NaNoWrimo (National November Writing Month), is underway and once again, despite honorable intentions, I failed to make the starting line. I’ve never participated in NaNo, and while I considered diving in this year, my determination withered as the deadline loomed. Despite a lengthy mental debate the past few weeks, I decided not to set myself up for failure, knowing I couldn’t manage the 1666 word (average) daily commitment. I would not make the finish line.
My primary Achilles heel, my hesitancy to commit to the 50,000 word marathon, surrounds plotting and preparation. Of the two types of writers, those who outline and those who do not, I’d like to introduce myself:
“Hi, my name is Mike, and I’m a pantser.”
For anyone unfamiliar, the term refers to those who write primarily sans-outline, no plotting, otherwise known as writing ‘by the seat of your pants’.
While firmly in the minority, we are a brave wanderlust troupe, exploring paths unknown, delving into our psyches, following rabbit trails. I spent years using standardized writing techniques, plotting out structure, story arcs, three part acts, chapters, scene transitions, all that Jazz. I created character backgrounds, comprehensive biographies identifying traits, eccentricities, vocabulary, flaws, desires, fears, you name it.
And more often than not, when I invested heavily in preparation, my after-product fizzled.
In fact there seemed to be a correlation between the cumulative time spent outlining, and the speed in which my enthusiasm and drive shrivelled, once the writing process began. Eventually, periods of frustration and abandonment caused me to accept the inevitable, to bode farewell to the moral majority, and cross over to darker side. Just me and my pants.
While I still struggle to complete projects, my odds of success have improved. I take solace in knowing other authors, famous and not, embrace a similar method. Stephen King, in his book ‘On Writing’, compares plotting out a story to uncovering fossils, citing that outlining a story before writing, is like deciding the type of dinosaur you have before unearthing the fossil. A clever analogy. King goes on further to add, “Plot is, I think, the good writer’s last resort, and the dullard’s first choice.”
How’s that for choosing a side?
While many will disagree, and some will argue a balance between both styles is achievable – and preferable, I embrace the freedom of open writing. Some writers are analytical, prone to structure, uniformity and preparation. Others are not. For me, allowing the mind, the subconscious, to assume control, to travel, detour and invent, is a recipe I prefer. Results vary, but the potential for original, captivating work, is heightened, at least for me.
When it works, it works well. But recently, when crunch time came and the deadline approached, I feared the 1666-word-per-day sword of Damocles would prove fatal to my method. (By the way, don’t think I didn’t notice the average daily word count contains a triple ‘6’. Coincidence? I think not.).
So I passed on Nano this year. But the dream isn’t over, not for me or my pants.
For those who have taken the 2016 plunge, currently 8000 words in, well done, I commend your commitment. Best of luck, although we all know luck has nothing to do with it.
I’d love to hear from any other (closet) pantsers, plotters, or hybrids. What’s your process?
Until next time,