My pants are more like booty shorts

Alisha Layman

Let’s just begin by putting this out there: I love outlining. I work as a tutor and some of the first things that I tell people who need study tips are MAKE OUTLINES! OUTLINE YOUR NOTES! OUTLINE YOUR LIFE! OUTLINES FOR EVERYONE!!

So now that that’s out in the open, I guess it’s safe to say that when it comes to writing, I’m totally a plotter.  I can sit on an idea for weeks (if we’re being conservative) just planning out who the characters are, certain scenes, etc.  I can’t even begin writing until I have at least a few scenes in my head.  I like having some kind of outline of events for my novel.

Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that I plan and plot in a nice, neat order. Take a look at the image to the right. Most of the time, this is how I do my outlining. I’ll get an idea for about three-fourths of the way through and have that scene totally worked out.  And then I’ll come up with a beginning.  And then the ending. And then something right around the middle.  And when I’ve come up with several scenes that are spread randomly throughout the novel, I finally begin to write.

When I plot and write like this, I realize that I have a tiny bit of pantser in me.  Looking back at the image above, when I get to the inevitable Point of Question Marks between Idea Number 2 and Idea Number 4, I try to just wing it.  So the lead just got transported back in time, but she hasn’t reached the scene where she is tried for witchcraft? Well maybe she could meet a bushy-bearded man named James Garfield?

Because of my plotting nature, this point, the Point of Question Marks, can become the Moment Where I Experience Writer’s Block that thing where I can’t come up with any more ideas.

This is just one of the little notebooks I do my plotting in

There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.
Terry Pratchett

This isn’t always the case; sometimes I come up with the best ideas off the top of my head. That’s why I don’t see myself as a strict plotter. I don’t plot out the whole novel; I come up with various scenes throughout the novel and then fill in as I go. Yeah, sometimes I get stuck because I’m not as good at pantsing as I am plotting. But I’d rather have a little bit of mystery waiting for me when I begin writing, rather than have the whole novel ready in my head before I even write a word.  As James Scott Bell explains in his book Plot and Structure, plotters run the risk of lacking spontaneity, which the pantsers have in abundance. I don’t want my writing to become boring. So while I may be an outlining freak, I still have some pants. My pants are just more like booty shorts.

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Redefining Writing

James Gartner

        I had finished two drafts of novels before I took my first creative writing class.  People still argue about teaching writing, and some believe that writing is something that can’t be taught.  They should try and read those ancient drafts and see what they think then.  Of course, I’m sure that more things than merely education have contributed to my writing.  I did write far more regularly back in those days, but then, everything was more regular then.

This book is very helpful whether you’re
a pantser or a plotter.

     Needless to say, I had never heard of “pantsers” and “plotters” when first I started writing.  I just did what I felt like doing, usually starting off just writing and making stuff up as I went, and maybe outlining a few things later on.  I used to picture my story as a kind of movie then, and I still do sometimes.  I’m a very visual person and I’m studying film as well as writing.  As I write more, I tend to see things a little differently.  Pantsing seemed to work out all right, but then I’d go back and look at my work and find all kinds of problems.  But what trouble is that?  It was just a draft, after all.  Yet every time I plugged one hole, something else opened up.
       So, ninety pages into a new draft of a new novel, one I’m considering working on for this class, I decided to start fresh and try and build a solid foundation before I begin to write.  I’m trying to be more organized.  But I’m young, and I’ve always found trial and error to be effective if time consuming, so I’m trying something and seeing how it goes.
       I think that’s also some of where I get blocked up when I’m trying to write.  As I’m looking ahead, I’m thinking I’ll probably do lots of different outlines.  Just let things go and see where they end up, then shuffle some things around and start again.  Eventually my outlines will look like one of those choose your own story books probably, but it’s an experiment.
       In my last blog post I talked about being a binge writer.  That typically goes with being a pantser.  And honestly even if I have outlined something, the details of the scenes come as I write, at least so far.  Sometimes that takes me in different directions from where I had plotted, but I’m pretty flexible.  The problem with writing a novel is that sometimes it takes a long time to figure out that you’re wrong.

