Pantser 4-ever and #ROW80

Last Wednesday a few of us PacNWYA authors gave two talks at a middle school in Portland. Lisa Nowak spoke about writing rules, left brain vs. right brain and how to turn off your internal editor and let creativity come through. (Expect a lot more 8th graders to be participating in NaNoWriMo next year.) Then Angela Carlie and I led a writing exercise that involved writing dialogue and coming up with ideas on the fly.  Finally, we did a Q & A.

It’s been my experience that the first question people ask is, “How long did it take for you to get published?” This is when we all share that our first books took years.  We explain that most of us went the traditional route at first, why we got fed up with it and how we made the decision to self-publish.

The second question we get is, “Do you outline?” Some of us do and some of us don’t and we each speak a little bit about our writing process.

What I find most interesting about these two questions – that have been asked of us by kids, teens, teachers, other writers and book bloggers – is that they don’t hear what we say past “My first book took five years to finish and another two to publish” and “Yes, I meticulously outline before I write.”

I feel like the general consensus is that folks want authors to have suffered for their art. That the books we outlined for a year and took five years to write are somehow better because we worked harder on them.

So, as you can imagine, people stop listening to me when I tell them that after I published Glimpse, Glimmer was out eight months later and Glow was out eight months after that. They definitely stop hearing me when I explain that I have no use for outlines because I won’t follow them.

Now, there are a ton of writers and readers to defend the self-published, to rally behind those that put books out on their own schedule.

But who, I ask you, stands for the pantser?

Uh, I guess it will be me.

No one wants to admit to being a pantser, they will say they’re  “reformed” or a “hybrid.” I’ve used the hybrid term to describe myself, but I’ll come clean and admit that scribbling a page full of half sentences and characters names is not an outline. Writing down Epic Battle or Showdown or Then they get it on are not decisive plot points. I’ve been known to say that I “know what’s going to happen next” or “I have a solid beginning and ending.”

Nope. I don’t.

In fact, if I write down a plan I can almost guarantee that none of the things listed in the plan will end up in the manuscript.

The only thing that works for my pantserin’ self is to write a sentence, read it, and write another sentence. As far as I can tell, this method still requires creativity and perseverance.  I am still, a really real writer.

This method may be your writerly version of hell. I can respect that. Everyone works differently. My method isn’t better than yours and yours isn’t better than mine.  We’re all in the business of making stuff up for a living; we’ve all had our characters “speak” to us. We’ve all had those weird moments of inspiration that derailed and then bettered our books.

Those things happen because we’re writers, not because we’re pantsers or plotters. If the end product is awesome, who cares how we got there or who properly suffered more?

One final thought: Pantser is a weird name, but I think we should own it.  Let’s not be embarrassed anymore. It’s like the whole indie/self-published thing. Yeah, indie sounds cooler and it will make for a better tattoo, but there’s nothing wrong with saying you’re self-published either. I’m kind of over being embarrassed about how I write and publish.

Self-published pantser.

Cool.

#ROW80 update: My 300 words a day plan fell apart after the first day. Go figure. I wrote 306 words on Monday and 1,628 words on Friday – both days on the DBC anthology story.

This post is cross-posted to the Death By Chocolate blog.

16 thoughts

  1. I’m a pantser and I’m PROUD 🙂 I keep all my “notes” in my head and they just rattle around until they either get written down, or forgotten. If it doesn’t end up on the page, then it wasn’t something my character wished to explore.

  2. I’m a pantser and have no plans to change. That’s the way I like to do it. It’s more fun! However…I do need to be more diligent about writing down things that I need to remember later.

  3. It’s one of those things. People don’t take you seriously if you write fast/spend a week on a sentence/get ideas from a dream/self-publish/prep for six months before starting to write, etc.

    Nowt wrong with pantsing. >( I was thinking about this earlier. My favourite story of mine was my first NaNo one. I started on the 1st with a random conversation in my head. That turned out to be a prologue. By the end of the month, I had 80k written. Most fun I’ve ever had writing, too.

