Monday, March 7, 2011

Why I Took Off My Pants.

Ever since I scribbled my first novel's pages (protag name: Raine) in the first (of many) green spiral-bound notebooks, I've been a pantser--you know, the kind of writer who plots as she goes, throwing caution to the wind and following the white rabbit through its warren and inevitably the warrens of all its millions of relatives.

Though I started this writing thing in 1995, when I was a tender age 9, it wasn't until 2010, at the slightly-tougher age of 24, that I wrote THE END, BITCHES on a novel. I have hundreds--very possibly even thousands--of discarded stories, from a paragraph on a napkin to a hundred hand-written pages, and from the mid-aughts on, dozens of echoey Word files.

Every time I started one of these ideas, I was filled with absolute certainty that this would finally be THE ONE THAT I WOULD FINISH. And then 5, 10, 30 pages later, I moved on to greener pages.

Not until I finished my second novel last year and started making noises about revisions did I come to realize something very important about myself. Despite all previous espousing and belief, I am not a pantser. And I have the dusty skeletons of a lifetime of discarded stories to prove it.

It took NaNoWriMo for me to realize that I needed at least a semblance of an outline in order to flourish. In 2008, I gave up on NaNo at 32k, which was the longest thing I'd written to date. In 2009, unemployed and determined to make it work, I spent the month of October world-building, drawing maps, and figuring out who exactly these people were whose story I wanted to tell. I knew their over-arching plot and a few points in-between. As I wrote, I got more ideas about how I wanted things to progress, and I made notes in my ever-growing sketchbook.

Three months after NaNo, I finished that book, my first. A few months later, after throwing out all but about 18k of the first NaNo idea, I wrote another rough synopsis and finished Saving Me.

This is what I've come to learn:

If I don't have even a basic skeleton idea of the plot (especially the ending), I will never finish. 

As I've picked up a discarded draft from last year (Four) and read through the notes I made myself during the initial planning process, I've realized that not only have I saved myself a ton of stress and effort in trying to figure out what a-year-ago-me wanted this story to be about, but I could simply jump back into the writing without doing all the research and soul-searching that killed my spirit before.

So now, with a bullet-listed synopsis of the story, including the major climax and several important plot-points, as well as separate lists for desired character arcs, I'm flying through this novel (for me). Before I write each chapter, I open a new Word document and write a very rough synopsis of what will happen in that chapter. Then, during the chapter drafting, I refer to the synopsis when I need to, but ultimately speed through with no speed bumps AND continuity.

Continuity. Amazing, that.

I'm not stressing about writer's block, because my path has been paved. I'm not trying to think out the best possible twists and turns, because I've already done and recorded it. Even better, I'm writing a draft that will be infinitely easier to revise and edit than the hot messes that my pantsing ways left me with before.

All of these reasons are why I took off my pants.

Do you still write in pants, or have you joined the skivvy crew? Have you found that as your dedication and seriousness about writing grows, you've changed your perceptions of your writing habits? 


Unknown said...

I totally hear you on this one. I'm an outliner (albeit a loose one) but I need to have some semblance of order on what I'm writing. I need to know that the plot lines will link up; that there will be satisfactorily conclusion and most of all, and that the characters will be believable.

Outlining helps with this. It ensures that things run smoothly and that I’ve hit all the right plot points. Though it’s inevitable that random plot ideas will spring up, some even changing the direction of a story, keeping a log outline of what I’m doing makes sure I don’t veer of course.

Tanya Reimer said...

I draw up a brief outline. (it will change so I don't spend much time on it, point A, B and a few others to give me guidance.)

I write it. Then I rework it. It is normally at this point where I make an outline, charts, and decided if this story and these characters have potential.

Draft one and draft twenty-nine might look like two different books, they might look very close to the same.

I do always write my first and last scenes (or how I see them) before I start.
I call my first draft "my rose coloured version", as not much bad happens. I don't get mean until I rewrite with an outline in hand. That's when the pants really come off.

Hannah said...

