There’s been a controversy brewing in the fiction writing world that should be of interest to you, the freelance writer.
That controversy is about which writing method is the most efficient for creating quality work quickly.
The current main contenders are “Plotting,” or the use of copious outlines that identify every action to be written in a book, versus something called “Pantsing,” an approach where the writer just sits down and goes with her gut until the book is finished.
Both methods have their champions, and successes. Stephen King is known to be a Pantser, while J. K. Rowling is an ardent Plotter. So obviously both methods have merit, but how can you apply these writing methods, or aspects of them, to help you do your best, most productive writing?
And what’s the payoff for finding out which writing method best suits you?
Simple: When you know which writing method is best for you, you’ll enjoy faster, easier, more flowing, creative, and engaging writing. Not to mention less pain and fewer writing blocks.
So today, I’m going to help you discover whether you’re a Pantser or a Plotter. You may be surprised, because even if you file all of your books in alphabetical order and have a color-coded closet, you’re not necessarily a Plotter.
And just because your desk is littered with empty soda cans over stacks of old bills does not automatically mean you’re a Pantser.
So how do you decide? Simple. Try both.
Writing Method #1: How to Be a “Pantser”
Start by doing your homework for your writing project. Be sure to compile all of your research, print it out, then read it until you have internalized it. Don’t memorize it, just feel it.
Then, take a break. Have lunch, go for a walk, nap, even go to bed for the evening. Put a little space between you and the research material. When you’re ready to write, you should be refreshed and the source material should still be fresh in your mind.
Of course, you should have access to your research notes so you can check facts as needed. But don’t worry about reading through it again. Just sit back, relax, and write as though you were talking with a friend or colleague, or even a relative.
Think of it as an imaginary “chat” where you anticipate his questions and include the information he needs. Do your best to be persuasive and engaging. This is your time to shine.
When you’re finished with your writing, put it away for at least one day. Then review it against your notes, research material, and whatever guidelines are appropriate for your project. If things seem a little disorganized, now is the time to line it up with an appropriate template. Include anything you may have missed, and polish your copy.
After you’ve completed a project as a “Pantser,” sit back and reflect on how it felt. Did you sleep like a baby, assured your writing project was going to be breezy and stress free? Was it enjoyable to “chat” with your friend, colleague, or relative? Were you able to have an imagined conversation that flowed naturally and honestly?
If the answer to these questions is not a resounding “Yes,” and your copy is not anywhere up to your standards, clearly you need to try writing as a Plotter…
Writing Method #2: How to Be a “Plotter”
Again, the preliminary research for your project is the essential first step.
Next, you need a template. Think of it as the bones on which you will hang your well-thought out and directed words.
Every project has at its most basic, a beginning (or introduction) a middle (an argument), and an end (a satisfying conclusion). This is the plotting stage that the Pantser skips until he edits his first draft.
When you are finished, take a break as in the Pantsing exercise. A little space will make for fresher copy even if you’re a Plotter. When you come back to the copy, you should have a fresh mind and clear pathway to complete your project.
Now that you’ve completed a project as a “Plotter,” how did you feel? Were you empowered? Did your writing come across as tight, cohesive, and compelling? If you’re happy with the results, this is the method for you.
But what if you aren’t so satisfied with either of these writing methods? What’s left?
The Secret Alternative…
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Though Ms. Rowling is a Plotter, I’m sure if she has a brilliant idea while she’s writing, she doesn’t throw it out because it wasn’t in her outline. She’s likely flexible in her approach while relying on her detailed plan for support. She has the best of both worlds working for her, and who can argue with her results?
By the same token, Mr. King probably has ideas jotted on napkins or backs of envelopes reminding him of storylines that he can refer to in advance of sitting and Pantsing out his stories. I’m sure he also has advanced notions of what he wants to see happen in his books, even if they’re just thoughts he has while in the shower.
So, which method is best for you? Experiment with both. The reality is that writers are complex and intuitive creatures.
Give both writing methods a try, either strictly or as a blend. Eventually, you’ll find the balance that will bring out your best and most prolific work.