NaNo Prep: Should Pantsers Be Plotters?

by Jami Gold on October 16, 2012

in Writing Stuff

Two kids with ice cream, one looking envious, with text: Do All Pantsers Have

My friend Roni Loren has often mentioned that she has “plotting envy.” Like many pantsers (those who write by the seat of their pants), she wonders if her writing method is the best she could do. Pantsing can feel a little like magic—we trust our subconscious to come up with plot twists, character depth, and elements we couldn’t consciously come up with in a year of plotting—and we worry the magic will one day disappear.

Pantsing can also feel like a bad match for those of us who are perfectionists. We normally leave nothing to chance, so leaving a whole novel’s worth of words to chance can feel wrong.

Because of this, workshops abound with “plotting for pantsers” ideas. Yet no one puts on “pantsing for plotters” workshops. Why? Is pantsing seen as a less valid writing method?

Do “Real” Writers Plot?

I pantsed my first story (a Harry Potter fan fiction story) with only a general situation in mind. I had a blast and was thoroughly bitten by the writing bug.

But for my next novel, an original story, I plotted. And by “plotted,” I mean I had chapter-by-chapter outlines, character sheets with full histories for all the main characters, emotional arcs for every scene, etc. (Perfectionists can be dangerously thorough. *smile*) I thought that’s what “real” writers did.

That story originally had no voice and was painfully clunky. Paying attention to my outlines meant I wasn’t listening to my muse. Umpteen revisions later, I’m still not happy with how that story turned out. The near-failure almost convinced me that I wasn’t cut out to be a writer.

My Subconscious Is More Creative than My Conscious Mind

In the midst of revising that story, I had another story idea and interrupted my edits to pound out the first 30,000 words in a few days. I had zero plans for the plot or character arc, but my muse had a good handle on the characters themselves. The whole story practically wrote itself.

At first, I thought I’d go back to my plotting ways for the next book. This one was probably just an anomaly. I’m a perfectionist—I couldn’t possibly be… *imagine a grimace here* …a pantser.

But then my next story was pantsed with even less information, just a first line. Again, the story wrote itself, right down to foreshadowing, subplots, character arcs, etc.

This was what writing was supposed to be like. Magic.

I Am a Pantser

So unlike many other pantsers, I have no plotting envy. I’ve been there, done that, and I know the truth. Plotting doesn’t work for me.

I have no second thoughts or doubts about my pantsing ways. My analytical nature has figured out that the magic of pantsing makes logical sense for me. Rather than wishing I could plot, I consider myself a “reformed plotter.” *grin*

Now I’m a firm believer in letting my muse run the show. I simply write what he tells me to. (Yes, my muse, an arrogant alpha-male type, loves this arrangement, but when he’s right, he’s right. *sigh*)

So What Gives with the “Plotting for Pantsers” Class?

With all that history, you might wonder why I’m giving a class called “Lost Your Pants? An Impatient Writer’s Guide to Plotting a Story.” Heh. Honestly, I’m being sneaky.

I have no intention of trying to change anyone’s methods or of teaching pantsers how to plot. *pshaw* People should use whatever approach works for them. However…

Back when I had a post about fast drafting, everyone who successfully completed a fast draft (including me with my word sprints) had pre-planned the story or scene a bit. So this class is geared to help pantsers plan their story just enough to give their fingers a goal to write toward.

I’ll share techniques and tools so pantsers can plan without actually plotting. I’m using these techniques myself on my novel I’ll be working on in NaNo (National Novel Writing Month). (Yes, I officially signed up for my first NaNo. Feel free to add me as a buddy—I’m “Jami Gold.” Creative, right?)

When I made a sample of my worksheet to use as an example for the class, it took me all of 15 minutes (thus the “Impatient Writer” part of the class title) to fill in the page. Usually, we wouldn’t even need to complete the whole worksheet. Trust me—being a confirmed pantser—I have no intention of trying to convince anyone to plot. *smile*

If you want to join me, block off 7:00 p.m. Eastern time on Tuesday, October 23rd and Thursday, October 25th, 2012, and click here to sign up for the class.

