Plotter? Or Pantser?

That is the question for writers, isn’t it?

Now that I’ve finished a manuscript and made a couple editing passes, I can definitely say that I’ve learned a lot about my writing process. I didn’t have an outline for Trust Me, I’m a Lawyer. At times, I wasn’t sure how I was going to end it. That’s probably why it came in at 20,000 words over my estimated, or desired, length.

At one point, I remember writing a scene and thinking, “Whoa. They’re having an affair? I did not see that coming!” It was fun! It was exciting!

It was a pain in the ass to edit.

Once I had something written, it felt like it was carved in granite and it was very difficult to make huge changes. While I was writing, I would tell myself to just write. Fix it in editing. You can’t edit a blank page. That’s all true, but I didn’t anticipate how difficult it would be to take chapters out to fix big, structural issues with your book.

So maybe I’m not a seat-of-my-pants writer after all. Maybe I need an outline to follow. At least a road map. Or some guideposts. At least a compass.

I had an idea for another book and, as is my usual process, I wrote the first scene that came to me. But then I started asking questions about the ending. With Trust Me, I had a problem finishing it because I didn’t know where I was going. I was determined to at least have an ending in mind this time, so I’d know my destination.

I sketched out a rough outline of a few scenes I could see being between the chapter I’d written and the ending I had in mind. And then I filled in a few more scenes because I needed to know how my California-based heroine ended up in Macau. And then a few more scenes here and there to explain the jump to Belize. And then I sat back and realized I had an outline.

Huh. Maybe I’m a plotter after all.

After sending Trust Me off to my beta readers, I had some time to look at the new project again. I was a little concerned that since I’d told the story, in bullet-point list at least, I would lose the fire for it. I hadn’t. In fact, having a few sentences from my outline that set out what each chapter needed to accomplish was an excellent way to get started writing.

This week, I wrote 10,000 words on that project. Knowing where I was going really helped me. It was still fun to write and I learned surprising things about my characters and my story as I wrote the scenes.

Who knows if this is always going to be the way I work best. For this project, at least, I am firmly in the plotters’ camp.

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2 thoughts on “Plotter? Or Pantser?

  1. For a new author it sounds like you’re taking a sensible approach to this work. Note, writing is like the practice of law in one regard: There is no perfection in law; it is a practice. It is also a practice of writing, unless you’re Shakespeare.

  2. So true. I’m trying to make a note of what works for me but with an understanding that every story is different, and what inspires me now may not later.

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