I’m a natural pantser — if you read this article, then you’ll know that I had to train myself to become less of a whirlwind of messiness in order to get stuff done, and I had to do the same thing with my writing.
I didn’t want to — I hade to.
You see, I don’t like planning (or doing) anything.
I love doing nothing.
Bored? I don’t know her. I can read, watch TV, and do jigsaw puzzles for days, and LOVE it.
Which can present a problem, when it comes to making myself do stuff that I’m not made to do by outside forces(you know, like go to work and participate in society).
I’ve always wanted to write — I’ve always written — but I was a pantser. I’d have a marvellous idea and sit at my desk scribbling away furiously as I brought my dreams to life.
But it was never a complete idea. It was a couple of ideas, linked by a character, and after eight or so chapters I discover that I had no idea what was going on. Or indeed who anyone was or where they lived. So it would end up in the bin.
It led to frustration, and feelings that I wasn’t worthy of writing a book if I couldn’t come up with an idea for a fabulous novel off the cuff.
Surely if I was talented, the story would just unfurl in my head?
It took a while to realise that that isn’t the writing experience enjoyed by the majority of authors.
I was, in fact, confusing the process of writing with the process of reading, which is the one where the story unfurls in your mind.
Writing is the one where you sit and stare at your wallpaper for eight hours before realising that actually, the whole thing’s meant to be set in 16th century Turkey, not New York in the Sixties.
And it’s hard.
But you know what makes it easier?
If you, you know, sit down and plan what’s going to happen. Do it in pencil if you like. And you can (and will) change the plan a lot, but it’ll help.
It was only when I saw that grid thing that JK Rowling wrote for The Order of the Phoenix that I realised that having a plan wasn’t cheating.
When plans help
- When you’re forcing yourself to get a writing habit but you only have time to write at 6 am and this is a new time for you and your brain isn’t working yet so it needs to know vaguely what it’s going to put.
- When you realise that this first draft is the worst first draft ever in the history of the world and you hate it and you hate yourself and you hate your author aspirations but deep down you know everyone thinks that about their first draft (often cos it’s true). Just. Keep. Swimming.
- When you’ve forgotten which characters started off where and who’s who and who’s related to who. It helps NO END to have a list of names, vague origins, and who’s related to whom. It helps characters who grew up together from meeting for the first time, and no one like accidental incest.
How I made myself start to plan
I wrote a list of characters.
Then I put the numbers 1–20 down the side of the page and wrote down 20 events that could happen. And I fleshed each of these twenty ideas out into a vague plot.
Each idea became a chapter. I write 3,500 words on each, and hey presto, I’d written a 70,000 word (horrendous) first draft. Then I typed it up, making a list of discrepancies, such as a character managing to walk 200 miles in a day, and then I, ahem, left it for a few months.
And that’s where we are now.
I have to tackle rewrites, but whilst they’re daunting, not as daunting as having to write the whole thing from scratch. There are also entire chapters that need scrapping, and a few more that need adding in, but it’s much easier changing things than it is to create them from scratch.
I can also say that I’ve written a book, which is nice. I’m not going to show it to anyone in its current state, so they don’t need to know how crap it is.
Tips for newly planning pantsers
- Your plan is a plan, not a bible. If you change a massive thing in your book that will require you to change what you’ve already written, do it later. Just carry on from where you are with the new ideas.
- If you decide to change the name of someone or something, remember to change it in the plan. Unless you have an eidetic memory, you’ll end up with one character with two or more names.
- Write an ending. Don’t half-plan, half pants. You can always change it if you don’t like it, but it means that if you begin to lose steam when you’re getting towards the end you’ll know where the endpoint is, which really help.
If you’re a happy pantser, good for you
I’m assuming that there’s plenty of you out there, since so many of us document the two camps, and that’s great.
But if, like me, you think it’s the best way to become a Proper Author, but you still can’t quite manage to finish your book, then try planning.
You’ll thank me for it on those mornings when your brain can’t quite get into gear but you don’t want to break your 16-day writing streak. Also, even if you just write 100 words a day, you’ll have the first draft in under two years.
If you write 1000 words a day you’ll be done in under three months.
By Christmas 2020 you could be published.
If you’ve had great success with pantsing, I’m kinda jealous. How do you keep track of anyone? I lose enough people when I have a plan.
Ok, the main take away from this post is that it doesn't matter how you write your book, as long as you write it.
James Patterson writes a plan for the plot and characters and then hires writers to do the actually fleshing out of the story. No one says he isn’t a proper writer (well, they do, but probably a bit out of jealousy).
Now go and write your novel.