I was like you until I one day I woke up and declared, FUCK PANTS. That's right, I said it. FUCK PANTS. I have so much going on in my mind on a daily basis, that there's no way in hell I would remember all the subtleties I intend to put into writing. So I tore off my pants, NBA-style, and wrote it all out. I'm actually doing a post about this on Wednesday...more to come.

Michael Di Gesu said...

Not, me...

I just go with it... My first novel I wrote in three months. Chapters in sequence. The novel took me where it wanted to go.

My second novel I wrote in six weeks. Same thing, but I did know where it was going this time.


Jessica Ann Hill said...

I'm like you - I use to be a pantser, and then realized that just wasn't me, so I tore them off.

I have to have at least a very basic outline of how I want my story to go in order to keep writing smoothly, and so that I don't hit that wall I always hit before - over and over again. Removing my pants has made a HUGE difference in my writing.

I do tip my hat off to people who pants it and who make it work; it's just not how I roll.

Linda G. said...

LOL! Love the title of this post. :)

I am still a dedicated pantser. For me, an outline seems to kill any desire to finish a story -- if I know what happens, why do I need to write it? That's just how my brain works, I guess.

Lola Sharp said...

Dude, you are a full fledged, hardcore outliner. And that's EXCELLENT. Figuring out your process, what really works for you (and it's different for everyone), is crucial. You have found your process. That's HUGE. :)

Happy writing!

Sommer Leigh said...

I outline, but I'm not married to my outline so I tend to throw it out when the story grows differently than I anticipated, which happens a lot. So either I'm not a very good outliner or I'm just not very committed to it.

I also tend to outline and re-outline differently depending on what point in the novel I am at. When I'm having a very tough time, I pull out the note cards and highlighters and post-it notes and go old school.

Erica Mitchell said...

I draw out the broad strokes of my story now. I used to pants it but I would stray so far from the original idea that I could only come back to the point by taking a massive and often absurd detour through back story or some other random event.
I decided at some point, I needed some sort of outline. I tried index cards, I tried big poster boards, sribbled down notes in a journal and even did a bullet outline on Word. NONE of that worked for me, and I had to wonder why neither approached worked. Then it dawned on me. I am a visual learner and writing it down as notes doesn't work, drawing it does. So I have doodle upon doodle of scenes then I correspond them to an index card system and voila, I have enough of an outline to keep me on track.
And I have a word count math equation that keeps me grounded as well. ;)

Luna said...

Exciting post!

I'm definitely a part of the skivvy crew. I have to outline. It might be the control freak in me. But I do allow room for inspiration and new ideas as I go.

"I'm flying through this novel (for me)."

Love that! So happy for you, Summer!

Austin Gorton said...

One of us! I've always been one of the skivvy crew; I have a slightly analytical, anal retentive side of me that can't imagine diving into a novel without some kind of outline beforehand.

Trying to write a story in which I make it up as I go along would be like trying to write a story in a language I don't know. Just can't do it.

Incidentally, this is why I always sucked at writing exercises in my creative writing glass.

Prof: "Here's an idea: and write!"
Me: "Wait, what? I can't write about that yet? I haven't had time to think about it, mull it over and craft the story..."

Matthew MacNish said...

My outlines are very loose, very basic, but I couldn't write a thing without them.

Old Kitty said...

LOL!!!!! I love this post!!! I guess I wear pants and then not as my mood takes me - then again that just proves I'm so ill-disciplined and unfocused!!!! I was hoping age would weather me but nope!!! Still pansting and plotting as and when I feel like it!! Darn!!!

p.s. you were how young in 1995?!?!?! Yikes! Take care

Unknown said...

Great post. The first draft of my novel was written by the seat of my pants and boy did it show. The plot had more holes than a warehouse filled with Swiss cheese. My characters were one-dimensional and the flow and pacing were off.

I purchased several "how to" books and read them cover to cover. Then I outlined the entire novel. This approach helped with cogence, flow and characterization. I believe the second draft is much tighter than the first. At least that's what the feedback from "critter's" on Scribophile seems to tell me. So far, I've received four out of five stars on every chapter I've submitted. If nothing else, I'm on the right track this time.

Jules said...

How about if we just outline with our pants off? :)
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

Saumya said...