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Do you consider plotting to be a more valid writing method, like what a “real” writer would do? Are you a pantser with plotting envy? Or a confirmed pantser, happy with your method? (Any plotters with pantsing envy out there? *grin*) If you’re a pantser, do you plan anything in advance? Have you been successful with fast drafting or NaNo before?

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53 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Tamara LeBlanc October 16, 2012 at 6:45 am

Hi Jami!
I am a perfectionist, too. I’ve always been this way and don’t think I’ll change. That being said, for years and years…and years, I wrote by the seat of my pants. I liked it, it was fun, but it was like pulling teeth to get substantial words on the page. I had nine mostly finished novels that I wanted desperately to finish, but couldn’t. I felt very disorganized.
But last year I decided to write a synopsis of a story I had in mind before I wrote a single word of prose. It was a first. My crit partners and I had a long plotting session, I wrote down scene ideas, character bios, etc and with that information was able to construct an 8 page synopsis I was proud of.
It was liberating!! Writing my paranormal novel (the one that finally landed me an agent) was so much easier. It felt right and the stress of ‘not knowing’ floated away.
And to be honest, I didn’t feel like I was wearing a noose at all. I still felt creative, even surprised when little twists or turns showed up in my novel. I think that’s because I didn’t stick 100% to the synopsis. It was more like a guide than a rigid how to manual.
So, I guess, I’m a plotter. A happy plotter.
But I’m also impatient…very, very impatient, and I want to learn to write faster, with less stumbles (I never said this epiphany made me perfect:). So your class is a Godsend…but, I’m devastated I won’t be able to take it this time around (I hope, hope, hope you offer it again some day) The goings on of late in our family have made money very tight. 🙁
But I’m still keeping my fingers crossed I’ll get a chance to take it another time.
Thank you so much for your wisdom.
Have a fantastic day!!!
Tamara

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Jami Gold October 16, 2012 at 11:42 am

Hi Tamara,

Ooo, yes, when I said “the stories wrote themselves” that doesn’t mean that I didn’t have those scenes of teeth pulling. 🙂 Rather just that I never consciously plotted out anything in advance.

I’m usually a very slow drafter as well–which is exactly why I wanted to find a better way. I saw my results from my word sprints last year and realized that others (in the comments of my fast drafting post) saw the same thing I did: fast drafting, word sprints, whatever, worked best when I had a goal. That didn’t mean I had the slightest clue how to get there, but that I knew what I wanted to accomplish with a scene.

So I’ve been working on a technique that will give us those goals–as many or as few as we need–that we can turn to whenever we stall out on our drafting. As you said, it’s more about guidelines than a strict manual. So this class is just me sharing what I learned while putting this together. It’s literally weeks and weeks of work, so it’s too much for my blog (sharing everything as a blog post series would take over my blog for months…I’d get bored–LOL!), which is why I decided to turn it into a big braindump of a class. 🙂 I hope you’ll get to take it soon! *hugs* Thanks for the comment!

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Roni Loren October 16, 2012 at 7:34 am

Glad you found the way that works best for you. : ) I still have plotter envy but that’s because I don’t have that other cool talent so many other pantsers have –that rush of writing and banging out 30k in a few days (like you did.) That’s the awesome benefit of pantsing. But I can’t seem to do that. I pants but my drafts are SO slow and painstaking. (And I’m saying slow in relative terms because last month I wrote 40k but that was absolutely holding myself under the gun b/c I have a deadline to meet.) Most days, drafting is like pulling teeth for me. I much prefer revising (which tends to be a plotter quality.) So I have some weird hybrid of qualities, lol, and I think that’s why I’m always tweaking my technique. But I know for sure, I’ll never be able to do a scene by scene outline. That gives me the heebie jeebies just thinking about it.

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Jami Gold October 16, 2012 at 12:30 pm

Hi Roni,

Yes, I typically get the first part of a story out quickly–through the Inciting Incident or the First Plot Point or so–and then stall out. I know lots of other writers have that problem too. Some writers have tons of stories that stalled out at 30K words and they just gave up. Maybe they thought the magic had disappeared from that story and they set it aside.

