Wednesday, May 23, 2012

So You Want to Be a Pantster

The good news is, the point of entry for becoming a pantster is easier than becoming an outliner. To become a pantster, all you have to do is put your butt in the chair, turn off the internet, and bang out a draft.

Then another draft.

Then another draft.

I don't know if I'd have my perpetual rewrite habit as solidly ingrained if I'd learned to outline before I learned how to finish a story.  For us pantsters, the first draft is basically a huge, time-consuming outline. If you're a pantster, though, that won't bother you, because banging out that first draft is the most fun you'll have while writing. That's the part of writing you live for: discovering what comes next. There will be moments of excitement with later drafts as you make connections, clarify themes, flesh out your characters, find a gem of information in your research, and discover more tools you've left yourself to work with in building a solid story. But, for the most part, you're at your happiest when you're first testing out your characters in the world you've built them.

If the idea of writing and rewriting the same story perhaps a dozen times sounds tedious to you, though, you may want to rethink following in my footsteps. If the notion of discovering something midway through your draft that changes everything about the story (and therefore that you'll have to go back and fix) sounds like your worst nightmare, pantstering is probably not for you. If you break out in cold sweats at the notion of exploring a new place without a map, and you need every second of your vacation time planned out, you're probably not a born pantster. I am a cautionary tale, rather than a role model, for you.

There's nothing wrong with outlining. Lots of writers do it, and it seems to save them time. Many writers even enjoy writing the outline the same way I enjoy producing my zero draft.

You know you're a pantster, though, if you try outlining, and you don't feel like writing the story anymore once the outline is there. As one person in my writing group remarked, it feels like all the fun's been sucked out, once you have an outline.

You won't know which you are, though, if you don't try both methods. As easy as pantstering sounds, I strongly advise that you try outlining a story before writing it at least once. Start with a short story, and try several different methods. One of the outliners in the writing group recommends the snowflake method (outside link), while others use programs like Scrivener (vendor link), or those more oriented toward pretty graphics might use mind maps (outside link) or other physical representations. You can also just type up a few paragraphs of where you see the story starting, who the main characters are, and where the story goes from there. No need to make it overly complicated.

My point is, you don't know whether you can outline or not if you don't try. I'm too deeply ingrained in my pantster ways to do that kind of about-face, though later projects may necessitate my having to learn to outline. It's easy to fall into the habit of writing by the seat of your pants.

Don't be a pantster just because it's easier than finding out if outlining is a better method for you. Be a pantster because you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that's how you write.

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