ALW - Authors Learning Workshop

Author’s Learning Workshop #2 Plot it or Pants it…

As a writer, you will often be asked if you are a Plotter or a Pantser. This isn’t in refence to your Saturday night (unless you’re spending it writing), but, instead, to your writing style.

Do you sit and write your story by the seat of your pants while letting your characters guide you through the story? Yes? Then you’re a PANTSER.

Do you plot out your story in advance using a story board, timelines, story maps, and character studies? Yes? Then you’re a PLOTTER.

The term PLOTSTER is for those who do a little bit of both. Knowing what sort of writer you are makes a big difference as far as getting started.

If you are a Plotter and you’re just sitting down to write, you’re going to feel like you’re running barefoot and blind through a dark room filled with tacks all over the floor. If you’re a Pantser and you’re set to a ridged schedule with a checklist near your side, you’re going to feel like a race horse whose jockey is holding a death grip on the leads.

Knowing what sort of writer you are can help you prepare for pitfalls and maximize your writing joy. There are EIGHT unfinished manuscripts setting in my desk drawer. For ten years, I would sit down to write, knock out eighty pages, and then hit a wall. I would note seven pages of outline and not write a word. I can’t succeed as a Pantser, or a Plotter, but I didn’t know that until I started paying attention. Discovering that I was a Plotster made writing an entire novel possible for me.

In August of last year, I began writing my first (now complete) manuscript. I wrote eighty pages and then stopped. I was SWAMPED. The passion I had for my story had moved me thorough the first five chapters, but now what? Pantsing had taken me that far, but I didn’t know where to go from there. Different from my previous efforts, I plotted an outline then pushed forward. SUCCESS!! I had finally succeeded in finishing a novel.

This was a major accomplishment, but it still felt like magic. Was it something I could accomplish a second time? I won’t make you guess at the answer. It’s yes. In November (just two months after my first novel), I wrote a second novel for NANOWRIMO. Want to know what happened? Eighty pages in I bogged down, AGAIN. This time I knew what to do. Turning to plotting and planning, I knocked out an outline using the 3 Act Structure I’d learned at a conference in October and BAM – another novel was complete.

The proof is in the pudding, as they say, and I am now midway into my third novel. Guess what happened eighty pages in? Ugh, you guessed it. That wall a third of the way into my work WILL NEVER STOP ME AGAIN. It’s delayed my writing for ten years because I didn’t know my writing, or myself, well enough to know how to push past those limitations. I don’t want that for you.

Keep a journal, note on a calendar the days you write best. What are factors to your success? What sort of personality type are you? Do you feel anxious about writing? Does being snug in your bed help? Do you need a busy and vibrant work space? All those answers will lead you to clues that will help you become a more prolific and successful writer.

This is already getting long so I will wrap up with a few tips for the different types of writers:

  1. PLOTTER – Do yourself a favor and research planning methods for writers. There are SO many options! Take a class at a conference. read a craft book, study story maps, and the 3/4 Act structures and using screenwriting as a tool for plotting your novel.
  2. PANTSER – Find inspiration in your life. As a Pantser, your writing is about what moves you. I highly recommend THE ARTIST’S WAY for finding your voice and unlocking the story within you. Take notes and write down your thoughts when they come to you so that, when inspiration strikes, you’ll be ready.
  3. PLOTSTER – To my fellow Plotsers, do all of the above! Organize when you can and writer when you’re on fire, but, MOST OF ALL, be gentle on yourself. You’re organized enough to know when you should be writing, but passionate enough to know that you’re waiting for that one special piece to fall into place. Sadly, you won’t know if it’s inspiration from a billboard while sitting in traffic or two hours of plotting and planning that will bring that missing bit to you.

Regardless of what type of writer you are – DON’T GIVE UP! Writing takes determination, practice, and perseverance. You, like your work, are constantly being improved and polished.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

Next up in the Author’s Learning Workshop series: #3 DRAFTING – Once you’ve started writing, now what do you do?

I have an outline of information scratched out for this ALW series, but I would love to hear from readers with specific topics you’d like to hear more about. Email, DM me, or comment here!

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Happy writing!

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