The Ails of Being a Pantser

There are lots of troubles when you are a pantser. Writers know what I mean, but for everyone else, here’s the scoop: a pantser is a writer who writes by the seat of their pants. No plan, no outlines, just writing. And it has been getting to be a bigger problem for me than anything else in my writing career (save my lack of enthusiasm for marketing – but that’s another matter…)

These last few months have been a struggle to get back into the routine of hitting over 1,000 words a day like I was doing up to mid-September. Now… I know once I get back into it, I’ll be able to slide right in. But my problem is I am struggling to remember where I left off.

I do have a pretty good memory. I am reading 5 books right now, remembering well where each of them are. Writing is not too different. When I am deep in a project, I can track it as I write it with few problems. Occasionally I’ll get stuck at a plot point, but it doesn’t hang up like it has recently. I could blame all the events and struggles however, it would be dishonest of me not to dig in to understand what is driving this, what is truly driving this: my lack of planning and organization.

The “planning” that I do now is all in my head. I know where the story is supposed to go, I just haven’t mapped out the steps. Really, it’s not planning. Most days, that’s not a problem. Most days, I happily work a route to the climax and denouement with minimal stumbles. (I stumble, yes. Minimal is an estimate… or wishful thinking…)

Given that due to everything, I stepped away from book 2 in Agnes right at a point that I was working out where to go next with the story… and promptly I have forgotten where I was going for this chapter in the planned 5 book saga. Had I had an outline, that would not have been a problem. I’d look at where I was, what was next, then I could just keep going. Breaks in my writing life wouldn’t impact me any more than just being in or out of regular habit.

I’ve bemoaned about my lack of outlining and planning skills in the past, as this isn’t the first time that I’ve run into this problem. Somehow, I’ve never chosen to learn from these past mistakes, instead believing that my pantser ways were the better ways to write for me. But what about an alternative? What about a method of planning and pantsing my way through stories?

The key to doing some form of hybrid writing is the planning part. Writing only by the seat of my pants has worked for me in a lot of ways, particularly in allowing me to write over 275,000 words of fiction this year alone. But what if that number could be over 300,000? 400,000? 500,000? Who knows? It could be no better than I am doing now… but it could be much better.

Another benefit that I have to convince myself of in outlining and planning out my stories is that it allows a much longer period of plot review than what I do in my normal behaviors. Knowing the varying points of the plot up front allows me to constantly see how they work from the very first words I put into a project all the way through to the very last revision. Now? I only see it when I review and revise.

So why in hell don’t I plan out or outline my works? The simple answer: fear. Yep… it’s as simple as that. I am afraid that I suck at it, or that I won’t do it right, or that it’ll be more work than I want it to be. None of what I am afraid of is logical, at least not in my eyes. I am afraid of writing an outline and that I might scribble out a part of it or want to rearrange it, as though once I write an outline down that I am forbidden to change it. (Remember… I did say that it wasn’t logical.) It’s really fucking stupid, because just like with the work that I write down, it is malleable, changeable, even after I’ve published it.

So what if I suck at it; I can get better at it. So what if I need to rearrange it; it’s not written in stone. So what if I don’t do it right; it’s called learning for a damn reason.

Last year I hear a writer talk about their own adventure in outlining when they were talking about being a planner or a pantser noting that their outlining wasn’t always very detailed. Sometimes it was; sometimes it wasn’t. What was important to them was that they placed the stepping stones to help carry them through the rough spots. Sometimes a single word on an outline was sufficient, and then they would pants their way through it with reckless abandon. Why can’t I just try?

Fear.

Damn that illogical creativity killer. Even as I talk myself into the possibility of starting to plan out my writing, I find fun and creative excuses as to how I won’t be able to start it. Saying things like “well I already wrote five books without a plan in that series,” or “I am halfway through this story right now, I’d just be stalling if I go back to write the outline.” There’s always the “I don’t want to lock myself down to an idea in this story in case some better idea comes up…” Or there’s even, “well, I don’t know what I want to do in the story yet, so I’ll just write.” I mean… really? These excuses are genuinely a real problem.

Earlier this year, I took a problem – low daily word-count – and found a solution by focusing my energies into it. By September, when my family vacation hit, I had written enough to shoot my daily word-count average to nearly 1000 words a day factoring in ALL days in the year to that point, not just the days I wrote. But while this solved one problem, it exposed these other problems to a greater degree than what was before. I knew they were there yet I chose to let the fear of failure decide how I was going to manage it… by ignoring it.

Well, I can’t fucking ignore it any more. If I want to make this writing thing work for me, whether I write for myself or for others, I need to find out the things that are holding me back so that I can work through them. Right now, my two biggest problems are lack of planning and lack of marketing. And that planning will absolutely impact the marketing if I don’t fix it first.

 

Image from Pixabay user JamesDeMers

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