Plotting (For Pantsers)


Plotting (For Pantsers)


There are, I have discovered, two kinds of writers — plotters and pantsers. Plotters work out their entire story in advance, knowing exactly what must happen, exactly where, and when, and to whom, and exactly what those characters have to do about it in order to advance the story.

Then there are “pantsers” — the word coming from the phrase “by the seat of (his or her) pants.” Pantsers just… start writing. They seem to know, instinctively and with little or no prior planning, just what needs to happen and where.

Today, I’m going to share a secret with you: I’m a little bit of both. And I think that being a little bit of both is just what most writers need in order to bust writer’s block.

How plotters get stuck:

Writers who plot everything out in advance get stuck because they get burnt out on the story. They already know how it’s going to go. They obsess over the minutiae of the story and lose sight of the forest for staring at the trees, to employ a well worn metaphor. It’s the same fatigue that sets in for any and every writer once we get into editing and revision territory; we know the story front and back, in and out, and as a consequence of that, we just get tired of looking at it and stop paying attention.

How pantsers get stuck:

Writers who fly by the seat of their pants often get not so much stuck as lost. You follow the characters wherever the characters want to go — but where the characters want to go is often not where the writer needs them to go. So you end up off in the weeds at the fringe of the story, wondering not just, “How did I get here?!” and not just “How do I get back?!” but “Where in the bleeding hell am I?!”

The solution:

I can’t tell you, honestly, what the solution to this conundrum will be for you. But I can tell you what it is for me: be both. I plot every chapter’s basic directions, then leave that to one side and just write the chapter. I have a vague idea of where it needs to go and follow that path pretty loosely.

If it gets too far into the weeds, I don’t worry about it — until I get to the end of the chapter. Then I go back and tighten it up. If I’ve accidentally left out something important, I find the right time and approach and work it in.

The answer, then, summed up is: Be a plotter when it’s time to be a plotter — and that time is before and after the actual writing, not during. But while you write, be a pantser.

Thanks for reading; until next time, do good work, and be good to yourselves and each other.

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