But what I’ve found is that as long as I have a goal I’m writing toward (“What do I want to accomplish with this scene?”), I can write faster even after that initial burst. So I’m looking at ways to capture those goals without delving into actual plotting. 🙂

NaNo will be a huge test for me. 50K in a month is more than I’ve ever done and it’s all going to be post-initial burst scenes. I have the first 25K or so written already (up through the First Plot Point (end of the beginning)), so this is my usual stall out point. The rest of the writing–everything I have to do for NaNo–will be the “sagging middle” and the third act. Normally, I’d drag this part out forever, but now that I have this plan, I’m going to force myself to get it done. NaNo is the perfect excuse for that motivation. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Carradee October 16, 2012 at 10:49 am

I’ve found that different stories end up needing different methods, but I cannot use a numbered outline. If I’m going to outline, it has to be with 3×5 cards or on Scrivener’s Outliner function. Otherwise, I get stuck on my outline and cannot deviate from it.

The most I can is broad strokes for events and motives, and when one starts feeling “off”, I have to stop myself and figure out what I’m missing.

However, some things I write, I find that I can’t plan them at all. If I start trying to plan them, I get blocked, but if I sit down and just write, I get ’em done. (Recently did a short story like that, which ended up completely different from where I’d expected it to when I started it. It’s a nice prequel to one novelette I’ve written, though, and one detail in it means I have another novelette to write before that.)

And the same story can be both types—needing planning, needing no planning—at different points in the draft.

Thus why I work best with Outliner or 3×5 cards. It’s minimal work to change tacks without losing a copy of your original layout.

On the bright side, the more this technique shift happens to me, the more I internalize that I have to adjust tacks when I start getting blocked, so I’m swifter to do it when I do get blocked. 🙂

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Jami Gold October 16, 2012 at 12:39 pm

Hi Carradee,

Yes, the story that I had absolutely no idea about anything (just had the first line) was my novella. I had no idea about any of the characters, the conflict–I didn’t even know the genre when I started! 🙂 At the end of the first draft, I had about 12K words that had all magically come together to make a real story.

So I have the same experience as you–short forms can have zero plan, longer stories might need some. And like you, what I need to plan changes with every story and at every point in each story. 🙂 Like I mentioned above, I really came up with this method for me–to deal with this variability–and decided to share it with others. One of these days, I still have to try Scrivener. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Carradee October 16, 2012 at 1:52 pm

Actually, the short story was just an example. I’ve had novel drafts I’ve had to wing, too, that fizzled when I tried planning them.

And I’ve had flash fiction stories that required planning. 🙂

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Jami Gold October 16, 2012 at 2:06 pm

Hi Carredee,

Interesting! That just goes to show that there really is no “one right way” to writing. 🙂

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Melinda S. Collins October 16, 2012 at 12:00 pm

I’m still a pantser at heart, but this new WIP I’m working on is one that I absolutely had to sit down, create character sketches, plot out the 4 main plot points, and create my world rules. Though all of those are always subject to change as the muse gets me writing. But even with planning that much out, the drafting process this time around is like pulling freakin’ teeth from a tiger. I’m finding that I’m lucky if I can get 5k written over the course of one weekend, much less during the week after the dayjob. My intention was to write out the main plot points, and pants the in-between scenes. Now I’m actually finding myself having to write out what I ‘think’ should happen in the scene(s) I’m about to write before I actually sit down to do it (and if it goes the other way, then oh wells).

I definitely think the plotter/pantser approach to stories not only depends on the writer, but also on the story. Some stories call for plotting due to a large cast of characters or worldbuilding, and some stories call for you to just sit there and vomit on the page. I’m a perfectionist like you, and so I do enjoy my 10-tab spreadsheets for story plotting – but I’ve found that I actually don’t even use about 5 of those tabs in the end because I want the info on those tabs to be a surprise. 🙂

I do say I agree with Roni on preferring the revision stage. The hard work’s done by that point – to me – and so now you get to have the fun of tearing it apart and figuring out how to make each, individual scene stand-out. The only difference is that I don’t have a deadline in which I have to have it ‘done,’ so I end up letting my perfectionist take the reins and find myself revising several times when I probably didn’t have to. Maybe I should start giving myself hard deadlines? I dunno….

