Planning vs. Pantsing
I think we've got our butts in the chair, we're ready to go, and now it's about talking about how to get to words on the page. Have you heard these terms, planning versus pantsing? I think planning's pretty obvious. What about pantsing? Yeah? Okay. I'll define them a little bit. I think planning is like, this is like a debate of creative process that's been going on forever, and I think every writer wonders which way is better for them. And there's even a term that we use in NaNoWriMo that's in the middle, it's called Plantsing. I'm a plantser, just so you know, I'm in the middle of the road. But planning is like, when you write a meticulous outline, scene by scene, or chapter by chapter of your novel, and you might have sticky notes all across a wall, or use fancy outlining, novel writing software that you find on the Internet, or write each scene on a note card. I've seen so many different ways that people plan. And I think of planners, they're like the people who when they take a va...
cation or trip, when they go to Paris, they read the books about Paris ahead of time. They know everything they wanna see when they get there, they know the restaurants they wanna go to, they have a daily itinerary. And the great benefit of that is that when they come home, they can check it all off their list. They did everything that they wanted to do in Paris. But the pantsers, now pantsing's this term that a lot of people don't know, it's doing something by the seat of your pants. Even writing a novel by the seat of your pants. I've known, during NaNoWriMo, some people don't know what they're gonna write until they put their fingers on the keyboard. That's how much they pants it. So there's a lot of different, there's a spectrum of pantsing. You can know more than that, I think, to pants. But pantsers, if they're taking a trip, they might just say, let's go to Paris. And they might buy the plane ticket, they might not even know the hotel they're staying in, they might have to go to the information booth and ask for recommendations. And they get there, and they might know a few things they wanna do there, but basically they walk out into Paris, and they are just open to the experience. So they might not see as much as the planners, they might waste time, they might get lost, but in that sort of creative experiment of just being open to things, they also might discover something that's more special and off the tourist track. So it's just two different ways of being a creator, and I think there's benefits and hazards to each approach. Benefits of planning, it gives you a sense of direction, right? If you wanna feel in control of your story, you know where it's going, so it's like a map, you can always see what's ahead. And I think that's comforting, as a writer, to know what's ahead sometimes, and to have thought about it a little bit. You can write with an ending in mind, for instance. And I think this has some great benefits. It helps you foreshadow, if you know what's coming up next. It helps you pace your suspense, and think about how much information you want to give out, how to kind of tease that out over the arc of the novel. I think there's less chance of writer's block. That's because, like if you finish one chapter, you know the next chapter that's awaiting you the next day. So, you don't have to worry that you're not gonna be able to think of something on a bad day of writing. The thing I like about it, too, is that if you've planned and outlined your novel, if you're blocked on one chapter, you can skip ahead. I love skipping ahead and writing future chapters and then going back, it's a great interplay between the two. There's less chance of going wildly astray. This is a big hazard for pantsers. Sometimes it's more tempting to follow the tangents that a novel gives you than to actually think about the actual progress of the novel. So I've never seen a character backstory that I didn't like to go deeper in. I love flashbacks, for instance, I love having more and more characters in my novel. Sometimes these are excuses not to write the novel itself, but to pursue all these weird tangents, so I think planning kind of puts borders on that, it's like the little borders they put up on bowling alleys so your balls don't go in the gutter. When you plan I think it's easier to spot problem areas before you begin, and save time on editing. I mean, it's definitely true that if you plan your novel, after you write that rough draft, you're gonna feel like it's structured. It's just like a little tidier. When you come to a novel to revise, a novel that's been pantsed, it's by definition gonna be kinda messy and intimidating. And many authors, of course, are successful planners. R.L. Stine, he says, "no one likes to outline" "but I can't work without one." "I think that's one reason I'm so prolific -" "I take a week and I plan everything." "I do all the thinking beforehand." This comes from R.L. Stine, if you don't know him, he's a children's horror book author, I don't know, he's probably written hundreds of books. They call him the Stephen King of children's literature, he's sold, I don't know, millions and millions, hundreds of millions of copies, actually. The interesting thing, though, for him to be compared to Stephen King, is that Stephen King isn't a planner. He's much more of a pantser, and equally prolific. So just in case you think you have to outline novels to produce a lot of them, not necessarily true. So the benefits of pantsing. I think outlining a novel can sometimes make it feel like a business plan, not a journey. You see it all decided upon, like all the plot decisions have already been made, a lot of the character decisions, all these things, and so I think it can feel like you're hemmed in to this. It can feel like you can't break those borders, or go beyond those borders, I think it's just a creative risk. With an outline, you become more of a translator than a writer, like in the sense that you're translating that outline into a story, rather than discovering the story. I sometimes, thinking about it, like, going back to the travel metaphor, if you're walking through a foreign city with a map, or at least me, I'm looking at the map as much or more than I'm looking at everything around me. So I'm following the map, but I'm not really experiencing the place. Where if you're a pantser, you don't have the map. You're following your intuition, the sense and sounds and sights, you're discovering the city. And I feel like that's, for me, that's really important to my creativity, it's really important for my writing, to feel a sense of mystery, and that I'm pursuing something and trying to find the answer to it. And yeah, so pantsing opens you up to creative experimentation as a result. I mean, there are risks here, if you're going through that city without a map, you might end up in a bad neighborhood, you might go down the wrong street that looked enticing. On the other hand, those are great adventures, and they're gonna make it all meaningful. So sometimes it's good to get lost. I think sometimes it's good to get lost in your novel and not know how all the pieces fit together, I think that's where a lot of the great breakthroughs happen. I also think planning can become an excuse not to write. And I've experienced this in a lot of my talks with a lot of writers, is that they become, what they become is professional planners, or professional researchers, and they love planning and researching so much that they don't actually get the words on the page in the end. So planning has it's hazards, too. It can be an excuse, it can be a tool of procrastination, I guess. I love this quote from Chang Ray Lee. "Part of writing a novel is being willing" "to leap into the blackness." "It's like spelunking." "You kind of create the right path for yourself," "but, boy, are there so many points at which you think," "absolutely, I'm going down the wrong hole here." And this is actually - the fear that you're going down the wrong hole, that applies to planning, too. You don't solve everything in planning. Once you write that first draft of your novel, new questions are going to arise. You're gonna see trouble spots. But I love the metaphor of spelunking and going through the darkness, because I think writing a novel is like that. You're kind of going through a dark room, and you can't see everything, and you're trying to just see the contours so that you don't bump into things, and feel them. And so, if you're walking through a really dark room, one part of getting through it is your sight, but a big part of that is also using your intuition, and going with your gut feelings. And I think that this is really, really important for creativity, and it is a hazard of planning that you're not gonna use that intuition to its full force. So, Einstein said that the intuitive mind is a sacred gift, the rational mind is a faithful servant. This was way back, what, a hundred years ago, he said that that rational mind was celebrated so much that sometimes society honors the servant and ignores the gift of intuition. And I think that's applicable to, or relevant for us, these days, especially. We're living in a very data-driven culture of best practices, we try to work it all out with our logic, and sometimes we don't trust our intuition, and our intuition has a lot to give us. It's mysterious, it's magical, you can't prove what it is, but I think you have to create a creative process that invites it in, and celebrates it, and that you trust it.