Marcia asked me to share this post with you all. It’s one I wrote recently for the Alliance of Independent Authors, on the need to occasionally revisit the pantser/plotter question as we progress through our writing careers.
From Pantser to Plotter, or Maybe Plantser?
by Kassandra Lamb
For eight years, I’ve been a die-hard pantser. No outline, no character sketches… just sit down and write.
But now I’m going over to the other side, or rather straddling the cusp.
I’ll always be grateful for my pantser roots. I didn’t successfully finish a manuscript until I realized I was a pantser. For years, I’d write the beginning of a story, outline the rest and then the whole thing would languish in my hard drive. I’d lost interest. The story had already been told.
In 2009, I sat down to once again tweak the opening of a novel I’d been playing with for fifteen years. (Yup, fifteen years!) But I couldn’t find the outline. Somehow I’d lost the file. So I started writing, and six weeks later the first draft was finished.
My first finished novel, 15+ years in the making. Now it’s the permafree first book in a 9-book series.
Now it’s 2017. That book, Multiple Motives, is the first in a nine-book mystery series, and I’ve recently released Book 3 in a new series. But in recent years, it’s been like pulling teeth to get through a first draft.
While writing this last story (The Call of the Woof; Woof for short), I finally identified the problem. My motives for writing have changed.
Initially, the ideas arrived, the words flowed, and I wrote for the sheer pleasure of seeing what happened next.
Then the first-drafting process became more challenging. My editor said it was because I was a better writer. My stories were more complex, my characters had more depth, etc. She’s probably right, but something else was happening as well.
More and more, I was writing to a schedule, especially after I started the second series. If too much time passes without a new release, sales droop. The pressure is on to pump out more stories to keep readers interested.
Don’t get me wrong, this is good motivation. How can you not want to produce stories for your adoring fans?
But it wasn’t the same. I still loved the writing process—when the words were flowing. But all too often they weren’t. Before, the scenes would unfold in my mind as I went along. Now, I’d get to the end of a scene and think “What’s next?” And no answer would come. Often that would be the end of new words for that day.
With Woof, as I got closer to the end and had a clearer idea of what scenes still needed to happen, the writing pace picked up. Instead of forcing out a few hundred words a day, I was breezing through several thousand.
The story was flowing and I was having fun again!
Then I thought about the next project coming up, and felt nothing but dread as I faced the void between the opening and the climax. So I experimented with outlining. While Woof was “resting” before the editing process, I did a bare-bones outline for that next story.
And I’m excited about writing it! Indeed, I found myself stealing an hour here and there to pluck away at it, when I was supposed to be editing Woof (and I love editing).
With the plot points already thought out that will get me through the murky middle, all I have to do is enjoy the flow of the words.
I doubt I’ll ever be a full-blown plotter with character sketches and beat sheets (not even sure what those are) and such. But if I have a better idea of where I’m going, I think I will get there a lot easier and faster in the future.
And have more fun doing it!
Kassandra Lamb is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer who spends most of her time in an alternate universe with her characters. The portal to this universe, aka her computer, is located in North Central Florida, where her husband and dog catch occasional glimpses of her.
She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, set in her native Maryland, a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida, and a guide for novice authors, Someday Is Here! A Beginner’s Guide to Writing and Publishing Your First Book.
This easy-to-read, how-to guide is full of both practical advice and emotional support. Psychotherapist turned successful mystery writer, Kassandra Lamb takes novice writers by the hand and walks with them on their journey, pointing out pitfalls along the way, some of which she discovered through stumbled-head-first-into-them experience.
From the decisions to be made before setting pen to paper to whether to submit to agents or self-publish, from the basics of writing craft to the nuts and bolts of copyrighting and ISBNs, from promotion strategies to the perseverance needed to make your writing business a success, this overview of the writing and publishing process is a must-read for new authors who aren’t sure what they’re getting themselves into.