Confessions of a Pantser

Growth demands a temporary surrender of security. It may mean giving up familiar but limiting patterns, safe but unrewarding work, values no longer believed in, and relationships that have lost their meaning.
– John C. Maxwell

I’ve been doing some wholly out of the ordinary (for me) the last few weeks, and the more I think about it, the more it feels like admitting to some form of addiction or vice. Something frowned upon or hushed when discussed in polite company.

I’m not a strict panster, I use what I call “the landmark method”, creating a route of [you guessed it] landmark scenes in my head to give me the direction I need. But I almost never write them down in any organized way. If I have to – in order to gelatinize the thoughts in my head – I might write a treatment to block out the main course of the story.

Typically I get a collection of ideas and after they ferment in my mind for days / weeks / months, I’ll start typing in Scrivener when it feels cohesive enough to put on paper. That stage usually lasts until the energy dissipates and I’ve gotten down all the words I can. It’s very much a cycle of deep high and lows. “Stable” and “consistent” are not keywords I would currently attach to my creative process.

So here’s the big confession: I’ve been … outlining.

For the first time in over a decade, I’m breaking down my story into chapters ahead of time, creating summaries for said chapters and then putting them in chronological order. It’s an incredibly weird place to be. When I first tried to outline in Scrivener my brain hit gridlock almost immediately. I had some basic points: the first chapter, the end of act one, the beginning of act two and the end.

That was it. Between chapter one and chapter ten there was a great big void of nothing that haunted me for two solid weeks. It was a miserable feeling. Knowing I have this idea I’m burning to mold into something, and yet there’s still so many blanks in the plan. I even tried explaining it to my awesome editor and sounding-board, but couldn’t even organize my thoughts in a way I was content with.

I thought about falling back on my old pattern, jumping in and letting my energy run wild. It would be the easier option. Feeding that instant gratification monster that hides behind my sternum, like an internalized Cookie Monster. Always wanting more.

But there’s something about this idea, something so joyous and uplifting that I don’t want to fuck it up by being impatient. By running it through the same old patterns, the same old habits. So I sat still. I talked to my other good writer friend. I listened to one of my favorite Stephen King speeches. I played hours of Borderlands and Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and became slightly addicted to the Chainsawsuit Podcast and Broodhollow.

Finally, after spending two hours on Skype with The Editor, where she confirmed the ideas weren’t complete shit, I started to outline again. And something changed; there’s still refining to be done, but over the course six hours I’d plotted out the whole first act. In – basically – one sitting. If it is possible to get high off words on a page, I was flying.

It was a little hit and miss on the first attempt – I went from a film treatment to outlining each scene, which is mad overkill for me – but once I settled one paragraph to nail down all the main points of a chapter, it started to work. Characters developed, concepts strengthened, a subplot came up that reflects the main story and – strangest of all – it was fun.

[I know, I know. The INFJ finds unexpected joy in planning. Shh.]

Instead of having to keep the ideas circling around my brain endlessly, or dumping them in a big pile in Scriv, they’re down on the page, sorted and awaiting execution. And I’m excited because it opens brainspace up, allowing me to work on ideas for the next two parts of the book. I don’t know if I’ll be pro-outline from here on out, but I know it’s what I need for this book.

Even as planner by nature, I never would have thought an outline would be so freeing.

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2 Replies to “Confessions of a Pantser”

  1. Thank you so much for taking a moment to comment. You’re my first official commenter! 😀 I’m looking forward to sharing my outlining victories with you as I continue working on it.

  2. Great work!!! As a fellow Pantser this brings me a strange not personal joy. I shared sense of victory maybe, but this is truly great for YOU. And that’s awesome.

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