Who am I?

I am a writing and publishing guru. What I dont know about the market just isn't worth knowing. So what if I'm unpublished? I choose to give other writers the gift of my wisdom and experience* that the other 500,000 writing blogs out there fail to give.
* No actual experience

Friday, August 12, 2011

On planning

I’m a panster writer. That means I always make sure that I’m wearing undies before I start writing. (Unlike some degenerates who write in the skin, I guess).

Ok, ok, some probably see me as a degenerate, because plans are a bit like maps, and most maps are meaningless to me. They exist to confuse and taunt me. My visuo-spatial skills are non-existent. I often head off 180° from the direction I’m supposed to be going.

Panster means writing by the seat of your pants, doing away with unnecessary frills like plans and schedules and time-lines. Sometimes I do plan. The concept of a plan sounds very sensible. But the bolshie in me snorts at the plan and asks my past self who does she think she is, bossing me around and telling my present self what to do.

A plan for me often works like a reversal. Whatever I plan to write, you can be sure I end up writing about anything but (veering off 180 degrees, probably). So doing diagrams and charts with little arrows pointing everywhere ends up being a complete waste of time.

In my days as a student, I knew I would waste precious exam time by planning how I would structure my response to a question. I either knew the answer and it would come pouring out of me, (and I would go on for a few pages – not necessarily coherently) or I would realise I knew only a few related fragments that I had no way of integrating into a whole, and write the lyrics to Monty Python’s Lumberjack song ten times instead, before passing out and reviving myself in the pub. (Most people tend to pass out after a lengthy session at the pub, but that’s just me, I often do things the wrong way. I planned my wedding and ended up having the honeymoon before the nuptials. Ah, well.)

Often, when I sit in front of the keyboard, I have no idea what I’m going to write about. But as I have a huge phobia of blank screens, I hurry to fill it with  - anything. Garbage mostly.

Some people start writing with a vision. It could be a place or an era. Not me, I have enough trouble visualising where I’ve left my keys, let alone how somebody’s home or clothing might look. If I try to desribe how a scene looks, I end up confusing everybody, especially me.

I always start with voice. I let the character talk. And talk and talk. Sometimes I have to tell it to shut-up. Often I let it talk to others. Their conversation will tell me a lot about what they want, and what’s stopping them from getting it. That’s the germ of a plot, and I run with it and explore some blind alleys, but my characters are often kind enough to take me somewhere interesting. And unexpected.

Maybe it depends on your definition of a plan. Does a notion count as a plan? I may start with a vague idea about what I’d like to see happen in the story. Say, a kid turning the table on the bullies. I’ll dive in and write an inordinate amount about my character and his/her nemesis. In writing about them I discover their motives, their voices. They have conversations, arguments. And in doing so I gradually learn how the bully gives the poor MC a hard time.  If I’m really lucky, I’ll discover the chink that lets the MC suddenly (and hopefully magnificently) make the bully look like a complete imbecile. In front of those they were wanting to impress. Or I might end up with a tale of finding lost treasure. Or the whole thing may ramble with no hope of reaching a resolution this millennium. Depends on how nice my characters are being.

Maybe I do plan. Does the extremely rough draft of a completed tale count as a plan? A very lengthy and slowly worked out plan, perhaps? A plan that gets chewed on and thrown into the blender a gazillion times before I have the satisfaction of crying “finito” (and startling the cat)?

I know I’m a strange person individual who does things her own way. It would be nice to hear about others' methods, even if only to reassure me that in this field, as well as every other field I've tried, I'm a complete and utter misfit. 

How do other people write?


  1. No worries, I am here to tell you that you are indeed a misfit!

    Actually, maybe you just have a virtual plan?

    I've written both ways. For one of my last WIPs, I compiled an outline then filled it in layer on layer, very strategically. It worked well because I had a lot of short, not-apparently-connected chapters that I could rearrange like Legos, which allowed me to really control the pace. The problem with the plotter's way is that when a scene that wasn't planned for demands to be written, it's hard to shoe-horn in.

    Other projects just flow and I explore them as the muse sees fit. Only sometimes I write myself into a corner, and can't figure how to end the story.

    Kind of like this comment. :o)

  2. Ah, thank you for reassuring me, Phoenix. Here I was worrying that I might be fitting in for once.

  3. I'm a total panster too. Though I usually have a general direction planned in my head and don't start a chapter until I've thought about it. Nothing like an outline or notes comes out of me. That's clearly too much work.

  4. I think I am a panster too because I don't even like the thought of knowing what I am going to write. One of the reasons I like to write is because I like the mystery. This does mean that there is a ton of revising previous chapters.

  5. Hmmm, and I only just realised that what I actually mean was "pantster".

    Editing is clearly not my forte, either.

    And as Missed pointed out seat-of-pants writing means revision. Either learn to love it or end up wiht a tangeld mess. Just like my current WIP