Monday, 6 February 2012

Panster, Plotter or Procrastinator?

So which are you? The first two are often debated on writing blogs and many writers fall into either the panster camp, or plotter camp. Does it matter and is one better than the other? In the unlikely chance that someone hasn't come across the terms, here's a simplified recap: a panster normally writes 'by the seat of the pants', without a complete plan preferring to see where the story takes them, while a plotter (as it suggests) begins only after planning out a story or novel in fairly comprehensive detail.

And the procrastinator? That's me. Only, until this weekend I always said I'm a panster - I've never plotted a story or novel in my life, so far. Now, I'm convinced that panster is just another word for procrastinator in my case. I've been putting things off for as long as I can remember. And it has seeped into my writing life. Someone might recall the list of 'works started, or in progress' that I mentioned when debating about doing NaNoWriMo in November - it was a shocking list of procrastination. Novels started and abandoned, in the hope of getting around to finishing them 'one day'.

So this weekend, I admitted to being a world-class 'putter offer' of things (although husband has often said as much). Maybe that's why I'm a panster, in the hope that if I just start writing when I feel like it, I'll have a story or even novel at the end. But it's really because I can't be bothered knuckling down to doing the work in a planned, focused manner. And I need a deadline - a metaphorical whip - to make me finally produce the goods. I finally understand this after deciding at the last minute to enter a competition for a novella or novel. But I'd forgotten the deadline was yesterday and I only remembered late on Friday.

I could have let the chance go past, but I'm occasionally quite determined (husband calls it stubborn) and decided to turn a 3,000 word story into an almost 16,000 word short novella over the weekend - in between going out, cooking meals, ironing and watching  a few TV programmes. Did I do it? With the skin of my teeth. But I have to say that keeping off the Internet and social media made the biggest difference in achieving it. And I loved writing it, as the basic outline of the novella was already partly in the short story - but I'd always felt this deserved to be a much longer piece with a completely new subplot added and had never been bothered to rewrite it as such. Just wish I'd given myself more time.

And this made me question the way I write. It flowed so much better through having that basic outline and knowing where the story was going before trying to write it all. Devoting concentrated time to it meant I stayed with the characters and they became even more real to me. And I completed a new piece of work that had long been waiting to become more than it was before. I'm going to have to think about this more carefully, once I catch up on everything I neglected over the weekend.

So does it matter if you're a panster or a plotter? We're told to find what's right for us. But I'm having trouble finishing the novel I've been writing as a panster and I know I'm going to have to change so much of what I originally started with. Maybe I need to stop and do a basic outline for the whole novel before writing another word of it, check I'm on the right track. Now I just have to make sure I don't procrastinate and leave the poor novel languishing for another month. As for the competition - it's not the fact I entered that excites me, it's completing my first short novella.



Anonymous said...

Well done Rosemary. I bet you feel so much better now. I'm a panster and a procrastinator too. If I try to plot a story, it goes wrong for me because I like to surprise my reader and if I know what's coming, it falls flat. Deadlines work for me too, so giving myself deadlines seems to produce the result.

Anne Gallagher said...

I'm a panster, and generally only procrastinate when I'm in revisions (like now).

But I found with my all my books, I write 2/3rds of it and then have to outline the ending. However, with my last book, I really should have outlined. REALLY REALLY should have outlined. It would have made these revisions so much easier to do now.

And congrats on the novella. Those are always so much fun to do.

Frances Garrood said...

Pansnster. Definitely. In fact, when my agent told me to sumbit several pages of outline of a novel before I started it, I totally froze. The mere idea finished me off! I've never known how a novel is going to end. It's like going to a party, and being asked to say what happened when you haven't been yet. You know the party will end, but not when or how. Oh dear.

And procrastinator? Moi? Of course!

Well done on the novella. Award yourself a gold star!

Rosemary Gemmell said...

I was tired afterwards, Maggie, but pleased to achieve something - deadlines definitely work!

It's finding what works best, isn't it, Anne!

I had the same trouble when entering the first chapter and synopsis once - how on earth did I know what was going to happen until it did!

Patsy said...

I'm a bit of all three! I put things off, then have a bit of a think (sometimes even make a few notes) then mostly make it up as I go along.

Diane Fordham said...

