My last book, Wiggaz With Attitude (written under my other pen name) despite being plotted throughout, took me eight years to write and publish. That’s because I worked full-time, freelanced in my spare time, plus had all those other things like a wife, dog, rabbit, social life, books to read and TV to watch that can get in the way of writing. And so they should. But that long, drawn-out process aside – one I’m determined not to repeat – am I a plotter or a pantser?
For those not familiar with the terms, here’s a quick introduction. A plotter is exactly as you might imagine – someone who plots their book out before writing it. They’ll outline, research, map things to the nth degree. They might have a folder for each character that details their personalities, appearance, preferences, how many sugars they have in their tea and so on. It’s an approach that allows you to clearly delineate your plot, and if you run into a problem or an issue when writing, you’ve got a road map to get you out of trouble.
“A plotter will know how many sugars a character will have in their cup of tea”
Your pure plotter will know how the book will end before they’ve written the first line (I’ve heard some authors say they write a book’s final paragraph before the first). In fact, in these days of box-sets, they may have an arc for their entire series, for the world they’ve created. Being a plotter doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have freedom – you still have latitude to explore your story within the markers you set yourself. And if the story surprises you, there’s nothing to stop you going in a different direction. What those markers do, however, is keep you on the straight and narrow.
A pantser, by contrast, flies by the seat of their pants from the outset. Okay, that’s not entirely true. They don’t, generally speaking, indulge in ‘automatic writing’. They’ll plot to a degree, they’ll have an idea of what they want to achieve in their story. They might even have those character files as well. But what a pantser does is way less structured, way less confined by plans. They’re happier with a blank screen that they can fill from scratch. They’ll lie in wait for inspiration to strike and just plunge deep into their writing, shaping it later.
I’d argue – unscientifically, it has to be said – that most writers sit not at either extreme, but somewhere on the spectrum inbetween. On some days I can’t write without a clear idea of where I’m going, and some beats to hit laid out for me. On others, I find the idea of plotting and planning very limiting, and just want to let the words flow.
“I’d argue that most writers sit somewhere on the spectrum between plotter and pantser”
At heart, I’m a procrastinator. I’ll let things slide until they have to be written. And I’ll use plotting and planning as a device to put off the writing that needs to be done.
I’m currently writing a book about self-publishing that I aim to have out in January 2018. I’ve spent a month researching similar titles, blogs and websites. I’ve read a dozen standard texts on self-publishing. I’ve launched this blog. I’ve run through dozens of potential titles and done a survey of friends to see which they preferred. I’ve reached out to potential book cover designers.
I’ve bought Scrivener and Dragon, rearranged chapters, even started a bibliography for the book. But what I haven’t done is write any of it.
Well, until now. Because I’m on that sliding scale somewhere between plotter and pantser, there comes a time when the procrastination has to stop. It’s a point we’re all familiar with. Last week I took my laptop to a pub, planning to finally nail the chapter order. I dragged-and-dropped in Scrivener, getting nowhere, until a sentence formed randomly in my mind.
That’s the point when you realise you’re just delaying the writing by telling yourself you need the perfect structure before you proceed. I wrote that sentence down. It became a paragraph. Then a page. Within an hour, it was a chapter.
“Writing freestyle can, sometimes, unblock something. I’d pantsed my way to a plot”
Writing that chapter, freestyle, unblocked something else in the plotting and structure. I knew where the book had to go, and the order it should be in. I’d pantsed my way to a plot. I went back from there and wrote the introduction. Two hours in the pub, three pints and 3500 words written.
They’re not perfect words, by any means. Every writer should rewrite, and I will. But just by letting the words escape and not telling myself to wait until I’d got everything in place, I’d established a tone for the book, which in itself is a major step forward. Pantser, plotter or procrastinator? I’m not sure. Let’s take it one day at a time…