Pantser Dilemma

I’ve been struggling lately and it took me a few days to fully grasp why. I’m not talking personally, although one could correlate some anxieties to the issues I’ve been facing. Missing days of writing goals, purposefully or not, is hardly the end of the world. Stress will still come though. Even when knowing the reasons, even when they are legitimate, anxiety will follow. And these days are stacking up. It’s only taken me until today to understand why.

My writing style is the aptly named pantser writing style. It means that I write by the seat of my pants. Almost stream-of-consciousness in a way. Sure, there’s a little forethought going into it — emphasizing little — with some scenes and plot known ahead of time. That’s all in the mind though. Pen and paper are rarely employed, nor are the added features of Scrivener.

Some stories can be written like that. In fact, all the stories I’ve written so far have been pretty much exactly like that. Where it came into a problem (where it happened once before) is with my current project, an epic fantasy. The problem started around the 70,000 word-mark. With no planning, I started to realize that I was struggling to keep track of what was going on. No maps, no character outlines, no plot outline, no world building — nothing. These are things I can make up on the fly, sure. If I want it to be consistent however, then I either need to continually go back and reference things, or have a damn plan.

The thing is, I’ve never felt that I was good at outlining, so I avoided it. I didn’t take time to learn techniques, strategies, or otherwise. What did I do? Dove into the writing and told myself that I’d be fine. No so. Too often this has now bit me in the ass. I need to figure something out.

One of the keys to this has come from learnings in other areas. Specifically, it has come from life in my day job, where certain things have to happen, but either myself or those I’ve been leading have no idea where or how to proceed. In these cases, I’ve adopted a philosophy of making a decision, seeing if it works, then course correcting as necessary. In a way, it’s like experimentation. Take what is known, make a hypothesis, then try it (or test it) out in the world. The whole point of it is to not let either too little data or too much data stop action from being made. Things can be changed. Nothing, no strategy that I adopt, no tool that I choose, has to be permanent. Until I find what works best for me, it behooves me to continue changing, experimenting, trying out new things, until things stick. Until they are useful to me.

In that thinking there is also the concept that how I work things doesn’t have to be, nor should it necessarily be, following any strict format. How I plan and outline a story can look and feel however it ends up, so long as that it is useful to my end goal: writing. Outlines that I build don’t have to look anything like any outline ever taught in the history of anywhere, which was another part of where I had gotten hung up. It’s a tool. I just need to find the best tool that works for me.

But I need to start now. I need to find a way to plan out my stories better or I will continue to run into these problems.

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