    I try to outline now, mostly to get me started on the whole fingers to the keyboard bit. I do the same with character studies, trying to kickstart myself. Those outlines bear little to no resemblance to the end product, and I tend to completely forget about them by the time I hit chapter two. I also completely forget the sequence of events that I’ve written by the end of the novel which makes editing a little more exciting. 😉

  4. I love your books and others do as well. So obviously that means your a great author. Who cares what your method of writing is and who cares how long it takes, the end result is still a great book. So thank you for not doing the norm

  5. I think people ask those two questions over and over again because most people have a different answer and a different reason why they plot or pants.

    Also, I write because I want to know what happens next. If I outline, then that’s not much incentive to write. I know this from experience, because I once outlined the sequel to the book that I signed with Puddletown. Then I tried to write it. Nope. Didn’t happen. I felt no motivation, even though I loved it.

  6. Interesting. I don’t outline, and yet my novel took 10 years to publish, so maybe I’d get some ohs and ahs there! 😉 My problem was life, not story.

    Thanks for sharing. I, too, am a self-published pantser… just a slow one.

  7. Lol!! I think we outliners are so outspokenly defensive of our methods because we’re all freaking jealous of you pantsers. I want every book to be a pantser book. I want to wake up inspired and put words on the page and be surprised and entertained by where my writing is going. I want to be Stephen King and J.R.R. Tolkien. I’ve always thought pantsers were the “real” writers, and we outliners were poor saps who gave up the creative dream in favor of reliability and productivity.

    Hats off to you. I seriously tried, tried, tried to pants my last J&A book that I’m working on. The anxiety at the beginning of every writing session finally got to me. I’m outlining the rest of it as we speak. I feel a bit defeated, but I am in awe of pantsers everywhere.

  8. That’s hilarious because I’ve wondered if I have a learning disablility or something. I mean, we all spend at least 10 years at school learning to outline and do things the proper way and I just cannot friggin’ do it!! I’ve definitely been envious of plotters, especially when I’m in the middle of a book and the dang words won’t come and I rewrite the same paragraph six times – I’ve thought it would be nice to look at an outline and know where I’m going next. Instead, I just write crap until it’s not crap anymore. 🙂
    Whatever works, eh?

  9. The quality of your work speaks for itself. My brain definitely doesn’t work like yours, but you have a great thing going, and I’m not gonna knock it. 🙂

    For me, it really is nice to know where I’m headed next. I also find revisions so painful — and I’ve walked away from so many mostly written books because I wasn’t willing to revise, that I’d better know where I’m going. But I’m also not married to my outline. I love those moments of revelation that bring something together for me, and my outline is a place to drop that and see its impact across the storyline. That has value for me. The work takes place somewhere, you just juggle all of it in your head. To which I say, wow.

  10. VJ, you’re the first plotter I’ve ever heard actually say they WISH they were a pantser! LOL. Most of the time, plotters criticize pantsers and say we can’t write a good book that way. I heard someone say the other day in criticism of a book, “I could tell the author was a pantser”. There are some very well known traditional authors who are pantsers! 🙂

    I think each author has to plot or not, depending on their style. Neither method is THE method.

  11. Dude, I’m a total pantser. I can’t even bring myself to claim I’m a hybrid or anything else. I get an idea, I let it gel in my brain for a while until I actually have a plot and some developing characters, and off I go. Although I usually do know the beginning (roughly) and the ending (roughly) by the time I start writing, as well as a couple of MAJOR EVENTS that need to happen, that’s all I know when I start. And I outline AFTER I write; as I get each chapter done, I enter it into my handy-dandy spreadsheet with a sentence or three about the main points of the chapter. I do this so I can locate something later that needs to be changed or referred to before I write another section. That’s the extent of my organization. Y’all are shocked, I know. 😉

    I’m with you: Proud to Be a Pantser. Er, make that Proud to Be a Self-Published Pantser.

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