look at it. It’s still languishing in a folder (which, honestly, is probably a good thing).

    Then I did NaNoWriMo this year. And I had a rough idea in my head of kinda what I wanted to do, but I just wrote, because I barely had time to even do that. And an amazing thing happened. I fell head over heels in love with my story and my writing. And I’m now into a heavy rewrite and I’m still in love with my story and my writing.

    Who knew!?

    Thanks for reminding us we have to do what works for us!

  2. Adriana February 21, 2011 at 9:27 am #

    Great post! That everyone’s writing process is different seems like something that shouldn’t need to be said, at least not quite so often, and yet…

    Power to the pantsers! 🙂

  3. briaq February 21, 2011 at 9:28 am #

    That’s so true, loving your WHOLE process… if your a pantser, that probably means rewrites 😉

    Good for you!

    Now, off to work – see you all tonight

  4. sharla February 21, 2011 at 9:30 am #

    Had to LAUGH because you sound like me. I’m a crazy structure nazi in everything else in my life, but I can’t plot out a book ahead of time. I try to. I want to. My live-or-die-by-my-planner attitude tells me I need to. I think of how much editing would NOT have to happen if I did this.

    But like you, every time I do it, the book dies in front of me. It’s like it’s already been written.

    So I “plan” it in my head and start writing, and then end up plotting in small doses. I’ll make notes as I’m going of things that come to me that i want to address later, and keep writing. Then I’ll stop on hard parts, and plot out a scene, but i guess that’s ok to trick my brain like that in small pieces because I don’t rebel. LOL.

    So…to put it in “genre terminology”…I’m a Pantser with Plotter Elements.

    We are not broken! We are free!

  5. Jeffe Kennedy February 21, 2011 at 10:33 am #

    I am also a very organized person – and a lover of spreadsheets, but I can’t know what my characters will do until I write them. Whatever mechanism in me that knows the story only operates as my fingers are typing and the story is spinning. I find out by writing it. However, I don’t like the term “pantser” – which I think is a disparaging slur created by the plotters. It reflects the plotter’s fear of “flying by the seat of their pants.” Instead I like “mister.” We know the story is in the mist. We dive in and look. It’s a tremendous act of faith, I believe.

  6. Dara Young February 21, 2011 at 11:39 am #

    Yay Bria! I love this post. *stands up and cheers wildly* I thought I was a panster…and I am sort of. True to real life, I like to get organized, figure out where I am going and then Voila the journey happens. I often find I get there through a different path than planned, but I love going with it. I plotted (loosely) my current WIP and have altered my story map to accommodate where the story takes me as long as it doesn’t cause me to completely diverge from my end point. It works for me and that is all that matters. I should totally do my own post on this.

  7. Jaleta Clegg February 21, 2011 at 7:07 pm #

    I know my beginning, where I want the story to end up, and sort of what might happen in a general sense during the middle. The best writing I do is when I don’t really know what’s going to happen next. I stick my characters in the situation and see what happens.

    I know people who write an entire novel of notes before they ever start the book. I could never write that way. So do what works for you and don’t worry what anyone says.

  8. Donna Cummings February 21, 2011 at 7:20 pm #

    I love this post. I’m not sure why there is such zeal to convert somebody when it’s obvious the process they’re using is working for them. 🙂 It’s like when morning people trying to change us nightowls. Why can’t there be room for everyone? LOL

    I use a spreadsheet system similar to yours, but I do it after the draft, so I can see what needs to be added, what I’ve got to work with, etc. It’s a very helpful tool.

  9. Mercy Celeste February 21, 2011 at 7:41 pm #

    Ahh so true. I am queen of the pantsters, don’t even know my characters names until I sit with a blank screen and ask them. I’ve written five books since July sold three all written on the seat of my pants as if the hounds of hell were chasing me. Thank you for the voice, I am not alone.

  10. briaq February 21, 2011 at 7:50 pm #

    Wow! So many people excited to be pantsers – I love seeing the layers of pantsers we have!

    I think it’s so funny that plotters so seldom have to deal with defending their process. I just don’t understand. Pantser doesn’t equal “unprofessional” or even “unorganized” – it just means we do things differently than plotters.

    Rock on pantsers… and plotters … and everyone inbetween who is getting it done!

  11. Melissa Balmer February 21, 2011 at 9:43 pm #

    I guess I’m a plotter, but I do so in my head and I’ve thought that this was the wrong way to go for years because I was sure I was losing details (which I probably did). For years I wrote books in my head for my own enjoyment. But last two years a fascinating thing has happened – one is that I began writing short rough rough chapters for a friend and the other is that I hung in 3/4th’s of the way through NanoWriMo and the words flew off my fingers. I was ready to go. And I did much much better with the support of a friend waiting to read.

    My challenge (like so many of us) is how to combine real life w/the writing life (and to that I’m dealing with migraines and fatigue – but getting better!!!) but the more I read posts like yours and the more I “just do” the better I feel and the more it flows.
    What is crucial and so very wise and true of your post, you need to find what works for you and just do it. Some people live in the method, but at the end of the day what matters is the book.

  12. Amethyst February 21, 2011 at 9:51 pm #

    Yes, that, with the plotting things out and then the story feeling dead to me; I really have that issue, only in my case, the plot came to me over a long time, and I didn’t “organize” in the normal way, and I refuse to let this series be “dead” to me. I’ve got so many amazing plans for my kids, and now I just have to find a way to stop feeling like I’ve already read the book, or seen the movie.

    Any tips on THAT one? You help me haul myself out of this one and I will have Tristan send you a thank you, personally.

  13. briaq February 21, 2011 at 10:02 pm #

    Melissa~ So true. It feels like sometimes life gets “in the way” of writing – sometimes for the best, sometimes not so much. But, when there are even just a few new words on the page, that is ALWAYS a win.

    Ame~ You’ll find what works for you! I keep a whiteboard going when I’m writing – any ideas that jump into my head get written/drawn/freeflowed on the board. Most of them don’t get used, but at least I know I’m not missing this story…and sometimes, I’m putting a new premise into play in my head that way 😉

  14. Sonia M. March 2, 2011 at 6:57 pm #

    I think I have a split personality. I’m both a pantser and a plotter. Sometimes, I need to write whatever comes into my head. I just can’t look at outlines and character profiles without screaming. And sometimes, I get stuck in my pantsed writing and need to work through some plot points, timelines, outlines, etc. Maybe I’m really just a pantser with a little plotter thrown in. Plus, it’s so much fun to say pantser…pantsing…pantsed.

  15. briaq March 2, 2011 at 7:50 pm #

    LOL Maybe plotters just have name envy. Maybe there’d be more acceptance if they called themselves something like schemers or something 😉

  16. abby mumford March 9, 2011 at 11:44 am #

    schemers! yes. so much sassier than plotter. i’m still figuring out my process, but i lean more towards scheming than panting. 🙂

  17. briaq March 9, 2011 at 3:04 pm #

    See? Isn’t that fun to say?

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