When A Plotter Goes Pantsing

How Your Writing Style Can Impact Your Writing

No, I did not spend November running amuck around my peers pulling down their pants. However, I did spend this past NaNoWriMo doing something that might have been just as uncomfortable. I wrote a story by discovery writing.

I have always self-declared my writing style as a plotter. If you are a plotter, you’re no stranger to long planning sessions and equally long outlines. Plotters like to have their beats and story structure nailed down prior to embarking on their first draft.

My outline was always my life raft keeping me afloat as I ventured across the scary ocean of the first draft (or zero draft). Going into my NaNo project, I didn’t have a detailed outline. Partially, this was due to being a bit short on time. It also had to do with other projects claiming my attention in the months prior to November. No matter the true reason, I voyaged into a 50,000-word commitment without a detailed map telling me where to go.

Long story short, I embarked on a journey of pantsting (or discovery writing) and happened to learn several things about the writing process and my own personal style along the way.

Here are a few of my main takeaways!

Plotter, Pantsers, and Plantsers

Let’s start by looking at what is often identified as the major writing styles. Though I use these terms, I understand there is a lot of generalization that goes into them and people tend to be unique and elusive as unicorns when it comes to their personal writing style.

Plotters: This group sticks to their outline, which is probably several pages long and details scenes and chapters thoroughly. There is much more pre-writing that goes into this style.

Pantsers: This term is so derived as a way to describe the writers who write “by the seat of their pants.” Also called discovery writing, as this group likes to unveil the story and let it unfold as they write the first draft. They may have basic outlines and character descriptions, but they are quicker to veer from the course and discover new elements of their story as they go.

Plantsers: This final bucket describes the writers who do a bit of both. They might have a handy outline and have put a fair bit of work into their pre-writing, but they may also meander down paths in their prose that they didn’t anticipate and let the story go into unforeseen directions.

Discovery writing doesn’t mean you haven’t put thought into your story

My NaNo project has been a story concept I’ve been stewing on for a year or so now. I have the world’s longest note in my iPhone that I began the day the concept plopped into my head. On that note, I’ve been dumping descriptions and ideas for characters, settings, and scenes (Essentially a mini book bible). I will include snippets of dialogue or even sketch out short story beats.

I also had a journal, in which I wrote a few diary entries from the point of view of the main character. And prior to the start of November, I created a new Scrivener project and began organizing my notes and ideas into something resembling a story flow.

Over the year or so since I’d had this fledgling of an idea, I had put hours of thought into the plot and characters. However, I’d kept it loose and free-flowing and didn’t map out all of my ideas into the beginning, middle, and end.

I think it is a common misconception that pantsers don’t put in effort when it comes to discovery writing or don’t have an idea of the story they’re trying to tell. Discovery writing allows you to take your thought-out concept and play with it while drafting.

You’re less hard on yourself

My NaNo project was certainly written as a zero draft. I know that the story meandered and I have several darlings to kill. Plus, after 50,000 words, the story is far from complete. However, when you enter into discovery writing, you understand that the magic truly happens during the editing phase. You understand that the first attempt will be sloppy at best. But it also creates this wonderful puzzle for you to solve.

I learned to write “badly”. I found I was less hard on myself to get things “perfect” because I knew I was going to be overhauling the story while editing. When you put less pressure on yourself, the words flow a bit more. It’s when the words are flowing naturally that the magic of genius story-telling happens.

It was freeing to know that a good amount of what I wrote was most likely going to be scrapped during editing.

You tend to write whatever captures your interest

Instead of a traditional outline, I had a general idea of the events within the world of the story.

When writing, I’d hop around my story to scenes that excited me. The structure of how I intended on sharing these sequences in the novel was not yet revealed to me.

While I had a basis of structure, I kept it loose, knowing I could shuffle scenes around if it helped the story. Sometimes I’d write scenes that would best be served as a flashback or information told as folklore, but I didn’t know the exact sequence of how it would unfold in the narrative structure.

Writer’s block can be even more vindictive

No matter how detailed my outline is, I’ve always run into writer’s block on any project. However, I’ve found the more detailed the outline, the more often I know exactly what needs to be written and struggle less with writer’s block.

When discovery writing, I obviously found more instances of uncertainty about where the story was going. That then led to fear of meandering down the wrong path and mucking up the story. The fear then led to the crippling of writer’s block.

I’ve found the best solution around that, while discovery writing, was to take a step away from whatever scene that was giving me fear and work on some other scene that excited me. I told myself that I could always trash scenes or fill in gaps during the editing process. The key was to not get sidelined by writer’s block and pivot when needed.

So, which is better?

Alas, I cannot say which is the better way to write a story. I used to say, that you have to write in what way works best for you. While I still believe that, I feel like I must amend my comment slightly. It is important to find a writing style that suits you, but you are not married to one form or the other. Understand that your preferences might shift from project to project. The crucial part is that you keep at it. In my own mixture of a bunch of famous quotes on writing, “a story starts with a single word, and you need words on a page in order to edit them!”

Even if you do get stuck, it’s bound to happen. Keep at it and know that the worst thing you can do for your story is not to write it.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this article, check out some more on my site under POSTS! Feel free to like, subscribe, or leave a comment on this page. And if you have any requests for the future, shoot me a message to say hey.

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