Thanks for putting this class together on WANA International, Jami! I sent you an email on this, but I definitely plan on attending the classes next week. You’ve always got something new to share, so I can’t wait! 😀

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Jami Gold October 16, 2012 at 12:58 pm

Hi Melinda,

Ooo, yes, that’s exactly what I’ve found too. Every story is different. Some need zero planning, some need more, some need plot help, and some need character help. I’m looking to address all those variations in one class and one set of tools–quite frankly, because I wanted them to exist somewhere. LOL!

And boy, do I hear you with the perfectionist nature really coming out with revisions. 🙂 Thanks for the comment and I look forward to seeing you in class!

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Buffy Armstrong October 16, 2012 at 12:05 pm

Last year I decided to do NaNoWriMo at the last possible moment. Consequently, all I had was a weak premise and a few characters. I had a lot of those “OMG,WTH am I doing” moments. It took the better part of the month to get my butt in gear. Some nights I had to write 5000 words just to catch up. I really hope that doesn’t happen to me again this year. In then end though, I did figure out the story. It’s changed since I’ve revised it, but the germ of story I went in with is still very much intact.

This year I’m going to work on a story that I’ve been thinking about for over two years. I know the characters inside and out. I know most of elements of the story. I’m just having a hard time putting it all together. I’m thinking about taking your class next week to help me come up with a method to weed through it all.

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Jami Gold October 16, 2012 at 1:09 pm

Hi Buffy,

Ugh, I’m sure I’ll have some of those 5000 word nights too, just because my day job schedule is so variable. We’ll see. It should be interesting. 🙂

As I’ve mentioned a couple of times here in the comments, I really came up with all the stuff in this class for me, and now I’m just sharing it in a class because I don’t want it to take over my blog for months. 🙂 Sooo… I’m totally not trying to do a sales job on you (I hope you’d all whap me if I did!), but I do want to tell you more about my approach so you can decide if the class would be helpful to you or not.

My approach starts with the 10,000 foot view and works deeper from there. People need to go only as deep and/or specific as they want. So they can change how they use the tools for each story, for different points within a story, and for the character arc, the plot arc, or both. Please let me know if you have any questions, and I’d be happy to answer them! 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Marcy Kennedy October 16, 2012 at 12:23 pm

Lisa Hall-Wilson and I have become a little infamous because we co-wrote a novel, but she’s a pantser and I’m a hard core plotter. It’s like the proverbial oil and water. We made it through, but what we discovered was that neither of us do our best work trying to write the other way. We also learned the strengths we can borrow from the other side. It sounds like that’s similar to what you’re trying to do for pantsers in your class. Good luck!

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Jami Gold October 16, 2012 at 1:23 pm

Hi Marcy,

Ooo, wow! Co-writing a novel is tough enough, but add in the plotter/pantser debate and that really makes things interesting. 🙂 I know you both, but I didn’t know you were on opposite ends.

That’s great that you found strengths to borrow from each other. To some extent, that’s what my class will do, but not quite in the way that people usually talk about. Thanks for the comment!

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Stina Lindenblatt October 16, 2012 at 12:29 pm

I would drown if I wrote without plotting. For me, that’s part of the fun (the plotting, not the drowning). That doesn’t mean surprises don’t happen on the way. It just means I have less digging out than if I don’t plan ahead of time. Of course, plotting doesn’t mean your book won’t have problems. You can still steer wrong when you plot. That’s why I prefer to give my outlines distance before I write the first draft. 😀

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Jami Gold October 16, 2012 at 1:27 pm

Hi Stina,

LOL! Yes, I can understand that drowning feeling too. I was feeling that way with the emotional character arc for this WIP I’m doing for NaNo–yet another reason why I created all these tools. I needed them! 🙂

Ooo, that’s interesting about how you give your outlines distance before you draft. I love that. I could see that working for a lot of people as well. It’s a way to get yourself organized by plotting, and then giving yourself freedom for pantsing the details. Very cool. You could teach that as a “pantsing for plotters” technique. 😉 Thanks for the comment!

