Breaking up with Pantsing and my affair with Plotting.
Updated: May 1, 2021
“Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.” Winston Churchill
Are you a Plotter? A Pantser? Or Plantser?
These are questions that writers are asked or wonder about.
A Plotter is someone who plans their novel. They have an outline or some idea of where the story will go. They develop their characters and complete research. Some writers go all out and have everything meticulously planned and others just have a basic structure.
A Pantser has an idea or inspiration and they sit down and write. They fly by the seat of their pants. This is where the term comes from.
A Plantser is a writer that does a bit of both.
If you're not sure which one you are or are just curious and want to find out, Writers Relief has a quick quiz you can do on the Medium website. I did it. I'm a Plotter. But I already knew that. As a Pantser, I had written 110,000 words of a first draft (which I'm calling Draft Zero; a phrase coined by Astrid Scholte). It was a mess. Of course, first drafts are meant to be messy but this was a train wreck; plot holes, wishy-washy secondary characters, weak goals and lack-lustre conflicts. I kept adding to the narrative to get it right. I stopped flogging it when I realised there were at least four different storylines all jammed into one book as I tried to make it better and more engaging.
Again, I must emphasise that first drafts are supposed to be a mess; I believe that they are essential in the writing of a novel or short story. Prominent authors also attest to this.
I respect the first draft. In fact, I love the first draft. It's a liberating way to write. Above my desk, on bright post-it notes, the following quotes inspire me.
To become a proper writer, you have to forgive yourself the catastrophe of the first draft. (Alain de Botton)
I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shovelling sand into a box so later I can build castles. (Shannon Hale)
The first draft of anything is shit. (Ernest Hemingway) ... apology for the expletive but it is Hemmingway.
What did I do after Draft Zero?
I discovered that I am a plotter. I'm not surprised. I plan everything in my life. I'm the Queen of lists. I plan our holiday itinerary to the minute. I schedule my day in time slots to compartmentalise all the things I need and want to do: planning for school, marking, university assignments, my writing, workshops, social events, house cleaning. The list goes on ... and on ... and on. The catalyst for me was completing an online course on Plotting and Planning with Australian author Kate Forsyth. The course was run by the Australian Writers Centre. It inspired me. This course changed my work as an emerging writer. I went back to the drawing ... err ... writing board and started again.
After nearly ten weeks of planning and plotting, I'm ready. I gave myself a twelve weeks deadline to plan and research so I wouldn't spend months down rabbit holes fluffing about and procrastinating. I've also given myself a deadline to complete the first draft. If publishers give contracted author's deadline, I'll give myself one too. I'll also be updating my progress and process, all the trials and tribulations, as I write my first draft at #valeriewritesanovel.
There are loads of opinions and thoughts on what's better. Plotter? Or Pantser? Stephen King believes that plotting makes your writing stale. One of my favourite writers, Margaret Atwood says it's like painting by numbers. Maybe they're right. Maybe they can successfully pants their way towards a best-selling novel. Maybe being a gifted writer, with years of experience allows you to do that. Maybe once I have perfected the craft, I might be able to do the same. But for now, I need to be true to my process and that process is planning.
Novels can only be published if they are written. It doesn't matter how messy first drafts are. They can be revised and edited, over and over until they are polished and ready to be submitted to a literary agent or publisher. Does it really matter how you got there? I don't think so.
“The first draft reveals the art; revision reveals the artist.” Michael Lee
I have read that there is a fear about losing your creativity when you plot. I personally don't feel that's the case. In all the planning I've done so far, I've had to use my imagination to figure out the narrative arc, create the characters, determine where the story will go and what kind of rocks I'm going to have through at my protagonist after I've put them up a tree. The entire time I spent plotting I've been using my imagination and my creativity.
I'm pretty confident too, that once I start writing, elements in the novel will change. I know that my characters will still take me where they need to go. I'm also planning to be flexible and will trust the process, trust my characters and most importantly trust my imagination. I'll let you all know how I go.
Plotter? Plantser? Or a little blending of two: a Plantser? Whichever writing style you choose to use for your writing project, it's getting your first draft down. That's the single most important goal. How you get there will be determined by your own style and process as a writer. As Stephen King has said, you write with the door close and revise with the door open.
Now, get that bum glue on, sit down and let that story you've been itching to write flow out onto the page. Word by word, sentence by sentence and scene by scene.
Happy writing 🌸
Image courtesy of Christina Conti @Dreamstime.com