Posted by : Sherri Cornelius Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I think I finally figured out what kind of writer I am. 'Bout damn time. We have two general camps in Writerland, right? The folks who like to outline (the plotter), and the folks who like to write by the seat of their pants (the pantser). Rarely does a writer fall to the extreme right or left--plotting every aspect in advance or starting a story with no idea where it'll go. Most everyone has a mix, falls on the graph somewhere on one side or the other of the vague middle. And I don't think you really know who you are as a writer until you get this figured out.

I spent a long time knowing which I wanted to be. I wanted to be a plotter. I like the idea of controlling every aspect, having a template to work from. You'll notice I said I like the idea. In reality I hated working off that template. It never felt right, but I kept trying to fit myself into it. That's why I've had so much trouble writing this book, the biggest reason I considered giving up writing last year. I had made myself a template in the form of a tossed-off NaNoWriMo book, and I subconsciously suffocated.

So here's what I've learned about myself as a writer. I need:

  • only a vague idea of what I want to happen in the story;

  • to solidify the story through the characters;

  • flexibility to try iffy directions without fear of "wasting" my words;

  • and above all, to take my time.

None of these things mesh with the strict plotter I've always wanted to be. The plotters I know are like construction workers, building things. I'm more of an archaeologist uncovering things.

I may post more on this, but I've run out of time today. I'm taking the kids to the zoo and it's time to get ready. Why don't you tell me what kind of writer you are? Where do you fall on the scale of plotter/pantser?

{ 20 comments... read them below or Comment }

  1. "I'm more like an archaeologist uncovering things."

    I couldn't have said it better myself. :) I like to think of myself that way too, and I think that when people approach a story that way, it tends to read better. I usually avoid writing from a template/outline. I like to create a very crude sketch in my mind of where I'm headed, but this doesn't usually happen until I'm about halfway through the first act, or when I have started to figure out whether I'm unburying a tiny piece of Minoan pottery or a woolly mammoth skeleton. :)

    On the flipside, I have discovered that I often back myself into a corner with my plots if I don't at least do SOME planning, and I can become easily discouraged when I realize that I have taken a wrong turn somewhere and need to veer back onto the main road. The closer I get to the end of a book, the more closely and strictly I plot, because I want to make sure I can see the destination. Endings are always problematic for me because at some point I've meandered off my dig site and have ended up in someone's vegetable garden, and then I have to find my way back. I'm working on staying focused and crossing that finish line, even if it means I might have to go back later and neaten up my lines. lol

  2. I always thought a pantser was a person who steals other people's pants and hangs them up flagpoles.

    Or a German tank.

  3. I'm still trying to figure this out too. But I do know that until I figure out how it ends, I can't get anywhere. Now, if you have the secret for figuring out the middle of a book... :D

  4. I'm a planner when it comes to the big things but a pantser for everything else.

    If I can use a journey as a metaphor, I know my final destination and important stops along the way, but how I get from point A to points B through Z is usually a spur-of-the-moment decision.

  5. I'm a little bit of both, methinks. I like to use the story structure to guide me on what needs to go where and when in the story. I like to have more of a synopsis than an outline to work from. And I like to make sure I don't define things too much or else there's going to be a constriction of creativity.
    I learned a ton about writing under strict guidelines and how freeing and fun that can be, how easy it can be, when I did my non-fic stint. Good stuff!
    I'm glad you figured this out, sweetie. Have fun at the zoo.

  6. I'll elaborate on this in the next post, but learning how to be okay with that occasional meandering was a big deal.

  7. It is both of those things and so much more.

  8. I have no secrets for that, alas. :)

  9. I've always seen you as more of a plotter than you admit to being.

  10. Ah, the exercise in hip/knee torture. I could barely hobble out to the car afterward.

    I think I'd do very well under an outline for a project for someone else. In fact, that's sort of how I've been approaching this whole writing thing, as someone else's project, to my detriment.

  11. Im a little too inexperienced at this game to know for sure what I am, but I think its safe to say that I am a structured pantser. I tend to start off writing narrative outlines as a pantster accompanied by the occasional scene parts. Then once I finish that, I gradually flesh out that outline piece by piece until its all put together into a real first draft.

  12. Crap! I could do with that tidbit of arcane knowledge myself!

  13. I love the builder-archeologist analogy. :) I think King used something sort of like that in his book too.

    I think of it in terms of adding or subtracting. Some can take a hung of stone and chisel stuff away, or subtract, until they get the form they want. Others take clay and add and add to it until they get the form they want.

    I have no idea which I'd be if I was a writer, but I can make cool frosting roses, and I can plant a mean garden. :D

    Glad to see you so happy on your journey of self-discovery sweetie. :) *hugs*

  14. I remember King's analogy, and it really does fit. When I first read it, I thought it was some mystical quirk unique to him, but I understand it now.

  15. That sounds like a fine way to do it, and is actually similar to what I do.

  16. Good post!
    I'm definitely a pantser. My first novel I did what Ian said, I knew the beginning, the ending, and important lamp posts along the way, but during my first re-write I noticed the pantsy parts were far better than the plotsy parts. My second novel was 80% pantser, and it was far better.
    I think every writer should challenge themselves by occasionally trying both methods.

  17. I'm loling at the "pantsy parts." And I think you're right.

  18. Wow. I thought I'd replied to this, but it seems it is one of those comments I composed in my head and didn't actually write. Sigh. I'm not a plotter anyway.

    I've tried plotting. It makes me stop writing. I rush out the rough draft--and then see where plot needs to be added. This is not efficient, but that's okay. There's more to life than efficiency! Right?

  19. I do that on your blog all the time, think I commented but I didn't. I usually think about your posts before I comment, and sometimes I don't get back.

    I rushed out the rough draft with the WIP--on someone's "rule", of course--and I think it's where I went wrong. I really need to alternate thinking and feeling as I go, and you can't do that during Nanowrimo. I guess that's why it doesn't work for me.

  20. Just stopping by to say hi. Don't have internet at home now so don't have much time to read blogs, but I wanted you to know that I think of you often and always with a smile and a prayer.


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