Writing by the seat of your pants can be fun

May 9, 2013

There’s tons of information online about two kinds of writers—the plotter and the pantser.

Elizabeth George Offical PhotoPlotters plan their novels from beginning to end before they start writing. One preeminent plotter is mystery writer, Elizabeth George. George, one of my heroes, begins her process with a step outline that includes a list of scenes in her novel.

“On and on I go, until I’ve exhausted all the possibilities for the section of the novel I’m writing about,” she says in Write Away, her brilliant (in my humble opinion) book on the craft of writing. The next step in George’s process is to flush out these scenes in a meticulously detailed plot outline that can go on for pages.

Whew. How does she do that and keep churning out novels? Where does she find the time?

Steven King Tabitha KingPantsers, on the other hand, are so called because they write by the seat of their pants when writing a story. Steven King could be called the pantser poster child. He gets an idea, then sits down to write.

We all know how that’s working for him, right?

After years of struggling to follow outlines and plot worksheets, I realized that I intuitively tend toward the Pantser style of writing. I didn’t understand this about myself until I read author Margaret Duarte’s post about King’s views on plotting, margaretduarte.com “King distrusts plot,” she writes. He believes that “plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible.”

I’ve since reread King’s, Steven King on Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, and decided to give his philosophy a go. As a result, I’ve never felt freer or more engaged with my writing. I’ve met new characters and followed new plot twists, simply because I’m willing trust the silence and wait for creative guidance.

I couldn’t have made the switch from Plotter to Pantser without two things. I have a handle on the basics of writing good fiction. And before I put my first word on paper, I have an idea of what I want to say and where my story’s going. Without either of these things, I couldn’t have made the switch.

Hmmm—does that make me a Pantserette instead of the real thing?

3 Responses to Writing by the seat of your pants can be fun

  • I love this, Jo: “…trust the silence and wait for creative guidance.”
    This, too: Pantserette. Did you just make up a new word?

    • Hey Jo we share a name! 🙂

      Nice blog piece. I had trouble with this myself, trying to outline things. I never got to the actual writing. Then I started writing, finally, and realized that half of what I had outlined needed to be tossed. Sigh.

      Now I make a quick list of bullet points and a list of characters and just go with it. My one page outline becomes more of a story map. I keep it updated from time to time so I can look at it for reference.

      As a beginner just getting to the writing was crucial, it helped with my confidence and it helped me to see what style works for the actual writing. My outlines were beautiful, fun, engaging. But I want to be a novelist not an outlineist.

      • Hey Joseph,

        I love bullet points! And I love the idea of a story map, rather than plot outline. I’m with you, I want to be a novelist not an outlineist.

        Thanks for stopping buy to share your process. I enjoy knowing how others ply their craft.

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