Redefined implies that there is nothing more to do.
Perhaps a better slogan would be “Redefining Education,”
but maybe that was already taken.

       So I’m still searching to improve the way I go about writing long projects.  Who knows if I’ll ever be satisfied.  I don’t always stick to a certain path, even if it works.  Most of the excitement is in the experiment, in the search.  There always might be something better (which, by the way, is particularly frustrating when writing because I’m never really satisfied).  I don’t think anyone is too old to keep learning.  Then again, I’m young, so that’s easy for me to say.
       Perhaps I should have put this disclaimer toward the top, but if you came here looking for advice, you’ll find that I’m still figuring things out myself.  Check out the other posts on #amnoveling and you may find what you’re looking for.  In addition to Plot & Structure, James Scott Bell also has a blog.
   


Does It Really Matter?: Plotters, Pantsers, Outlines, or No Outlines

Brent Smith
Outline person or no outline person? Plotter or a pantser? These are pretty important questions in all walks of writing, as it determines literally everything about style, structure, and how long one spends actually constructing their story.  I’d posit that the terms themselves don’t even matter. As writers, we all crave the best and most efficient way to tell our stories. No two people work the same however. This is the great thing about working in a classroom with fourteen other writers. I’ve been able to see first hand, and talk to others in a small, controlled environment about process and it’s pretty easy to determine that writing process might as well be as deeply infused and unique as the very DNA they possess.
The Pantser’s bookcase/computer chair
            “Well, where do you sit on this line?” you may be asking (I hope, because I’m telling you anyway!). I personally believe I have a pretty unique approach to the process as I do a unique mix of plotting, pantsing, outlining, and not. It’s easy to begin with how well I organize my own life. Let’s just say that my method of organizing is…unique to say the least. This isn’t to say I don’t know where anything is. My delicate filing system usually just begins at my floor and ends on my coffee table. This behavior used to concern me as burgeoning writer, because I assume all writers were hyper-organized people who had their stuff together. Then I met a few of them. While a lot of them are those hyper-organized types, there are plenty of us who aren’t and produce equally tangible work. I like to begin any large piece a free write, exercising my characters, their wants, and needs. I like my characters to meet at the bar, like actors before a big movie. They grow familiar with each other, and understand what makes each other tick. I then save those free writes to a very dark place at the bottom of my Dropbox folder hidden within ten other Dropbox folders, and the show begins.
Okay, so I’m not totally chaotic. I still plan a little.
            I’m not completely lawless though, when undergoing large projects I will sketch very rough outlines but these usually consist of one or two sentences. My notes on my iPhone are about as packed as can be with one or two word descriptions of things I’ve observed. I do this so when I read these things later, I have an excuse to break away and reinterpret my own thoughts. I can break this back down to process being different for everyone. Due to growing up in a family that deeply infused micromanaging smaller situations for the better of the bigger picture, I’ve developed a sense for how the smallest ripples can foretell a tsunami. I think in these terms on the fly, and it’s very easy for me to establish elements in my work.
            One of the most prolific poets of recent memory, Charles Bukowksi, was also questionably organized. According to his almost four hours of interview footage in The Bukowski Tapes he did not identify as a worker because he didn’t want people to assume he was doing another 9-5 to job. He considered the process much more chaotic than that, and many people called him a bum. He also famously said during the tapes that he wrote as the words came because he wanted to “write down the words the way they were supposed to be”. This is a pretty important lesson. This isn’t to say that organization is by any means the devil, but  in my, and Bukowski’s experience, it can ultimately stifle the initial message.
            What all of this really goes to show you is that if you feel like you can’t be a writer because you don’t hyper-organize your life, or you feel like your process is just too unkempt comparable to others, I’d suggest you just shut up and write. Plot it, pants it, outline it, or don’t. While it’s good to analyze and accept what kind of writer you are, these terms don’t really matter. It’s just as good as anyone else, because there is no wrong way to plan. To try and subvert that is stifling your voice. Embrace the chaos, let it come out in your work, and keep writing.
            