Haha, your post title is GREAT. I switch back and forth between plotting and pansting. Can't seme to make up my mind.

Meredith said...

I have to do an outline! Otherwise my writing meanders all over the place and I lose interest. Yay for the skivvy crew!

lotusgirl said...

I used to be a pantster and gave it up for the rough outline. It helps make things flow when I know where I'm going. Plus I don't have to revise as much.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I have to outline and plan - my writing would make no sense otherwise. And I'm sure Hart is proud of the pantsless thing.

Sarah Ahiers said...

ooh yeah. You took the same path that i took. Sure, pantsing is fun, and occasionally i could finish stuff (*ahem* fanfiction *ahem*) but it would never be as good as it could have been.
Also pantsing = more editing/revisions later. And i'd rather avoid all that extra work

Colene Murphy said...

Oh no! Pantser down! Pantser down! Ah well. Glad you finally found what is best for yourself!!

Anonymous said...

I took off the pants a while back. I'm debating dropping the drawers, too.

Outline and pre-synopsis are how I roll for long projects, now. I still pants short stories, but longer-form work is all plotted out in advance. Sure does help to know where I'm going with any given scene BEFORE I sit down to write it.

*high fives*

Talli Roland said...

I'm with you. I need something to write towards, or I flounder around! Usually this means knowing the turning point and the end. Just having those basic bits really help!

Sara {Rhapsody and Chaos} said...

aaaaand welcome to the dark side :) I started off a complete pantser too, but after writing my first novel--and then spending like 8 months in HEAVY revision because there were so many loose ends and wavy character arcs--I realized I work sooooo much better with at least part of a plan!

Abby Minard said...

I'm glad you found your niche! It's a great feeling to be able to finally finish that novel! I've found that I'm half and half. I need a rough outline, characters and plot points etc to be able to write. I don't have each chapter outlined, but the general idea is. Then I also need a more detailed outline for the ending, or else I get all mixed up in what happens when, and who knows what and who is finding things out. It really helps sometimes to have the ideas written out, to organize our thoughts.

Jon Paul said...

Skivvy Crew sounds like a cool name for a band! Mind if I borrow it, should I ever decide to start another band?!

Yeah, I had exactly the same experience with Daisy this year during NaNo, and I realize that plotting (skivvying?) is the only way for me to get to the end.

My current approach is to write an quick outline--maybe about 10% of the full length--then go through, pick apart scenes, cut, lengthen, etc. I'm trying this out on several shorts now, just to get the kinks out, then back to the long stuff.

Congrats on all your recent writing sucess. Can't wait to have a read!

Claudie A. said...

I only put my pants on once. It was the middle of NaNo. I had finished my first novel and was deadset on overachieving. I grabbed the first idea I could and ran with it.

It was tons of fun, but story structure wise, the novel wasn't viable. So I hurriedly took off my pants again, replanned the novel and rewrote it.

And this is my WIP today. I definitely work better with a plan and a deep worldbuilding. :)

Samantha Sotto said...

Hi, Summer! It's my first time here. After I saw your blog post title, I knew I just had to read more :D I can't outline to save my life, but I'm glad it's worked out for you. Looking forward to reading more of your posts!


Melissa said...

I'm a plotter/pantser. I don't start writing until I know where the story is going and have characters arcs and such. Then...Once I have my outline....I just go with it and my story takes me to where I need to be.

This is a great post and obviously taking off your pants has worked wonders for you!

KT said...

I've had times where I completely outline every detail of a story and stop after the outline is finished because, now that I have the story written, why re-write it with actual paragraphs and sentences? For me, I think I need to know at least where the characters are going to end up. That's how I got through writing my previous two short stories and just might be how I write my upcoming stories. So I would say I'm like you, I need the idea of where the story will end up or I won't finish. And if I just start something on the fly and go on, I must either think of the ending as I write for if I don't, I will never finish it.

Great post! I was redirected from Sommer Leigh's blog.

Áine Tierney said...

I plan, go by the seat of my pants, and as a result need to replan and then the cycle starts again. But yes, I need a map to stray from too.