Some writers create lists and outlines before they start writing, so they know exactly what is going to happen and when in their story. Then there are those who start writing with only a general idea of what they want to happen.
I am the latter, the writer who gets an idea and runs with it without much preparation at all. Don’t get me wrong, I have a rough timeline of events to follow (mainly in my head), but for the most part I fly by the seat of my pants. In the writing world, I am what you would call a pantser.
I wish I could be a plotter (aka a planner). A plotter gets an idea for a book, sits down and starts jotting down his or her thoughts and ideas. These thoughts are then organized into a timeline of events that eventually develops into an organized outline. Voila! The entire plot is planned out.
When I see pictures of these outlines on writing blogs, Pinterest, Instagram, etc. I am envious. I wish I could do that. I want to do that. I love lists! I use a bullet journal to plan out my days, so using an outline should be natural for me, right? So when it was time to work on my new book, I decided to try it.
As I pumped myself up, I sat down and created an outline. I planned everything out from beginning to end. Ideas flowed effortlessly from pen to paper. Yes! I was doing it. I was being a plotter! It was great.
Until I finished.
After hours of hard work late into the night and early morning, the whole story was all laid out in front of me. I was so proud of myself I gave myself a few days to bask in the glory of my completed outline. Most of the hard work was already done, I thought. Filling in the rest would be easy, I thought. But when I finally sat down at my computer to get started, I hit a wall. Hard. I’m talking about what-is-happening-who-am-I-what-are-words hard.
I was blocked.
[Insert whiny toddler voice here] But why? I had an outline. Everything was right there! Unfortunately, all motivation to write the story was gone. In my mind, it was already written. Although it was it outline form, every twist and turn stared up at me from the page. I knew how, when, and where everything was going to happen. Which was a good thing! At least this is what I told myself.
After yet another pep talk, I forced myself to sit down and write. It was hard. For months I struggled. So much so that I had to put it on the back burner and work on something else for a bit. When I came back to it, I continued to struggle, but I was not going to give up.
Things got a little bit better as I adjusted to following a written timeline of events. I could do this. Then another problem arose. A big one. The story kept veering away from the original plot. Now, as a panster, I would just roll with it and see where the story ended up, but I wasn’t writing like a pantser this time. No detours, I lectured myself. Follow the plan.
So I did. At least I tried. [Again, insert whiny voice.] It was so hard! And it only became more and more difficult to stay the course as my characters began to develop.
Okay fine. The story could change a little, and I would simply modify the outline as this happened. No big deal. A little change here, a minor tweak there. Enter the snowball effect. Suddenly everything was changing, which meant I was spending just as much time on revising the outline as I was actually writing. I was doing double the work! That’s exactly what it felt like, too. Work. Frustration set in. I was tired of it all. I didn’t want to do it anymore.
It was time to admit this wasn’t working, but I’m hard headed. I wanted this to work. I spent so much time working on this outline I had to use it! Not ready to give up, I trudged along, trying to make it work, but finally conceded. I ditched the outline, scrapped the almost 20,000 words I’d written, and started from scratch, this time letting the story come naturally. Instead of resisting the sudden detours from the original plan, I embraced them.
Bingo. The words were flowing, the characters were evolving, and things were happening, expected and unexpected. It was wonderful. It felt natural. It was fun again.
I’m a panster. I enjoy seeing where the story will go once the characters come to life and take control. I like not knowing exactly how they are going to get from point A to point B to point C in the plot. I want to be just as surprised, worried, etc. as my readers. It might not work for everyone, but it works for me.
Am I upset that I wasted so much trying to be something I’m not? No. Okay, maybe a little, but I’m glad I tried being plotter because it reaffirmed who I really am. A fly by the seat of her pants kind of gal. And I’m okay with that.
Whether you’re a panster, plotter, or a bit of both doesn’t really matter. (Who needs labels anyway?) What matters is that you are writing. But don’t be afraid to try something new. You never know when trying something new might make things easier. If it doesn’t, don’t be afraid to admit and change it again. Just keep writing.