Being a pantser made it possible to become a plotter

I decided to change my novel writing strategy. I’m a pantser no more. A few days into writing using an outline and knowing my major plot points, something miraculous has happened: I’m not freaking out and experiencing high levels of gut churning fear at the blank page staring me down each morning when I begin to write. I simply look at my outline and the next scene note I left myself the day before and I begin.

My first novel took me two and a half years to write. It was a slow, and sometimes excruciating process. Since I was pantsing it at the time, I not only had to peer daily into the impenetrable blankness that was the Future of My Characters and the Things Happening to Them, but I also had to hold in my mind all of the things they had done already and hope I could link them up with whatever I was going to dream up for the next scene. Some days I fired on all cylinders, cranking out a busted dam level torrent of words. But most days I eeked out my bare minimum quota of 250 and felt utterly depleted. I had no clue from day to day what writing would be like.

Plotting is great now, but I don’t know if I would be so comfortable with it if I hadn’t gone through the euphoric apoxia highs and the deep pressure cracked submarine lows that was pantsing. I might never have written my first novel if I had to think up an entire plot before I started. I had only vague notions of myself as a writer, and completely lacked confidence in my ideas at first. By pantsing, I could trick myself into writing because there were no expectations, no set plan for me to fail to deliver on. I could wander through my narrative getting excited by every idea I had without worrying whether or not it was the right idea or in the right place.

Plotting is not as exciting as pantsing. When the insane half-of-the-bolts-wiggling-out carnival ride gets closed down, the pleasures of writing tend toward the soothing chamomile tea and rocking chair of quiet satisfaction. I’ve been surprised at the new insights I get into my writing now that I’m not worried about holding on for dear life. But I don’t think I could have gotten here without first experiencing the wild ride.


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