June 5, 2015

A Left-brained Pantster

The title should probably read ‘Confessions of a Reformed Pantster’ instead. You’ll see why…
My entire life has been a series of structured events. Mainly events beyond my control. The first 26 years of my life,  I went to school and moved a lot (first due to my dad’s job and then due to university life).  I basically did what I was supposed to do and these events defined the person I became. I was two things. I was my parents’ daughter and I was a good student.
I’ve always been a logical person. I think and analyze (sometimes with a spreadsheet) before I make decisions. Even as a kid, I had clearly laid out goals and plans for the future. I wanted to get married, have kids and become a writer.
Amidst all the careful structure in my life… School, university, work, marriage, kids… I thought writing would be the best way to express myself creatively. I took numerous English and Language classes so I thought I knew how to write. I thought I could imagine my story in my mind and it would magically appear as I intended on paper. I was a pantster.
If you are unfamiliar with this term, a pantster is an author who writes by the seat of their pants without the use of an outline.
If everything in my life was planned and structured, then writing creatively would be the anti of it all. I had so many ideas for stories. What I envisioned was raw, completely fresh and different from the other books out there.
Well… It didn't exactly work out as planned. I had difficulty finishing my stories. I would flip back and forth between projects, leaving incomplete work that I would never be able to finish. I now believe in the value of an outline. An outline keeps you on track and helps your story make chronological sense. It doesn’t necessarily need to be detailed, but you should have a fair sense of where you’re going and how your story will end.
I believe most hard lessons must be learned on your own. Being told a truth is simply not enough sometimes. You need to experience it for yourself. Through trial and error, I am still looking for the right amount of outlining. Too little and I drift into “pantster territory”, but too much can stall the story if I can’t force the dots to connect. I’ve gone from one extreme to another. When I wrote stories as a kid, I would compile highly detailed outlines and never finish the story. I literally became bogged down with the details. As an adult, I rebelled against the outline and became a pantster, ironically achieving the same result of unfinished work. Without a guide, I slipped off track and didn’t know how to end my story. Now, I’m looking for a happy medium so I can finally finish what I’ve started.

If you are a pantster, I hope you are able to learn from my mistakes and heed this advice on writing outlines. Unless it works for you… in which case keep on writing… What works for one writer doesn’t necessarily work for all.

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