Tuesday, November 19, 2013 | By: Lynn

Embracing My Pantser Brain

Standing in the kitchen pouring my coffee one recent morning I realized I was more excited to get to work on my current WIP than to read on in the novel I was into. That moment of realization felt delightful. I'm a pantser and a writer with self-doubts. It is much more likely my inner editor would start my day reminding me I have nothing to bring to the page, and as a pantser who doesn't have an outline to consult, I might agree. That can put a damper on any possible excitement about my writing. With this new experience of anticipation, I asked myself, "Hmm…what's going on here?"

The happy truth was that I was more interested to explore the story of my hero and heroine than to read what was happening in Jim Butcher's Grave Peril, a book I was really enjoying. I was intrigued to discover how each of my characters was going to develop, what obstacles they would face, how they would survive the dangers in the story, and how they would come together in their developing relationship. I wanted to know those things, and the only way I would find out would be to sit down at my computer and write. This is how a pantser finds the answers to those kinds of unknowns. Reaching this point where interest was stronger than fear signified a milestone for me.

As a pantser and a writer with self-doubt, facing the blank page takes courage and faith that the story will unfold. As a pantser, I don't know everything about all the elements of story when I begin. That's where self-doubt can really get a grip. And that's why I've admired writers who outline, make storyboards, plot out an entire book, and know, well, to me it seems like when they write, they know everything I don't. They have a lot of structure to build from. My story reveals itself as I write. There is structure but it's loose and fluid. I do my homework, just as any writer does. That means I feed my inner pantser with thorough research and character bios. I brainstorm scene possibilities and write loose descriptions, then put them in one of three parts: beginning, middle, or end. Pretty simple structure and not a whole lot to go on day by day until the story has taken shape.

So, why not change? If writing as a pantser feeds fear, why don't I learn to become an outliner, a plotter? Rather than rely on the story to flow organically from the ethers, why not begin with a solid structure of concrete information?

The concept sounds great but it doesn't fit. That method is just not something that comes naturally. And according to award-winning author Kathleen Baldwin www.KathleenBaldwin.com, it would be counterproductive for me to attempt it, because whether a writer is a plotter or pantser is a result of how his or her brain is wired.

"God didn't make us one size fits all," said Baldwin, who has a background in psychology. In college, she participated in ground-breaking research on the science of creativity. "I have several close friends who are NYT/USA Today bestselling authors who I know for a fact are full-fledged pantsers. It's a matter of honing your craft so thoroughly that you can create dynamic, exciting plots subconsciously."

Baldwin's latest release, Diary of a Teenage Fairy Godmother, is out now, and her workshop titled The Secret Life of Pantsers has endeared her to many an author because it helped them celebrate their inner pantser, freeing their creativity. Baldwin said pantser vs. plotter is usually a matter of degrees, though some writers are heavily one or the other. But pantsers should ignore suggestions that in order to succeed at writing they need to do formal plotting.

"Everyone plots, it's just a matter of when," she said. "A pantser needs to plot on the fly so she can stay enthralled with her story. Her creative psyche requires a challenge in order to operate optimally. …A pantser must have the confidence to make mistakes as she hunts down her story. It's a great adventure for us. Wrong turns are simply part of the adventure."

Though I still think longingly of an in-depth outline as a wonderful tool for creative writing, I have embraced my pantser brain and take pleasure in learning as I go. I get all sparkly and invigorated when, as I soldier through, I discover I'm writing interesting stuff. So, regardless of the writing method – pantser or plotter, write straight through from beginning to end or edit as you go -- it's better to write with a method that suits you best. Seeking advice is a helpful means to improve skills every writer needs to tell a satisfying and well-crafted story. It's a way to gather information and see what fits. But ultimately, the surest way to write your best book is to understand your process and trust it.

So what are you? Pantser, plotter, something in between? What are your struggles? What are your joys?

This post was first posted in Savvy Authors.