I often see debate on blogs and social media sites about ‘pantsing’ versus ‘planning’, usually in context of novel writing.
What is obvious to me, after thirty-odd years in the business, is that for some people the joy of writing is in that creativity – in being able to pour forth the stream of consciousness and see where it leads.
The problem is, if it’ not done properly, it leads only to messes and heartache. For writers who are just starting, even for writers some way down the track, ‘pantsing’ risks reducing writing to a pastime – fun, entertaining, personally rewarding, but not something others might want to read.
I can hear the screams now. But it’s a hard reality of the profession.
These days, if you want to write – and publish, and earn from those publications (so you can eat, have a house, support your loved ones, and keep on writing) it’s essential to follow the rules. It’s a competitive, tough field – and no matter how good your stuff is, there will be someone better out there – better at writing your stuff, better known.
Don’t be misled by prominent writers who insist they sit down and pour forth. Like Jack Kerouac, they usually have the story in their heads – and in any case have the experience to know what constitutes a proper structure, and the practised ability to be able to generate that on the fly. It’s a learned skill line any other. More on that next post.
Some apparent ‘pantsers’, like Jack Kerouac, already have the story in their heads – perhaps even have had several attempts at writing it, as he did with On The Road. When the moment came and all his thoughts had crystallised, he blurted the book forth in a three week frenzy of typing. But he didn’t start from a completely blank page.
Isaac Asimov once laid it out; yes, he wrote free-style, but he always did so knowing where the story began and how it was going to end. In other words, he had his plot and character arcs laid out. It was the detail of the story that he ‘pantsed’, not the structure.
Therein lies the secret. Structure and planning are essential. But I also think writers should be free to develop the story as it emerges around that structure. And if a new structure emerges – fine. But that demands re-planning.
A blend, in other words. And experience counts – something for which there is no short cut. More next time.
Meanwhile – do you plan, pants or do both?
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013
Coming up: more writing tips, geekery, humour and all the usuals.