The 'pantsing versus plotting' debate. I've finally decided to weigh in on this issue.
Three years ago, I considered myself a pantser. Typically, I'd get a general idea or spark for a story and dive into it blindly with awe, emotion, and a tiny outline that I followed like breadcrumbs, eager to find out what awaited me at the end. And though this method seemed to work for certain manuscripts, I quickly realized it wouldn't for all.
Certain manuscripts that hold an irresistible charm can handle this breadcrumb method, but these, I noticed, are the kind of stories that have been stewing inside you for a while. You've thought about it constantly for years, you know the characters, you've imagined the plot from start to finish so many times it's like the lyrics to your favorite song. By all means, pants this story because you already know it by heart.
Those kind of stories are special. Like truly special. They write themselves practically. But what about the ones that don't? You know, the ones that give you a feeling you can't quite describe? Yet the call of it is like a siren's and somehow you've been sucked into it, but you don't know what 'it' is?
As a pantser, you could dive into the draft and explore the idea, but you risk writing in circles and a first draft that's painful to untangle.
As a plotter, you can brainstorm and plan to your heart's content, but you risk losing that special feeling by burn out.
There's a ton more pros and cons that you can find on any blogger's website, but in this post, I'll share my personal experience.
Last spring, I got this strange idea in a car, and a character's voice in my ear soon after, almost demanding me to write her story. She sounded troubled, misunderstood, and complicated. I was drawn to her darkness, her pain, and what this could be. I never really questioned her character, all I knew was I needed to get her down before she decided to be someone else's obnoxious muse.
I know I'm probably coming off as a crazy person, but I pantsed the heck out of it. I drafted up a story for her pretty quickly, but when I read it, it was awful. Like truly awful. Sure all first drafts are a mess, but there wasn't anything remotely usable in it. But the idea, the vibe, the girl, ate away at me. I still liked the concept. I just didn't like the way I handled it.
Alright, so I roll up my sleeves and decide to tackle it again, pantsing a second draft with a lot of the changes I had in mind. Granted it was still awful when I finished, but there was still something there that I liked. But was it even usable? At this point I was too attached to the character, but also frustrated with her. Just tell me what your story is damn it!!! Ugh. Cue my pit of despair, and my amazing CP's coming to the rescue by giving me honest feedback.
There was so much wrong with it. But there was also something interesting that still held me tight.
They told me not to give up on this, so I didn't. I sat my butt in my chair and really thought about they said, and then I started planning. Like excessive planning. Excel spreadsheets, spiral notebooks. Time lines. Writing exercises. Pinterest boards. Everything. Seeing all the pieces of the story in piece meal finally allowed me to connect the dots in a way drafting from straight to finish did not. It was like puzzle pieces dumped in front of me where I could inspect the edges and see where they fit instead of laying the pieces one after the other in a row that made a straight line but lacked an image.
This was my light bulb moment where I said to myself, Never again will I be a pantser.
With all these new tools and plans, I wrote my third draft much more efficiently and with less head banging. Sure, it's not perfect and it still has so far to go, but it's finally workable, reviseable (that's not a word, is it?), and much more enjoyable to work with.
I understand plotting isn't for everyone, but after the headache inducing drafts I went through, I'm convinced that pantsing isn't the way for me.
To address the risks that I mentioned above, if you pants you could end up like I did, writing in painful circles. But to the plotting risk of burning out, I'm starting to see that if a story is worth writing and sharing, you won't burn out. It's like an evocative smelling candle. Sure the wick may blow out once and awhile from the wind (or fatigue, in this case), but you know you'll just end up lighting it again because its scent is too hard to miss.
Anyway, that's my thoughts on the debate. Comment below with yours!