I guess we’re all familiar with one of the most ancient ways of categorizing writers: planners and pantsers.
In case someone is not, here is the quick explanation: a pantser is someone who just sits down and writes, letting the story be told almost by itself. A planner, on the other hand, is someone who likes to work out a lot of details about their story, if not any detail of it, before they even start writing.
Since I came to know about this difference, there hasn’t been a day when I haven’t marveled about how something like this is even possible. How can someone think to plan something so much in advance and expect it not to change even the smallest bit? I don’t know whether it’s admiration, envy, or contempt, but it’s something I can bring myself to do.
And I’m not talking only about books: it’s about every aspect of my life. I think being a planner or a pantser is something that reflects in every aspect of our everyday life, even if can be more or less visible. My girlfriend, for example, is a restless planner. Even for something silly such as a day at the beach, she wants to know where we’re going (and we live in a place where beaches occupy a lot more than a half of the territory) and what we’re having for lunch. The worst part is when she asks me to take care of such things because, as you probably already imagine, I’m not a planner. Not in the least.
If you ask me, I think it has something to do with my time as an exchange student: no matter how many plans we made for a night, we always ended up doing something completely different. And it was fun. I loved it because the only thing we needed was a meeting point and a time to meet (but I was in Spain, so even the meeting time wasn’t a sure thing).
Since then, I never looked back. And my social anxiety, the uneasiness that gripped me as I thought about the upcoming weekend on Mondays finally began to give me a break: I can’t help it, it feels much better. And I have to say, it’s not all improvisation as they make it seem. Because yes, knowing exactly how things will go is suffocating at times, but so is not knowing it at all. Even when I was an exchange student, I didn’t know how the night would turn on, but I knew (more or less) who I was gonna meet and where.
And this is the same for my stories. I know who my protagonist is going to be and what I want them to go through across the story, but I don’t know which steps they’ll take (…yet!). These usually pop up in my mind as I’m writing, and it’s worked so well so far that I don’t think it makes sense for me to change.
Yes, I have read “Save the Cat writes a novel“, and “The Write Structure” book from Joe Bunting, (awesome value for money, if you ask me), and I think I’ll read many more, so I know the importance of giving the story a structure. But this is not an obstacle for me, because I learned how to blend it with my own messy approach (the one that caused “We gotta get out” to go through a lot of unpredicted editing).
To me, it’s enough to know the beginning, middle, and end situation, and the kind of change my protagonist goes through. I found it loose enough not to constrain my creative process, since for every scene I just put my head down and write, but structured enough to avoid getting lost in an endless stream of consciousness that doesn’t advance the plot.
Does it make me less than a pantser? I don’t think so. Especially because living so close to such a meticulous planner makes me know that I’ll never be one. What about you? Do you plan every single detail in advance or just go with the flow?
Let me know in the comments, I’d be glad to read about it.