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Serena Yung October 16, 2012 at 1:50 pm

Me too, I’m a confirmed pantser. I have also tried plotting but it never worked for me. 1) Plotting is generally boring, in my opinion. 2) Whenever I DELIBERATELY decide on anything, like character details, I mess it up. 🙁 But if my subconscious feeds me the information, it all flows and it feels *authentic*, if you know what I mean.

Hmm I don’t know if I ever thought that all “real” writers plot. But after reading a lot of books on story writing, I had an impression that a very great number of real writers pants. (Or should I say “pant”? Oh the puns.) In fact, after being immersed in the writer’s community, it feels like that MOST people are pantsers! I keep hearing people talking about how character planning sheets never work for them. Seems like most people prefer to write and let things emerge organically from the story instead. *shrugs* So from writer’s forums, I got the impression that pantsing was “the norm”! I may be wrong though. I probably am.

But maybe most people do a combination of plotting and pantsing. Two of my closest friends who are also writers make general goals for their story to reach (e.g. the main characters win the tennis tournament), but then nothing is planned in between. Sure, there are little things to be worked out, like why do these characters walk there when they could have just taken the bus? But mostly it’s writing without thinking from point A to B.

Even with me, while I do almost 100% pantsing, after some time, I will have a “brainstorming checkpoint”. This happens when I feel like I’m “out of juice”, or that my pantsing is giving me excessively weird, out-of-character, or boring or stupid stuff. Basically I jot down tons of questions for the characters: will (s)he do this, or that, or that? What will be the consequences? Or I might want there to be some “dramatic event/ action”. So, I keeping throwing down questions and wishes, until one of them “lifts off” and starts spouting an entire scene or dialogue for me! And the pantsing begins again.

It’s like asking Santa for a million things on your wishlist, and he’ll eventually give you one of them; or like asking a guru lots of puzzling questions about life, and he/ she will eventually answer one of them—and in satisfying detail too.

Phew, that was long. Hope that makes my pantsing-brainstorming-pantsing method clear!

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Carradee October 16, 2012 at 1:55 pm

I suspect part of the confusion also comes from types of writing. Where do most of us learn to write? English classes. What are we usually required to start with in English classes? An outline.

For a lot of folks, an outline helps them—or, at least, it doesn’t hurt them. Me, my grades tended to be better if I could write without an outline, and sometimes that meant writing the entire paper before the outline’s due date, so I could write the outline from the paper.

Yeah, some teachers didn’t like me.

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Jami Gold October 16, 2012 at 2:08 pm

Hi Carradee,

LOL! I can see that. 🙂

I’d say that for non-fiction, outlines can definitely help (I started with one to figure out my class). But on the other hand, I never have outlines for my blog posts, so it really is a case-by-case situation. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Jami Gold October 16, 2012 at 2:05 pm

Hi Serena,

Exactly! It’s that conscious, deliberate decision-making that always feels wrong to me. So even when I write things out, they have to be a) either from my subconscious, and/or b) vague and not detailed so my subconscious can fill in the specifics. 🙂

That’s interesting how your experience made you think most writers were pantsers. I have no idea about the breakdown of actual numbers, but I do know that there are many workshops to help pantsers learn how to plot and none in the other direction. Add in all the blog posts about “plotting for pantsers” and it can really make some writers feel like their way isn’t good enough. I’m glad you didn’t run into that. 🙂

As for your friends, yes, that’s the level of planning I’m talking about in the class. And even within that type of high-level planning, there’s the 10,000 foot view and the 1000 foot view, as well as differences for plot arcs and character arcs. 🙂 And like you said, as pantsers, we want to plan only as needed, but we sometimes can reach a stall out point where we need to step back and brainstorm or plan–just a bit–to get our muse going again. Yep, your method makes total sense to me. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Serena October 17, 2012 at 10:46 am

” I have no idea about the breakdown of actual numbers, but I do know that there are many workshops to help pantsers learn how to plot and none in the other direction.”

