The Only Metric that Matters
It’s in all the books. It’s discussed on Twitter. There are panels at Writers Conferences. “Are you a pantser or a plotter?”
And I just…
Back to the show…)
I know in my heart the question is one of process. It’s just writers asking other writers “How do you do it?” Which is fine. Writers discussing craft, picking up tools, that’s great, that’s how it should be done. And we should be picking up tools all the time and trying them out, keeping what works, and discarding the rest.
However, it gets under my skin when it becomes dogmatic. That this method is the best and the only way to accomplish the work. “Pantsing is best because it taps into your subconscious and the work will be deeper for it!” “Plotting is best because it will save you so much time drafting!”
In the end, the only method that works is the thing that gets you to the end of your manuscript. Finishing is the only metric that matters.
Let’s step back.
What is pantsing? What is plotting? Skip this part if you’ve heard it enough time…. Go here.
Pantsing is basically making it up as you go along. Writing by the seat of your pants. White knuckling through the draft, knowing that you’re going to rewrite.
Plotting is taking the time to construct an outline that you are more or less going to follow as you go along. This might take more time at the beginning but might save you time in the drafting process.
Both have their strengths. Pantsing might create a more unpredictable story. Plotting provides an element of security.
Both have their weaknesses. Pantsing might create dead ends. Plotting might create something that’s a bit cookie cutter.
Me, I’m mostly a Pantser
Now, I’m like 80% pantser, 20% plotter. I find it very difficult to plot in what I consider a vacuum. I need to see, hear and feel my characters in motion before I can get a hold of what I’m writing about. I’ve had writer friends stare at me like I’m a monster for just launching into something before I know how it’s going to end.
Though I do in the larger sense. I’m writing mystery and crime. Jimmy Cooper is going to solve the mystery. The criminals are either going to get away with it or not. So, I have a general direction I’m heading but I don’t know how I’m going to get there.
Which for me, makes it fun. And the fun gets me to the end. Which is the only metric that matters.
Now, I’m not saying my way is the best way. There’s a lot I have had to accept about my writing process. That I’m going to rewrite — a lot. There are going to be days that I don’t know what I’m doing — that’s when I embrace bad writing. And there are going to be days that are amazing because some idea or line came from the ether and it is brilliant and I would never have thought of it if I had planned it out.
I write a chunk of scenes, getting my characters in motion. One scene might inspire another and another. At a certain point I’ll have a feeling that I am at a crossroad. That decisions have to be made. There’s a certain creative pressure that I begin to feel. That’s when I pause and look at the material I’ve created. As I’m reading over, I look for those moments that spark ideas, that lock down a direction that I want to take the work. From there I can start to see an overall shape — what scenes I’ll need to tell the story as a whole, what themes I want to hit on.
I’ll make a very loose outline, one that is more a list than anything. I’ll write another bulk and see where I am again, adjusting the scene list again. Repeat, repeat, repeat, until I get to the end.
I guess, in short, the process is sort of switching between Tree View and Forest View, back and forth.
A writing process is personal. It’s unique. What works for me, might not work for you. I encourage you to find the process that works for you. That gets you to the end. Which is the only thing that matters.
A Final Thought on Pantsers and Plotters…
There are no short cuts. Some projects will go faster than others. Some moments within a project will go faster than others. There. Are. No. Short. Cuts. Outlining might save you time at the drafting stage, but it might take you time to get that outline done. Pantsing might get you to the keyboard faster, but there will be rewrites.
And, the thing is, some writers will work faster than you. Some writers will work slower than you. It doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is you getting to the end. Do whatever it takes. Just get to the end.
Actually, This Is My Final Thought
So, for the next few posts, however regular they may or may not be … Spoilers: They won’t be regular… I’ll write about the tools that I use to keep me on track and heading toward the end.