I’ve never considered myself a very organized person––but for a long time, I always carefully planned out my novels. Before writing a single word, I would sit down and try to figure out the entire plot, scene by scene. By the time I sat down to write the story, I would pretty much know the whole thing from beginning to end.
This outlining method worked just fine for me for a few years. Then … something happened. I would get excited about a story as I was outlining it––but when it came to writing it, I would feel like all the life had been sucked out of it. I would lose interest after a few chapters. And even if I forced myself to keep writing, it would feel like a chore.
The idea of “pantsing” a novel (that is, writing it without planning it first) had always scared me a bit. I couldn’t imagine diving into a story without a full outline (or at least most of one). To me, that was comparable to being dropped in the middle of an unfamiliar city without a map.
But more recently, I’ve started to find detailed outlines suffocating. I missed the days when I could throw myself into writing without abandon––when writing felt more like an adventure and less like a rigid path I had to take.
When I started to write The Resurrectionists––my NaNo ’15 novel––I was nervous that I didn’t know enough about the story beforehand. I had a vague idea of the first couple of chapters and a little background research. But otherwise, it was a mystery to me.
I thought I would get stuck after a few chapters and have no idea what to do. Instead, I soon found the opposite to be true.
The more I wrote, the more I understood about the story. The more inspired I felt. Writing didn’t feel like a chore because I didn’t feel like certain things “had” to happen. I could let the story flow naturally without worrying that I wasn’t following a pre-planned set of events.
And that made the process of writing much more fun. Not only that, but I think the story benefited. I took risks with it that I might not have taken otherwise.
Sure, I got stuck sometimes, and I would plan another chapter or two––but I wouldn’t get too carried away with planning. I left room to experiment and to let the story keep surprising me.
At least for now, I seem to have found a balance between planning and pantsing that seems to be working well for me, and I plan to keep trying it with The Resurrectionists and other future writing projects.
But enough about me! How about you guys? Do you outline your stories before you write them? Do you “pants” your stories? Do you do some of each? Comment and let me know!