Hmm, maybe our experiences were different, lol. The creative writing club I’m in right now gives us a 10 minute free writing session at the beginning of each workshop, which could be a kind of “promotion of pantsership”. Also, many of the books and websites I read on writing often talked about writing the “shitty first draft”. I remember one book saying that what you write without thinking may not necessarily be great, but it guarantees that you will write MORE, and writing more means more practice i.e. better writing in the long term! There were also a lot of books talking about “listening to your characters as they suggest things to you or tell you what to do”, so that’s also supporting the subconscious-writing/ pantsing paradigm.

Of course, it could simply be because I was paying more attention to the pantsing talk, so it seemed to me that pantsers were more prevalent!

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Jami Gold October 17, 2012 at 4:12 pm

Hi Serena,

Good point! Most plotters wouldn’t necessarily call that pantsing–which typically refers to pantsing a whole story–so much as just listening to their muse for the specific words to say, however. Eh, we’re probably all a lot closer to the middle than to either extreme. 🙂

That said, you’re absolutely right that when I read craft books and the like, I tend to tune out the advice that I know doesn’t work for me. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Ashley Farley October 16, 2012 at 2:15 pm

I’m going to need to be a panster to manage 50,000 in a month. I worked on a short passage yesterday for about an hour and all I got was 400 words. That’s a lot of hours.

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Jami Gold October 16, 2012 at 2:21 pm

Hi Ashley,

I hear you. Back in my fast drafting post, I talked about how 300-500 words per hour is my usual speed. Ugh.

That’s why I really started looking at what I did differently for my word sprints to reach 900-1000 words/hour. That’s still slow for many, but it was great for me. 🙂 And this idea of planning just enough to have a goal really stuck out to me–as well as to the other commenters on that post. So then I started analyzing the different levels of planning we can do and came up with this whole breakdown with a methodology and worksheets–from high level to more in-depth for both plot arc and character arc.

Are you doing NaNo? If so, good luck! 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Edith October 16, 2012 at 2:50 pm

Hi Jami, great post! I’m still sitting on the fence about that one, though I think I’ probably a bit of both…I like to have some idea of where I might be going but am delighted when the writing, or rather my characters, let me know that they have their own plans. After that its all about asking who, why, when, how, etc!

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Jami Gold October 16, 2012 at 3:25 pm

Hi Edith,

Yes, when the characters take over is when writing really seems magical. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Linda Adams October 16, 2012 at 3:09 pm

Pantser here! I’ve tried outlining to solve problems with the story and discovered that I can’t connect my creativity at all to an outline. I get to about three chapters of the story, and then the outline rolls over and puts its feet up the air.

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Jami Gold October 16, 2012 at 3:28 pm

Hi Linda,

Yes, outlining nails my creativity to a wall. Hmm… One thing I just thought of is that I often have a hard time revising because I can’t see other ways a sentence could be worded or a scene could go until someone points it out to me. In a way, the outline issue is the same. Once an outline is set, I can’t see other ways–potentially better ways–an arc could go. It’s like the words on the page blind me to possibilities. Interesting. Thanks for getting me to think and thanks for the comment! 🙂

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Laurie London October 16, 2012 at 5:27 pm

Darn you, Jami. I’ve been toying with doing NaNo, but now that I know you are, I may just have to sign up. 😉

I’m a pantser who does a little bit of plotting. The times I’ve tried fast drafting, it’s all gobbledegook that gets tossed out unless I go into it with a little bit of a plan. And I certainly don’t write fast. If I can eek out more than 500-1000 words in an hour, I’m fairly happy. But when I do have a tight deadline (like Roni), that’s when I write the fastest (10-15k a week).

I think it was Lisa Gardner who says she writes to each turning point. I like that method. You know just enough to head off in a direction, then you fill in the blanks as you go.

