4. Planner or Pantser?
“What the heck are you talking about, dude? I haven’t got time to answer all these questions; I’m writing a book.”
“I know,” I reply, “I was just wondering what kind of a writer you are? Are you a planner or a pantser?”
I guess I ought to explain a little before I get into too much detail. What we’re talking about is the actual writing of a book. Are you the sort of author who plans everything out meticulously, or do you write by the seat of your pants, letting whatever comes out, flow onto paper? It’s a serious question. It’s a question that divides the writing community in two. And actually, there’s no right or wrong answer to this question - only consequences!
And I say consequences, because depending on whether you’re a planner or a pantser, will alter the way you write AND edit your book. A planner is, just as it appears to be, someone who plans out their plot in a lot of detail before they even write a word of their book. A pantser is someone who just has a rough idea of their book, maybe the beginning, the middle, and the end, and then just lets the writing flow as they write. For the record, I’m a planner. I even knew what this article was going to be about before I wrote it!
“Is it important?” you ask. “I mean, does it really matter?”
Consider this: Pantsers generally spend longer writing their first draft, and longer editing their first draft, than a planner. However, the planner spends longer planning the book, before they get around to writing anything. And some planners never get around to writing anything at all!
We’ve all heard the expression Writer’s Block. Writer’s block usually occurs because you get stuck somewhere in your novel. You don’t know what to write next. So, you procrastinate for a while in the hope that inspiration will come back to you. It’s tough sitting down every day, trying to turn out a thousand words, and not knowing exactly what it is you’re going to write about. Is it any wonder, therefore, that a lot of pantsers take a very long time to get their manuscript written?
I like to plan what I’m going to write for two reasons. Firstly I discover whether the story is going to work, and secondly I always know what I’m going to write about every day. No more writer’s block for me! (And in case you’re thinking planning leaves no room for inspiration - it does. I always leave a good 10% of the plot points empty with room for inspiration as I write.)
How do I know whether a story will work? Quite simply because if I want to write an 80,000 word novel, I need to have at least 200 different plot points in my book (what’s a plot point? Read http://blog.pauldorset.com/2011/04/4-creating-good-plot-writing-for.html). That’s a lot of things that need to happen in my story to keep it interesting. Now, if you’re a pantser and you’re going to write fresh every day, with a new idea, then good luck in making it all flow in a logical fashion. And this brings me to my next point. Pantsers spend a lot of time editing. And that’s because the finished manuscript doesn’t flow properly and has all sorts of holes in it. Of course. It’s because the author sits down everyday and just carries on from where he left off the day before, writing whatever comes into his head. Oh, and were you one of those authors that missed out writing the synopsis too? Probably.
“You know what, Paul? You’re making it really difficult for me to write a book. You just have too many rules. I haven’t even started writing yet and you’ve told me I need to know what my story’s about; write a synopsis; and even know what genre it is. Seriously, you’re making my brain hurt. I just want to write my murder-thriller novel thing.”
“No problem,” I reply. “Like I’ve said a hundred times before, if you want to keep your day job, you just carry on doing what you’ve been doing.”