Thinking in Movies (and then writing)

by Tom Carreras

When I was a child, I wanted to be an author and illustrator. I was really into writing my own stories and drawing the characters that inhabited my imagination so that others could see. For some tragic reason, once I hit 7th grade, my writing desire all but vanished, and I didn’t write any stories until my senior year of high school, where I wrote a short story (16 pages) for my philosophy class. I loved it, writing by the seat of my pants (and procrastinating a bit to boot!) and loving it. Earlier in high school, probably around my junior year (and crescendo-ing into college), I became extremely interested in film. My personal film collection grew to be ridiculously large, I started to learn the names of too many films, directors, actors, actresses, and screenwriters (and other film trivia pursuit info), and I watched movies. Many, many movies.

So many movies…

All of this is to get to my writing method. Since becoming (after some flippy-flopping) a Creative Writing major at the start of my sophomore year, I have noticed that a lot of the way I like to write is in my mind. I enjoy thinking about scenes from stories I am developing – imagining them as live action films.

This mind-filming process of mine is typically coupled with plot outlining. I do like the surprises and changes that can come about from pantsing; however, I typically like having some sort of outline down, if anything so I can visualize more of my story in my head. I have not really used sticky notes or note cards much before for story-plotting purposes. I prefer just writing plot points in short paragraphs.

In planning out the novel for this class, I already have a feeling that there is going to be an exciting mixture of pantsing going on. I think that a balance of the two makes for a lot of fun – it gives me direction yet leaves room for exploration and improvisation.

Here’s to a well-plantsed novel!


sticky notes and receipt paper wads

Written by Rachael Heffner
While discovering myself as a writer, I quickly learned about the generalizations known as “plotter” or “pantser”. I have been writing pretty much since I was a kid. I used to sit in recess and write about how my dad was such a super hero and how badass of a cop he was. And then he would fly home and make me pancakes as big as my head. Now, although I have grown older and “wiser”, I still wish this would happen.
My “super hero” of a father and me.
Also starring my awesome Winnie the Pooh pjs.
As time stretched out, I began to read and write more and more things at the edge of my seat. Throughout high school, I would have said that I was in fact a pantser. I never wrote a paper until the day it was due or the night, and I also never revised a paper. I would always go with my gut, tweak a few things, and bam. I was done. That was until Junior year of high school and this all came crumbling down. I began writing my first novel when I was in my English class, desperate to find a way out of Speedway, Indiana and into something more exotic. That was when I began to write.
These are my notebooks that I wrote in for six months.
You can see my “plotting” abilities already forming. 
It started off as a pantsing project, but quickly developed into something more. Before, I had tried over and over to write a novel, to write that ONE thing that would take me away, but it never came. As I continued to write this first novel, things began to become more and more clear and that was when I knew I needed to switch things up.
I needed a plan.
At the back of my notebooks (oh, yes, the whole novel is hand written! lucky me!) I would write out the major scenes. I would write about what needed to happen and how it would happen. From there, I would construct the scene that would need to happen and then maybe make something up here and there.
This is when the evolution of the plotter came. I would write down ideas and lay them out as I worked at Steak n’ Shake. I would come home with wads of napkins and receipts with the ideas and scenes on them. From there, I would lay them out storyboard like and change up everything. I would take some scenes and flip them, just to see what it made my characters do.
Fascinating, right?

That was when I became the plotter I am today, but I would say I’m more of a mixture, leaning toward the plotting side. I still write something and let things happen. I tweak and send off to professors all the time, but hopefully, that will change and I can become more organized.