As I work on transforming a number of my blog posts here into a writer’s handbook, “Writing For You: A Novelist’s Guide to the Craft of Fiction,” I’ve been thinking a lot about the distinction between planners, those who write from an outline and do a lot of pre-writing prep, and pantsers, those who write by the seat of their pants. I’ve been evaluating my personal approach to writing, which falls squarely in the pantser camp. And it’s struck me how extremely out of left field it is that I would be a pantser.
Those who know me on a personal level could vouch for how careful and cautious a person I am. I’m not a huge risk-taker, and I don’t do many things spontaneously. I make sure to eat healthy and get some exercise. I appreciate order and routine in my life.
Heck, when I started my PhD program, which used a quarter system–meaning much shorter class lengths than the semesters I was used to–I began researching and writing final papers during the second week of a course. I was terrified of running out of time and not making deadlines. I don’t like to leave many things to chance, and I don’t generally put off until tomorrow obligations I have time to fulfill today.
You would think I’d outline. You’d think I’d appreciate the order and organization involved in using an outline. The lesser risk of things falling apart, or of sinking lots of time into a project doomed to fail. But I adore writing as a panster.
I mean, writing as a pantser is where–more than anywhere else in life– I fulfill that drive all of us have, to some degree, for risk and spontaneity. For adventure. So the process of flying without a safety net works for me. I’ve thrown out a lot of work, but somehow, that doesn’t bug me. Not at all. I’m okay with chalking the “failed” novels and “failed” beginnings of novels up to growth, to developing a new wealth of experience to draw from in the future.
In some ways, the “risks” involved in writing as a pantser have become a major part of the reason I continue to write, and why I love writing so much. I like to think the risks involved in my approach to writing help me to be more comfortable taking other risks in life and experiencing new things. I need that push to get out of my shell.
So, are you a planner or a panster? If you lean toward the pantser side of the spectrum, have you found that what I’ve said here rings true for you, or is your experience completely different? I’d love to hear what people think about this! Because truly, it just feels so odd–knowing me the way I do–that I would wing it so much in my fiction, and truly enjoy doing so.