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Jami Gold October 16, 2012 at 5:30 pm

Hi Laurie,

LOL! Ooo, if you sign up for NaNo, let me know. 🙂

Exactly. I need a direction to write anywhere close to fast. That’s a great way to put it! 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Sonia G Medeiros October 16, 2012 at 8:16 pm

I used to be a diehard pantster. The very thought of an outline was enough to give me hives. And pantsing seems to work very well with flash fiction and short stories. I usually have several rewrites (at least) but, as short fiction is short, it’s not an ordeal to rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. When I tried to pants my way through a novel…I got stuck. Some of it was that I’d have new ideas that would affect the whole story. This happened frequently. I probably could have just gone with it and worked it out in rewrites but I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. I got so stuck I had to put that novel on the back burner for awhile.

Reluctantly, I started plotting with a new WIP. Not heavily, but just a sketchy outline of scenes. As I worked on the outline, the trajectory changing ideas popped up but I could easily rework the outline. Now that I’m into the first draft, I’m still finding those ideas popping up (though they’re less of a drastic change) but I’m taking them in stride. I’m still able to write spontaneously but I have my outline as a suggested route for when I get stuck.

I consider myself a hybrid of plotter and pantser. A plantster. Or maybe a plottser. 😀

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Jami Gold October 16, 2012 at 8:35 pm

Hi Sonia,

Yes, short fiction is much easier for me to completely pants, but like you said, for longer writing a sketchy direction is good. For my own muse’s sake, I just have to make sure any ideas for that direction come from my subconscious and that I don’t write out the details. 🙂

I think in her comment on my fast draft post, Roxanne St. Claire called herself a Plantzer, so we have good company. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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ChemistKen October 17, 2012 at 6:49 am

Just like you, I got hooked on writing when I began writing my Harry Potter story (still working on it after three years). At first, all I had were unrelated scenes, and it was over a year before I arranged them into a coherent plot. Then I learned about story structure and had to rearrange them all over again. 🙂

I’m definitely in the plotting camp. Can’t imagine how I would write without having some idea where I’m going. Looking forward to November.

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Jami Gold October 17, 2012 at 8:17 am

Hi ChemistKen,

Yikes, I can understand wanting to plot after all that. A big part of being able to pants successfully–in my opinion–is having a good understanding of story structure. Whether that structure is plotted in advance, planned to some extent, or inherent in the story because the author has a deep instinctive grasp of it, stories need structure. I’ve mentioned before that I love story structure (despite my pantsing ways) so that helps my first drafts regardless of if I plan them ahead of time or not. 🙂 Good luck in NaNo and thanks for the comment!

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Jodie James October 17, 2012 at 8:57 am

I’m a pantser and out and proud about it. :O)
I love that feeling of ‘whoa, where did THAT come from?’ when you have a really good day, but on the flip side it is like pulling teeth when the words won’t come. Times like that I have to take a break for a day or two and think it out before I can go back to it.
I find that I set out with a general idea in mind of how the story will begin, and usually I know what I’m working towards as the climax and conclusion, then I pants my way between the two.
I’ve tried plotting in advance and I just can’t do it. I guess both ways are good as long as you end up with a book you’re happy with.

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Jami Gold October 17, 2012 at 9:01 am

Hi Jodie,

Exactly! Yes, the good times are awesome, and the hard times are miserable. I gave myself the goal of creating that “magic” tool to make those bad times less frequent, or at least not last as long. 🙂 But as you said, we all have to do what works best for us. Thanks for the comment!

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Donna B. McNicol [@donnabmcnicol] October 20, 2012 at 8:42 am

Add me to the list of perfectionist type-A’s who quickly discovered that pantsing worked much better for them. Really surprised me…now I may or may not do a little planning in advance but only research about the area and any forensics stuff I’ll need and some basic character outlines.

So I have declared myself as a plantster…a little planning, a little plotting and a WHOLE LOT of pantsing!

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Jami Gold October 20, 2012 at 9:02 am

Hi Donna,

Oh yay! 🙂 Glad to meet another one.

I recently took a left brain/right brain quiz and came out right in the middle. I wonder if that has anything to do with it? 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Becca October 20, 2012 at 9:04 am

While I’m usually a huge plotting fanatic, and believe everyone should plot… this year I’m reconsidering. I liked your explanation that even though your ‘perfectionist’ side (also in me) wants you to plot, you have to pants in order to keep the book magical.

