Are you happy with your writing process?
At some point, most writers wonder if the way they write is as efficient, productive and enjoyable as it could be. Maybe a colleague mentions an approach that’s different from theirs, they read an article or learn about a workshop on the topic or they seek ways to increase their writing speed, quality (so there are fewer drafts/revisions) and/or word count and/or to avoid writer’s block. Every method has its proponents and detractors. What’s important is figuring out which approach works best for you.
Two of the most common processes for novel writing are plotting and pantsing, aka flying by the seat of your pants.
Before writing any pages, they might:
- prepare a detailed outline or at least beats for each chapter and scene including premise, setting and theme
- write their synopsis first
- develop their characters, via character charts, profiles or questionnaires to figure out physical traits, backstory from childhood to present day, likes/dislikes, greatest fears and hopes, goals, and motivations, families, flaws and more. (You can find checklists and sample questions via a quick internet search.)
- do some worldbuilding
- structure their plot and story:
- incorporate the 12-stage hero’s journey
- divide their story into either three or five acts to help with pacing
- figure out the black moment
- decide on subplots
- use a plotting template or form
- use the Snowflake Method. Overview: start with a theme and expand it to a one sentence summary of your novel that you then expand to a paragraph and then to a page. Follow similar steps for your characters. Randy Ingermanson even sells Snowflake Pro Software.
- have an index card (possibly color coded for each character’s POV) summarizing every scene so you can arrange them on a bulletin board
- develop a series bible to plan out multiple books
- not know when they’ve done “enough” and can start writing
- just sit down and start writing
- let the story unfold and discover it as they go
- trust in the flow
- feel more creative and uncover more surprises because they don’t know what’s next
- spend time on tangents that don’t serve the story
- feel more stuck because they don’t know what’s next
That being said, most pantsers (including me) probably choose their genre, time period and tone in advance. And they might have an idea for a character, and/or premise or scene and start with those triggers for inspiration. I’ve pantsed more than a dozen books and novellas and a handful of partials and haven’t ever begun a manuscript with a completely blank slate.
Why am I a pantser? Many years ago, when I was a newbie with an idea for the opening scene, I simply sat down to write what I’d decided would be a medieval set around the Wars of the Roses. I’d read hundreds of medievals and other historical romances, so I was familiar with the subgenre. I was having a great time, making progress, and didn’t know I was pantsing until many authors I respected told me and then insisted plotting was the way to go.
They’d ask, “How can you have enough goal, motivation and conflict, and a well-thought-out plot if you don’t have a synopsis? How can you make sure your character arcs are complete? How can you write the black moment if you don’t know where it is compared to other scenes and what the buildup and aftermath are?”
“Hmmm. Well, they’re published. I’m not. Surely they know best,” I thought.
So I tried and tried every approach to plotting I could find. For example, I read The Dreaded Synopsis, which offers great advice. But I couldn’t figure out how to write a synopsis before I wrote my book. Unfortunately, despite these efforts, I ended up writing less instead of more. I felt more stuck and confused because I simply couldn’t “see” a story as an outline or summary. I felt frustrated and impatient to get to the actual writing. The fear of thinking I should know what I’d write beforehand but not knowing led me to develop writer’s block, something I hadn’t had when I simply sat down to write.
I learned the hard way that plotting wasn’t for me.
What a relief it was to learn about some successful romance pantsers at a conference. This was before you could just hop on the internet and search for “most famous pantsers.” If you do that now, you’ll find Stephen King, Margaret Atwood and J.K. Rowling on the list. I learned that pantsing wasn’t “wrong” and plotting wasn’t “right.”
You don’t have to be all plotter or pantser all the time. Some authors are plantsers (there’s even a Wikipedia for it) and combine elements of plotting and pantsing.
How do you know which is right for you? Clarify your pain points from your current process and your wish list of what could make it better.
Questions to ask yourself include:
- What scares you more: planning in advance or just going for it?
- Which sounds more interesting and creative?
- What approach makes you more eager and ready to write?
- What feels like too much prep or too little?
- Are you a planner or more spontaneous in other areas of your life?
- How much time are you willing to invest in planning ahead…hours, days, weeks?
If you’ve never tried pantsing, consider trying it for a few days. If you’re not big on plotting, see what happens if you spend an hour or two planning for your work in progress. You may be pleasantly surprised and pick up a technique or two to enhance your writing process. The goal is to be comfortable and ready to go when you sit down to write.
Connect with Ruth:
Check out Ruth’s new class right here at SavvyAuthors!