For most of my writing career, I pantsed my novels and stories. Meaning I just made them up as I went along. I started with a vague notion of what I wanted the story to be about, and I’d just start writing. While fun, certainly, the stories always ended up being overly long, and seemed to take a very long time to get to the point of what they were trying to say.
When I started writing fanfiction, my stories began to take on a bit more structure. Because as I was publishing them chapter by chapter, and gaining readers along the way — many of whom were not shy about leaving reviews and demanding more when I took too long to post another chapter — I couldn’t afford to have an endless story on my hands.
I needed the things to END, and to end in a relatively timely manner.
Case in point, my very first fanfiction, the only one I did not roughly plan beginning to end, which I started in 2003 … was not concluded until August of 2015.
When I finally posted the last chapter to that one, I swore … never again. (Which is actually ironic, since the last chapter of that fic is titled the same, ha!)
When I buckled down and decided I was going to have a go at this indie author thing, I knew it was again crucial to write books within a limited timeframe. I started my scifi thriller novel in June of 2013, and thought I had “plotted/outlined” it. I kind of, sort of, had an idea of what I wanted to happen. I even wrote the last scene first.
Three years later I finally wrote THE END on a hot tangled mess of something that was still missing large pieces of the middle. “I’ll fix it in edits!” I thought. And a year after starting edits, I realized it needed a lot more than just edits. So I set it aside to simmer on the back burner for awhile while I figured out where it went wrong and how to actually fix it.
In my frustration, I finally found the worksheet that would save that novel from the trash, which you all have heard of already. But this worksheet also made me suspect something else:
That despite my years of pantsing novels (mind you, 98% of them were never finished), I was, in reality, a plotter.
So I arranged an experiment to test this theory. The plotting worksheet had also helped me plot an entire fantasy novel in 1 hour. I took that overall plot, and I decided that novel would be my next project.
I decided I would entirely, in full, completely plot that fantasy novel before I wrote one word of it. Beginning, middle, and end. I would write out “beats”, as they say, for each chapter. I would build the characters and the world to all extent I could in a month. Then, I would begin the rough draft of this fantasy novel on April 1st, 2017, to coincide with the beginning of spring Camp NaNoWriMo.
I am now three months into this experiment. And the results have been so profound, I had to share:
I have written 43,000 words in three months. To compare, with that scifi novel, I wrote 100k of it’s 138k total words over the course of two NaNoWriMos, meaning that for nearly the rest of three entire years, I only wrote 38k. That is a massive difference.
Even better, those 43,000 words have been the most pleasant and most painless words written since nearly the beginning of the scifi novel. When I sit down to write, I do not feel lost. I do not feel dread. I do not procrastinate. I do not feel frustrated. I truly love working on this book, every time. I’m actually writing more than my target word count goal every week! Writing hasn’t been this easy on a novel since the beginning of the scifi … which is, incidentally, when I knew that one’s story best.
I’m on track to complete the fantasy novel’s rough draft by September (if not earlier)! I am the slowest writer in our writing group. I always have been. But this will put me on pace to complete a novel in 6 months … and that is absolutely unheard of for me.
SO! All of this is to say … if you find yourself stuck, or constantly battling resistance, and the words are a grind every time you sit down to write … maybe take a step back and ask yourself: Am I a Plotter? 😉
I’m always a bit taken back by how many writers seem to actively FIGHT against plotting their novels. The excuse is always something about fearing that plotting will ruin the excitement and discovery that comes with writing a new novel. But I’m here to tell you personally from the trenches … it’s the opposite!
Jacqueline Garlick explains it well in this post of hers on The Everyday Author:
“I was soon to learn that plotting was not about writing out every word of your potential story in sequential order. It was about exploring your potential story in an orderly fashion.” – Jacqueline Garlick, author of the award-winning Illumination Paradox series
So maybe give it a try, if you’d like to write better stories faster, or just have a more pleasant writing experience, overall!
If you already know where you fall on the Pantsing to Plotting spectrum, tell me about your experiences! How is your writing going for you this month? This year? I’d love to know what you’re up to and how your projects are going, so leave a comment and let me know!
And until next time … happy writing, my friends!