This year for NaNo, I’m trying it. I have some character sheets and a few scene cards, but that’s it. I’m gonna pants.

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Jami Gold October 20, 2012 at 9:08 am

Hi Becca,

Ooo, NaNo seems like the perfect time to experiment with that approach. 🙂 Good luck and thanks for the comment!

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Gerry Wilson October 22, 2012 at 7:31 pm

I’m a perfectionist, but I was a pantser long before there was a term for it, so maybe I should be relieved to know that’s what I am! I like the way a story unfolds. Yes, I have a general idea of where a story’s going, and I *do* think about the plot, but plotting ahead doesn’t dictate where I go with it. Where my perfectionism gets me in trouble is my tendency to edit as I go–not a good scenario for NaNoWriMo. I’m trying to do some pre-planning for NaNoWriMo, but actually, I’ve used it in the past to expand a work I’d already started–yes, cheating a bit, but it got me the 50,000 words I needed to move that work along. I loved this post and the comments following!

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Jami Gold October 22, 2012 at 7:52 pm

Hi Gerry,

Ooo, yes, editing as I go is a big issue for me too. NaNo will definitely be a challenge in that regard. 🙂

Like you, I’ll be continuing a story, but making sure I’m putting in at least 50,000 new words. We can be NaNo Rebels together. 🙂 Good luck and thanks for the comment!

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Taurean Watkins November 20, 2012 at 2:14 am

I differ from you here, Jami, I have plotter envy, only because I strongly believe writing the ACTUAL BOOK will NEVER, EVER be the same as “Writing ABOUT a book” in the form of query letter/synopses/flap or back cover copy/press releases/etc….Yuck! (Sorry for being bratty there, Jami, I just had to say it)

My point is that those are NOT the same process for me. While I know you struggle with query letters too, Jami, I really think writers differ with what they find especially challenging, what I find “basic” others could find to be their “nightmare.”

Some like writing the “blurb” stuff. I don’t. Only because this is where agents/editors vs. potential readers are EXTREMELY divided!

Agents/Editors want to know EVERYTHING (While still being under 200 freaking words, readers just need to be teased, and the writer (At least THIS writer) feels like they’re unavoidably trapped in the middle, and can’t seem make either audience happy.

I “tease” when I should be specific.

Or I’m “overly detailed” when the broad strokes will do.

Truth be told, I’d rather be detailed than annoyingly vague, that’s just how I am, so that’s over half of WHY query letters/synopses drive me insane.

I get why brevity matters, Jami. I’m BEGGING you to believe me. But I can’t help that I’m not an over burdened, widowed parent, with 2.5 kids, with 9+ day jobs outside the home, writing, and trying to get my PhD, all at the same time. (You folks are my heroes, but we all can’t live up to that standard, so be understanding of us outside your spectrum, please?)

I will blog regularly again. I just needed to reassess my blog, my life, and non-blog writing, 2012 was a hard year for me.

There was some growth, but much of that growth had anger, or tears attached, but I’ll be okay.

I don’t want to waste anyone’s time. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have to work through my own stuff, and it’s not less HARD, and I say that to FREE ME, not come off rude to ungrateful toward others. Only on your blog do I feel you’ll get that without necessarily misreading me.

Thanks Jami.

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Jami Gold November 20, 2012 at 6:03 pm

Hi Taurean,

Absolutely! We all have different processes, and each method will work better for some and not for others. And as you said, that means we all struggle with different aspects of the writing craft or career. Thanks for the comment!

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Nordlys January 30, 2013 at 7:06 am

I’m a switcher (former plotter). I think my conscious and my subconscious mind are creative equally.
Anyway, I never felt that my stories are written by theirselves. I always fell the owner of the story, and I never felt that things went out from my control. Usyually when i start to write, I already know where the story goes, especially how it ends, and I have no problems to follow the path. I think switching the method is necessary to avoid stagnation.

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Jami Gold January 30, 2013 at 1:41 pm

Hi Nordlys,

Interesting! For me, even when I feel out of control, I trust that my subconscious knows what it’s doing (and it always does!), so I never truly feel out of control. I’m glad you found a method that works for you. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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