Pantsing Versus Planning: How Do I Write?

For the uninitiated, pantsing is the term for writing by the seat of your pants with little-to-no planning. Just sitting and letting the words flow, taking you wherever they dictate.

If this isn’t the first rambling post of mine you’ve read, you probably know that I don’t make decisions very well. So it will come as no surprise that I do a bit of both.

I tend to consider my planning as procrastination. I can build a whole world from the top down, from gods and deities, other planes of existence, world maps, other sentient species coexisting (sometimes) with humans. I have dabbled in building languages, cultures, and (reluctantly) politics. I spend more time on all of this than I do on actually writing. When it comes to high fantasy, I can drown in my world before I even start on the story.

The plot, though? I plan as little as possible. A blank canvas is less intimidating than seeing a screen with a scene outlined. I cannot possibly live up to the decisions a sensible me made on what should happen. Even if it just a sentence or two on the rest of the scene I already started, it can take me days to get past the panic of how to bring that to life.

I create my characters intimately, and I know them as well as I know myself (sometimes better). Their motivations, their history, their hangups. I know more about them than I will ever divulge to the audience, and there are no black-and-white villains in my worlds. I write with a mad fervour, possessed by some external force.

I put the characters in the world, and decide on a few key events. Things outside the main character’s control, that will happen regardless of their actions prior. My characters write the story, not me. They take me places my mind could never have conjured on its own, and I weep with them at every new development.

When I realised that one of my characters was going to die, I was shocked and devastated. It isn’t coming for a long while yet, as far as the actual writing goes, but I cannot change it. It is as out of my hands as the world outside my window. When I write, I am a conduit and a record keeper more than an author. The story is out of my hands, even as my fingers frantically dance across the keyboard.

I would love to be able to plan. To get past that fear of not being able to live up to my own ideas and notes. More recently, I have been trying to plan things a little more when it comes to the plots/sub-plots. I think planning would make a book more consistent, and tie things in better. In my editing stage, I tend to go back and tweak things here and there to tie the scenes together.

I have tried, and tried, to find some kind of structured process for writing. To do it the “right” way. To outline each chapter and stick to a plan. The results of these attempts have been several folders of plans, but no writing. Years of ideas, with nary a chapter written. I wish I could plan, like a serious writer would.

I always know the beginning, and the ending. I know the major events, and I know my world. I know my people. The story is everything that happened in between. Is it wrong to write with no idea how to get where I’m going? It seems to have worked for me so far…

There is something indescribably magical about being swept up into a book. I am lucky enough to be able to experience that even as the book is being written by my own hands. I don’t want to read a rigid plan and translate it into fiction. If I can fill in the gaps between the bullet points, I don’t need to write the book. I love writing because I am transported into the world and watching things unfold. I love and live and cry with my characters, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Thanks to Nerdsama for suggesting/requesting this topic. Sorry it took longer than intended to get it posted! I highly recommend taking a look at their post on the same: https://chris.nerdsama.com/48/. Their writing is fantastic and insightful, so definitely check out some of their other posts while you’re there.

I’d love to hear how you all write, or what you think of what is apparently a massive debate among writers. Comment below, send me a message on here, DM me on Twitter, whatever you want. If you liked this, click the star. If you want to see more of my “fly by the seat of my pants” writing, consider following my blog so you never miss an update.

See you here again soon.

Onyx

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