About This Writing Thing
Episode 5: The Push to be a Planner
Hello, and welcome to About This Writing Thing, a weekly podcast about living the writing life. I am your host, Sayword B. Eller, writer, podcaster, and editor.
You’ll notice I’ve changed up a few things. First, the frequency of this podcast is changing. When I began recording I expected that I wouldn’t be able to provide meaningful content weekly so I thought I would chat at you every other week. However, as they are apt to do, things changed. Because I am working full time to build my writing career it turns out I have way more to talk about than I gave myself credit for. (laugh) As a result, you will get to hear me weekly. I’m still focusing on my own writing journey but sometimes our journeys are similar and what I’m going through may very well help someone else. That’s all I want, to help other writers.
You’ll also notice my tagline has changed slightly. I am still a writer for women but I’m also a podcaster for you and an editor. More on the last bit coming soon.
Now on with the show.
Recently my professor made a very simple statement that I can’t get out of my head. This week we have to turn in a plot outline for our thesis project. I don’t do outlines, as you know, so as soon as I read the announcement my pulse quickened and my brain began to race with thoughts of how I couldn’t do this. Not to worry, though, my professor assured us that even pantsers would appreciate this hell in time.
To him I say, “No, we won’t.”
There are two things about the writing life that I despise above all else:
It will come as no surprise that I suck as both of them.
My third despised part, and a topic more relevant to this podcast episode, is the plot outline. There’s a very good reason I don’t use them and have no desire to. Despite what some writers- C. S. Lakin comes to mind - believe, it is not an excuse to keep from outlining, this is not a “bubble to pop,” it is the way I (and many other) writers feel. When I outline I already know what happens in the story, so having everything mapped out makes it very difficult for me to finish. Not only that, but it feels redundant. Valuable hours are spent mapping out major plot points, character sketches, etc. This is time I could be writing. Yes, sometimes pantsing makes things a little more difficult, especially when trying to write an entire novel, but the experience of writing doesn’t feel so much like double work. It feels more organic and that’s how I write best.
I’m not picking on C. S. Lakin. She’s entitled to her opinion, even if it does come across as judgmental or intolerant. Plotters just can’t wrap their Type A minds around pantsers and I think that’s okay.
What isn’t okay, though, is this constant push to fit pantsers into the tiny little box plotters have created for themselves and their kind. You cannot fit a square peg into a round hole. Not unless you cut out parts of what makes the square and square. No thank you!
If you’ve listened to the second episode of this podcast (it’s over on SoundCloud. I’ll put the link below) you’ll know that I am mostly a pantser but I do have a plan for the story in my head. I have my characters, my setting, and the inciting incident in my head. I also, often, have the ending up there too. This, I suspect, is how many pantsers really work. If this is the case, is a pantser really a thing? Wouldn’t plantser be a more accurate term? Whether we’re outlining for hours or just have an idea in our heads, we’re planning to an extent. Some of us are just putting more energy and time into it.
When I began my most recently completed manuscript I knew two things: my character’s name would be Zedwynne and she would be a sexual abuse survivor. I started this book before the Weinstein scandal and the #metoo movement became prominent, not that it matters. I wrote a page and sent it to my former critique partner. She read it and gave me her thoughts: it was too abrasive, too explicit, and as written would likely turn readers off. So I took her notes and my first page and really started to think about what I wanted to say, how I wanted to say it, and just where my character was in her life.
When I began really writing Catching Fireflies soon after this is what I knew:
- My main character’s name is Zedwynne. She’s always hated her name. When she was a child they called her by her middle name, Grace. Many people called her Gracie. As an adult she calls herself Zed. As she says, “an ugly name for an ugly person.”
- She is a sexual abuse survivor.
- She hates her mother.
- She loves her sister.
- The story is set in rural NC.
- When the story opens she is recovering from a failed suicide attempt.
- There will be a confrontation scene with her abuser.
I’d say that’s a rough outline at best. And it was all in my head. And, guess what, I wrote a novel with this little bit of information. Of course, as the work progresses and the world is building things expand and the plan inside your head does the same, but the list above was enough to get me where I needed to be with this story.
This is why I consider myself a plantser. It isn’t often I go in with a blank slate. There’s probably a thin line between pantsing and plantsing but they are a far cry from the confines (to me) of plotting.
Coming back around to my professor and his assurance that the pantsers/plantsers in my class will thank the university for requiring this plot outline for a work we haven’t even really started yet. Here is my suggestion to teachers of fiction and universities who come up with the curriculum for writing programs: don’t teach to one part of the population and expect the rest of us to excel with those methods. Instead, why not open it up and expand your own blocked minds to, not figure out pantsers and plantsers but at least include other methods? You don’t have to figure us out to teach us about writing and craft elements, and you don’t have to have us pegged to teach us how to structure a story. You just have to understand that there’s more than one method to writing. Some of us are avid plotters and some of us are pantsers/plantsers, and it is quite possible for us all to live in harmony with one another.
My (unsolicited) advice to any new writers listening: don’t give into the pressure. I’m not saying you shouldn’t try it out to see if plotting works for you. I’ve tried multiple times to be a plotter. I have two unfinished books to show for it. What I’m saying is, be open to new methods but be aware which ones work best for you. There’s a lot of noise in the writing world. It’s up to you to figure out what works best for you and your writing.
That’s all I’ve got for you today. If you’re interested in seeing my work you can check me out over at https://saywordbeller.com or you can visit my Amazon author page www.amazon.com/author/saywordbeller. If you want to see what I’m up to on social media you can find me on Instagram and Twitter using the handle @saybeller.
Thank you so much for listening. If you’re listening on Podbean or iTunes please consider rating and subscribing so more people can find me.
Have a great week and happy writing!
Lakin, C.S., 2018, How Pantsing May Be Harmful to your Health, https://www.livewritethrive.com/2018/07/26/how-pantsing-may-be-harmful-to-your-health/