As anyone who has been paying attention to my babbling over the last few years knows, I’m what’s known as a “pantser.” We’ve talked about this method of writing before. I’m pretty sure that Tess, who is also a pantser, has spoken about it much more eloquently than I’ve ever been able to manage.
Stephen King once said that his best books are the ones he didn’t plot out beforehand. Since I have no idea which particular books he’s talking about, there’s no way I can judge this statement. And while he may think he’s had a few misses, I’ve always been entertained.
But I’ve been a pantser for as long as I can remember. In fact, the very first thing I wrote, I didn’t bother to sit down and think it out beyond the premise. I just jumped in, guns blazing —
— and quickly discovered that writing is hard work.
But I never blamed that hard work on the fact that I didn’t prepare much before I started writing. It seemed that this was simply the best method for me.
I tried many times to go the so-called “safe” route. With screenplays, I got a bunch of index cards and started plotting out the story, scene by scene, but I would only get about ten cards in before I grew bored with the whole process and just started writing.
With my first aborted attempts at novels, I tried outlining, but the process just seemed so much like homework that I could never get beyond a couple pages before I jumped into the “real” writing and started having fun.
Outlining = homework
Writing = recess
Ahhh, recess. What a wonderful thing.
Until you hit the wall, of course. And every single book I’ve written, I’ve hit not one or two walls, but several of them that had me thinking the book was a failure and there was no way I’d ever finish on time.
Fortunately, I’ve been lucky so far.
But earlier this year my writing career turned a bit of a corner and I found myself with more work than I anticipated. Pile on top of that the online workshop I was committed to teaching, and other life commitments that felt they needed to intrude on my writing time, and I was, to put it politely, up shit creek with only half a paddle.
Or maybe not.
Because those new writing gigs required me to turn in, at the very least, a fairly detailed synopsis of the story, I was forced to get off my lazy ass and do the “homework.”
And guess what?
After writing that first story outline and working out all of its kinks, after slogging through and hitting the walls during the outlining process rather than the actual writing itself, I discovered, to my astonishment, that — get this — I was able to write the first story
…hold onto your hats…
about three times faster than normal.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen. I wrote the thing very, very quickly. And I can’t say that it was any worse than what I would have produced had I used my usual method. In fact, it’s pretty freakin’ good, if I do say so myself.
All of this thanks to that outline.
I have always believed that outlining would kill my spontaneity, would stifle my creativity, would make me so bored with the story that I wouldn’t want to write it. But the truth is, none of those things happened, and I sailed through the writing.
Now I’m busy outlining a new book — one that’s big and complicated and probably my most ambitious work to date — and I’m thinking, ugh, here we go again. But once I started to outline, I suddenly found myself very excited about the stuff I was coming up with and realized, wow, I’m doing most of the work right now. And all I have to do once it’s finished is go back in, flesh it all out, and make it pretty.
Not to say that writing of the book itself will be easy, but it’ll certainly be a lot easier.
The outlining process is forcing me to think in exactly the same way I do when going the pantser route, but allowing me to do it faster and without that panicked feeling that I have to get a scene perfect. I’m concentrating purely on character and story without having to worry about the actual prose.
So I guess the moral of the story is that no matter how old the dog may be, there’s always room for a new trick. And anything that can get me to produce work faster, while still maintaining its quality, is a good thing.
How about you other pantsers out there? Have you ever tried or even thought about trying to outline?