Pantster or Planner?

Who knew there were so many ways to write a book?  As I’ve ventured into the writing community, I’ve discovered the approaches to storytelling seem to be as varied as the stories themselves.  There are even a few funky terms to describe some of them.

For example, a pantster is someone who just sits down and writes a book without actually knowing where the story might take them.  Flying by the seat of their pants so to speak.  I know writers who are pantsters, who’ve told me once they know how the story ends they struggle to finish the book.  Apparently the thrill comes from the act of discovering the story.   (Do you get the feeling that I, in no way, shape or form, fit into this category)?

Then there are the planners.  These people outline their books out to the nth degree.  Every plot and subplot is carefully worked out, and there are even graphs and formulas that can be utilised to make sure the storytelling process is as effective as possible.   This category appeals to my sense of order.  I have visions of lassoing my story, wrestling it to the ground and tying it up so tight that it can’t get away from me.  However, in my reality, the story is such a slippery little thing that I can’t get a rope anywhere near it and all I end up doing is getting myself tangled up.  (Like I’m doing with this metaphor…).

The majority of writers probably sit somewhere in between the two.  We do a bit of planning, let the story take over sometimes, and generally do what we can to get it out there.  The blogisphere is full of people willing to share tips on how things have worked out for them.  But at the end of the day, we all have to find what works for us.

I belong to a great writing group with the grand total of 3 members.  My writing buddies are both talented, prolific writers who blow me away with their beautiful stories.  And as a member of this group, I’ve grown in confidence and ability as I’ve learned with and from my friends.  But even in a group of 3, it staggers me at how different we are in the way we approach writing.  One is incredibly focussed and can sit down and work a story until she is well and truly satisfied with it.  Her daily output makes me giddy, she has a seemingly never-ending well of ideas, and is not afraid to write and rewrite.  The other, has a voice that is so unique it makes me want to weep (in a very good – kinda jealous way).  When the muse strikes she can also produce screeds of words, and can write several books at the same time.  Or the occasional poem, or totally unrelated short story.

The last member has a tendancy to dream about the story, rather than hanker down and write it.  (Oh yeah that’s me…).  In fact I was once quoted: “If you gave me a block of wood, I’d start sculpting with sandpaper.”  I’m a muller.  I like to let ideas stew in their own juices.  I write them down and then think about how it panned out.  And then go back and edit.  I’ve been working on the same story for over 3 years now. (In my defence, I did almost finish a book, until I realised it really was the end of a trilogy, and had to go right back to the beginning…).   If you’re all about the numbers, my daily word count probably won’t impress you much. And not so long ago I felt pretty inadequate because of it.

BUT (I’ve put it in capitals because it really is true) I’ve learned that as different as my writing buddies and I are in approach, we are the same in that we have a burning desire to tell our story well.   And it doesn’t matter whether you write it in one great big fast outpouring, or a slow steady trickle as long as you enjoy the process and learn something along the way.  I’m proud of them, but equally proud of me.  It’s taken a while, but now I write when I can, how I can and I make a point to enjoy it.  Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.  But today I’m one chapter closer to finishing my book.

It’s good to be open to new ideas, and to learn from those who’ve gone before us and set the bar high.  But whether you’re a pantser or a planner, I think being a writer is one of the best things any of us can be.

How about you – panster or planner?  Or have you ever had writer envy and wished you could write like…?

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13 thoughts on “Pantster or Planner?

  1. I too am a muller. I have been planning my story since I was pregnant with my youngest…and he’s two now. Ha! Part of my problem was I started out with one idea, starting writing the ideas in a journal, and then I read Lauren Kate’s book “Fallen” and said, “OH CRAP.” Here, I had just basically developed a story, including that exact title, and had NEVER even heard of her book before–and when I did, I knew I couldn’t write my original idea. I was so shocked because it had been done, but a ‘real’ writer, and I didn’t even know it!

    But you are so right in saying “being a writer is one of the best things any of us can be”–I couldn’t agree more. Keep writing, keep THINKING. It’s when you stop thinking about it that you start to ‘throw in the towel’ and give up. Awesome post. Thank you for keeping my writing juices flowing!!

    1. Oh no! You must have been gutted. I must admit coming across the use of ‘Sanctuary’ as a name for a place (more than once now it happens) and a heartstone (although it was quite a different thing) and even the name of my realm, Gaelladorn is now under consideration after reading the “Green Rider” series by Kristin Brittain (her protagonist is Karigan Glad’heon). In fantasy there are some key concepts that seem to be universal, especially when you are naming something after it’s function. Fallen is about angels, isn’t it? Are you sure your original idea doesn’t have a unique twist, or different hook so it could stand alone? Twilight seemed to breathe life (excuse the pun) into the Vampire market.

      Keep writing, and I am glad to know another muller!

      1. Excellent use of words, “You must have been gutted.” Perfect description for how I felt! However, you made an excellent point–my story was similar in that it had fallen angels, but was nothing like Lauren Kate’s now that I’ve read it…so perhaps I will ‘have at it’ again! Didn’t really think of it that way until you mentioned using a different hook…thank you 🙂 ps. love your blog!

  2. I agree! Your writing group does sound awesome. I need to find myself one of those! 😉

    As far as pantsing and plotting, I don’t think I’ve found which I am. I’ve tried plotting, and it went okay. Now I’m trying pantsing, and that’s going okay.

    Although i think most people fall within the middle range. I think that’s what I am. I think I need to start writing then all of a sudden a bunch of pieces fall into place. Then I get through that, I pants it, more pieces fall into place.

    You’ve got a neat blog here!

      1. Oh and I am a big fan of getting involved in writing groups. I actually go to two (not overkill at all). The main one meets weekly and is obviously small and quite intimate. The other one is a local speculative fiction group which is open to whoever turns up. It has the advantage of meeting people you’d never run into in your regular life. Both are good in different ways.

  3. Good insight, Raewyn, I’m trying my hand at a YA suspense which of course is nothing like the children’s books that I’ve written. I’m find it hard to weave the subplots properly. I’m a planner for sure but I think some of my plans have gone astray. I’m doing a 30 day trial of some software that is supposed to help. It’s day ten and I’m still on the fence. If it helps I’ll give you a shout. Enjoyed your article!

  4. I’ve tried both…and for me it comes down to character. If I don’t have the characters in place, I wind up stumped. Sometimes new people come in and I’m SO glad to see them. But then they grind everything to a halt while I figure out who they are exactly so I can decide what comes next. That’s where I am now. I’ve been stalled out by this one character (and by a heaping helping of real life adventures) for ages. Thankfully, grandma is taking the kids for the weekend and this Saturday morning my rogue character and I will duke it out. Wish me luck! 🙂

    1. I totally understand when a character ‘arrives’. You really need to the time to feel them out. I’ve got one waiting in the wings at the moment. Planner that I am, she isn’t going to get any page time for another few chapters, but I keep having flashes of who she is and how she is going to get in the middle of a subplot. But with school hols I haven’t had much time to really flesh it out.

      I am totally jealous about your weekend time – have a great session and best of luck! Feel free to drop back and let me know how it pans out.

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