I'm guilty of being all three..perhaps not all at once though, lol. x

Joanna said...

Well done, Rosemary, for such a fantastic, concentrated effort that has resulted in huge satisfaction for you. What a sense of achievement you must feel.
I think you are absolutely right about having an outline. I've tried this now, having always avoided plotting in the past. And it really, really helped. I spent only a few minutes on it, but it was enough to give me a push in the right direction. And, having got at least a vague idea of where I was heading, I wanted to keep going, rather than drift in and out of it and end up putting off the next bit to another day!
I don't think I'll ever write lots of detailed lists etc, but I shall always furnish myself with a few notes now. It makes such a difference.
It's a bit like leaving your house to go for a walk. It's good to be spontaneous, but it's still not a bad idea to know whether you're heading left or right as you go out of the door.
Good luck with the competition!

Rosemary Gemmell said...

That sounds kind of familiar, Patsy!

I guess most of us are, Diane!

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks a lot for that, Joanna - you've explained the process perfectly! It's interesting that you've found some kind of outline helpful. Like you, I wouldn't want to plan everything (and couldn't), but just knowing the general direction would certainly make a difference sometimes.

Joan Fleming said...

Congratulations, Rosemary, on completing your novella in such a short space of time. As for P, P or P, I think I have elemnts of all three. In my case, it depends on how committed I am to what I'm writing. When I'm sure it's rubbish, I procrastinate. Plotting and pantsting interweave, but I write best when I have a rough plot and the pantster in me takes over the detail.

Good luck with your novella.

Teresa Ashby said...

Congratulations on getting it done and good luck with the competition!
I'm a pantster - I can't plot to save my life, but I am very very good at procrastinating I'm afraid x

Chris Longmuir said...

I'm a pantster too, and I'm good at procrastinating. However, I plotted the novel I'm currently working on and I'm in the doldrums. I know where it has to go but I can't get there. It will be interesting to see whether the finished novel is as good as my previous pantster ones! Or whether I've jinxed it!

Rosemary Gemmell said...

That's interesting, Joan - the commitment aspect does make a difference.

Thanks, Teresa - I'm exactly the same and wondering if it's time to change!

Oh, I'll be interested to see how that comes out, Chris!

Jane Richardson said...

This is really interesting. It's very easy to fall into the trap of saying 'oh, me, I'm a panster' or whatever it is, and once having given it a name, it almost makes it easier not to bother with changing or getting better. You've really made me think about how I work....definitely 'could do better...!!

I always enjoy your blog, Ros, so I'm really happy to pass on the Liebster award to you! Pop over to my blog when you get a mo to see why. :)

Jane x

Myra Duffy said...

I think I'm also a bit of all three -I have a vague idea but it often changes as I go along.
Many congratulations on the novella -now all you have to do is keep up that momentum!

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Hi Jane - thanks for that interesting comment. And thank you very much for the lovely Liebster Award - I'll pop over in a moment!

Rosemary Gemmell said...

I think that's probably true of many of us, Myra! Thank you - wish I could my novel finished now.

Paula Martin said...

Well done, Rosemary!

I'm basically a pantser. I have what I euphemistically call a 'fluid outline' in my mind, but which someone recently decribed much better as 'lumpy rumbles'. I get various ideas, some of which I take on board, but often the characters have different ideas, so I end up telling the story they put into my head.
I don't think I could work to a pre-planned outline, since I find some 'events' I might have planned take 3 lines, while others lead me off on a completely different route. At which point, i tend to say "Okay, yes, that works, I'll go with that."

Rosemary Gemmell said...

I like 'lumpy rumbles', Paula! I think we need to be open to where characters lead us - I call it letting my characters play.

Gilli Allan said...

You'll find my take on this subject in my RNA blog interview, although I call it 'into the mist' writing. The trouble with doing a lot of plotting and planning in advance is that I'm afraid of getting bored. I'm afraid that he amount of work it would entail, before even starting, would wring out all the fun and adventure for me. But it's very true, as Rosemary points out, this approach hinders me from starting anything new.

Vikki said...

I would say I'm a procrastinator who turns into an adept panster when faced with a deadline. Sound familiar?:)

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Hi Gilli - yes, I saw that, good interview!

Hm, let me think, Vikki - that sounds like me!