If you’re a writer with even minimal involvement in the online writing community, chances are that you’re familiar with the terms, “plotter,” and “pantser.” And if you’re a plotter who manages to successfully finish books—and by “successfully” I mean get out a sloppy first draft with a rough approximation of a beginning, a middle, and an end—then you probably don’t have much angst about being a plotter. You get an idea for a story, you work on an outline and sort out your story arc, you might even plot scene breakdowns, and then you write according to the plan, adjusting as needed. Sure, the process is still a whole huge ton of hard work, that’s what it takes to write a book, but overall you feel good about your process and it seems to work for you, especially after you’ve written your first novel and you somewhat have the hang of it.
So, what does pantsing look like? Well, most writers assume that it means exactly what the name implies. You fly “by the seat of your pants” and make up the story as you go along. And while there is some truth in that, it also doesn’t accurately cover how exactly the process unfolds as a creative cycle, or why pantsing is a better approach for some writers. As a rule, pantsing as a creative process is wildly misunderstood by most writers and so, if you are a pantser by nature, deepening your comprehension and skill set around the process of pantsing can be a long, bumpy, and very lonely, road.
When I was writing my first novel I would have killed for a Fairy Godmother to pop into my life and reassure me that I was on the right track. Every week I took a quick inventory of how many pages I had written, but even though the page count was mounting, my confidence levels seemed to be dropping.
When I was in college I took a class called Fantasy Literature, which I thought would be nothing but fun and actually turned out to be a lot of hard work. On the first day of class, our professor told us that we would be reading one book a week, and a paper on that book would be due every Monday. The class collectively groaned, until he smiled and said our papers only needed to be one page long. Then we all cheered. And that’s when he got this wicked little smile on his face.
Before I became a writing coach I didn’t even know that writing coaches existed. However, I did know about editors. I had been running a writing group for a little over five years and had heard various stories—some good, some horrible—about the editing experience. Some of the writers I talked to loved their editor and couldn’t imagine getting to a final draft without them. Others had been burned and vowed never to go back. But no matter what kind of experience they had, one thing was very clear:
Do you remember last November? Do you miss that heady rush of racing through thousands of words each day, and the thrill of seeing the page count rise as you chased down the dream? Did you fall in love with your main character? Were you filled with triumph—or crestfallen—around Thanksgiving when it became glaringly apparent that you only had a few days left to win the challenge?
If you’re a writer then you already know I’m talking about NaNoWriMo. And if you completed the challenge then I’m willing to bet that you have that sloppy first draft manuscript shoved away in a drawer somewhere. You said you were going to get to it, clean it up and edit it and really make something out of it because you know it has promise…but somehow the days slipped away and now here we are at the end of March and you still haven’t touched it.