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It's A Writer Thing -- On Plotters and Pantsers

This is a guest post by Jessica Bayliss. 

Hello, Wonderful Writers!

It’s NaNoWriMo time! If you’re a writer and you’re reading this, you probably know what NaNoWriMo is. If not, here goes: November is National Novel Writers’ Month, and each year, all November long, writers all over the world commit to completing the first draft of a manuscript, usually 50-thousand words long, though some of us commit to longer works. The web community around NaNo is super fun, and if you’re a writer who isn’t familiar with it yet, definitely check it out.

I’ve been doing NaNo for a few years now, and I spent the last couple weeks of October getting my next WIP all plotted and set up in Scrivener so I was able to jump in and start writing on November 1st. This process, which is something I do for all new MSs, got me thinking about plotting versus pantsing.

I know this is one of the hottest debates writers can have, and I’m not here to try to lure anyone over to the side of the Jedis (*cough plotter cough*). Seriously, though, as a die-hard plotter, I wanted to share a perspective that has been on my mind for some time. Plotters are pantsers who do their pantsing before they sit down to start a draft.

Yes, you read me right: plotters are pantsers.

How can this be? Pantsers understand the beauty of choosing a starting point and maybe a mile marker and then letting the glorious muse lead them there by paths unknown and, sometimes, never before charted; while plotters are rigid, soul-crushed individuals who need order and structure and want to know the end before the beginning is even on the page yet. But seriously, plotters are pantsers.

What do you think us plotters are doing when we’re coming up with our plots?

When I’m thinking through my next WIP, I spend a ton of time playing out the story in my head, or in conversation with my hubby who is the BEST plotting partner EVER, letting different ideas emerge and shift and grow and evolve. Before there is a final version all ready to go into my Scrivener file as an outline or a synopsis, there is an unformed story-swirl cavorting in my head. It starts as a tangled knot which I somehow manage to tame into something linear and ordered and lovely—the Virgo in me is cheering right now—but even my order-craving Virgo heart loves the process of untangling that knot. 

I love the thrill of not knowing what will happen. I love how pieces come together, sometimes one decision being the all-important key to some other plot-point a little further down the road. I love the moment when the final piece clicks into place. As I write this, I’m still waiting for that to happen for my current WIP. Yes, I’m a plotter, and I don’t yet know exactly how my book will end, but that’s okay. I’ll figure it out as I go, as any good pantser does. 

So, for my plotting friends out there, next time someone asks you the dreaded question, just tell them you’re both. Because plotters are just pantsers who do the pantsing before they sit down in front of that blank page.

Good luck to all of you doing NaNoWriMo 2017. I hope you all “win!” See you on the other side.

And, as always, I will end with the motto spoken to me by my dear friend, who has been gone for over four years now (which I actually can’t believe): You can do it! You can write!

Jessica Bayliss is an author of commercial fiction who loves nothing better than getting lost in a good story, whether in print or on film. When not busy with her latest fiction project, she can be found loving her friends and family—especially her husband, Eric—playing with one pesky Havanese, or trying to appease an ornery cockatiel, typically with a cup of coffee near at hand. 

Check out Jessica's other posts:


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