Pantsing vs Planning in the First Draft Stage

To my fellow writers,

If you are having trouble getting your book written —  if you want to tear out your hair, burn your notebook of ideas and give up to become a circus performer, this post may be for you. I won’t beat around the bush or sugarcoat anything. You deserve honest advice. I was lucky enough to have it passed onto me by the stellar Melissa Jackson.

A little background about my particular writing style:

I am a planner. A plotter. In the writing world, that basically means two things: 1. I am a perfectionist, and 2., I spend (spent?) more time thinking about my story than actually writing it. While this is an excellent trait when it comes to world-building and figuring details out, none of it matters unless I put my nose to the grindstone and write the damn thing! So I’ll be blunt; dearies. The same truth applies to you!

It will not matter one little bit how amazing, how stupendous, how magnificently brilliant your story is unless…you get it down on paper.

Let that sink in for a moment.

I know it’s hard. There are a hundred reasons why thinking about the story is easier than actually writing it. Trust me, I am an expert at “productive” procrastination. Truly, I am. I have two binders and three notebooks full of research, jotted ideas, lists of names I like for potential or planned characters, profiles on races, pages of country histories, and plot timelines.

…My binders are even color coated to the favorite color of the main character.

I know how difficult, how scary, how overwhelming it is to attempt to translate the awesomeness that is your story onto a computer screen. And for many months, I did a bloody fine job of dancing around the actual book writing. I’m not saying planning isn’t important; for writers who aren’t pansters (the lucky little bastards that can pull ten pages of great writing out of their behinds in just a few hours), planning is a key part of the book development process. I owe a great deal to my obsession with details…but eventually, I admitted to myself that it wasn’t enough. My complete and utter lack of book began to make me even more afraid than the intimidating prospect of actually writing it, and one day, I sat down and started typing.

Little did I know, my writing woes were far from over! They had really only just begun.

Because every sentence I wrote, I second guessed myself. My perfectionism was suffocating my triumph. Not gonna lie, it was pretty bad. It got to the point where I couldn’t tell if the sentences I was writing were golden or total dog doo doo. That’s where Melissa came in, for probably the third or fourth time, mainly because I was a mess. But this time her advice sunk in. (She’s a pantser.)  If I didn’t just let myself write, if I didn’t stop judging myself before I had an actual body of work to refine, I would also never get it written, because I would drive myself insane and give up!

“All first drafts suck,” she said. “Editing is your best friend. Let yourself write.”

It has taken me several months, multiple pep talks and a few re-readings of my current pages, but I have finally fallen into a comfortable place — into a happy medium between pantsing and planning. Gasp! Plotting isn’t everything? No, it isn’t!  Changing details, making things line up, perfecting sentences, rearranging chapters — all of that is a luxury meant to take place after your page count is substantial. Do not cheat your characters out of getting their story told all because you can’t let go of your own insecurities long enough to actually record it!

Writers, have faith in your stories. Believe in your characters, and rely on your own ability to edit the manuscript after you have something to actually edit.

Above all, know that you can let go. If I can, you can.

Happy writing,

The Madhatter

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6 Comments

Filed under writing advice, writing related

6 responses to “Pantsing vs Planning in the First Draft Stage

  1. Melissa

    “…My binders are even color coated to the favorite color of the main character.” — I don’t think I knew this. This is SO you.

    “My complete and utter lack of book” — Lol.

    Glad you’ve finally embraced the Way of the Pantsers.

  2. Plotting, pantsing, either way. Write the thing. Melissa’s got great advice!

    • So do you, missy. Both of you pulled me out of me slump! :) And I’m sure you’ll have to again, lol.

      Btw, I am feeling much better! Did you decide if you want me to tell you the thing or not?

  3. Thank you. I didn’t realize I was suffering from this until you outlined it so clearly. This gives me hope. “Have faith in your story.” Will repeat this as my morning Mantra

    • I know what you mean. I’ve been in your position, not understanding why I couldn’t get anything done. Remember, your story deserves to be told — that’s why it came to you in the first place! You can do it :)

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