In the last six months I’ve spent my writing time exclusively on one project and managed to get it from vague idea to tidy first draft. At the beginning of this year I tried the exclusive project method and failed dismally. The big difference between then and now is that then I was trying to finish off something that had been sitting in the bottom drawer for nearly a year, but this time I was writing something new.
While I’ve been editing I’ve had a few different stories bubble to the surface, asking to be written; one is brand new, one is a couple of years old and already half written, and one is ten or fifteen years old with only five rough chapters written. Which one do I work on next?
A big, sentimental part of me wants to write the decade old story. The lazy side of me wants to write the half-written, figuring it will take less time to finish, and the newly awakened pantser wants to go for the new story. The scary part is the logical side of me is also voting for the pantser story. Logic and pantsing do not seem likely bedfellows, but the speed with which my other novel was written has made me wonder if it is the best way to go?
I would love to get another novel finished before the end of the year, which I could only do with the half-written or the pantser novel, so I guess I’ve just narrowed it down to two. I still have a week to make up my mind. I just wish there was more writing time in the week. I would love to be able to finish all my novels instead of having to choose.
I know I have only recently written about habits in writing, but I want to give you my own recent example. With my pantsing novel I got into the habit of booking non-negotiable writing times, and that was non-negotiable with friends, family and me.
As much as I wanted to jump straight into the edit when I finished the first draft on the Friday night, I knew that to do it justice, I should let the novel rest for as long as possible. With the deadline I’m trying to hit looming, I set that rest time to be two days (but I’d normally recommend at least a month).
At first I was excited waking up on Saturday morning, knowing I had given myself the weekend off. My writing time on Saturday is normally 12-4 in the afternoon. I was getting antsy at 10:30 and I was sitting at the computer by 1pm. I wrote the novel summary and some related content. It was such a relief to be back at my desk.
On the Sunday I was determined not to write any novel-related content, I was to have the day off. That lasted until just after lunch as well. While I haven’t written anything to do with the novel I have just written all my blog posts for the month of August. Again, it feels like a huge relief to be writing.
I love that my writing times are now a part of my weekly schedule, and I will keep them going. I also am really glad that I have all my August posts written because I have just one little month to do all the editing of the entire novel. Wish me luck!
I was pleasantly surprised by my pantsing experience, but I’ve also hated it in equal measure. There were times when I thought I would not find an end for the book, and that made the thousands of words I had written feel like a waste of time. There were also times when I just had to write it out to see if it was heading in the right direction, knowing I might have to (and sometimes did) axe all those words.
The whole time I was writing I felt like I had no control. There were times when I got a glimpse maybe four or five chapters ahead, and then I felt comfortable, but there were just as many times I sat down at the computer with no idea what I was going to write. For a control freak that is terrifying.
The dislike of this out-of-control feeling but the love of the speed led me to look for the real difference between planning and pantsing, so that I might be able to find some kind of plantsing medium.
This is what I concluded; when you get an idea for a novel you turn it over in your head, you ask the question ‘what happens next’. If you are a planner, you write the answer to that question in note form in a book that you probably bought especially for the purpose. If you are a pantser, you ask yourself the question when you sit down at the keyboard to write the next chapter. That’s pretty much it. For the pantser the first draft is really just an elaborate plan. Likewise, the planner’s plan is their pantsing first draft, but significantly shorter.
I think the real problem for me comes from the type of story teller I am. As soon as I have the story documented I feel like it has been written, so the aching urge to finish it dulls. That ‘documentation’ might take the form of a 60,000 word pantsing first draft, or it might be a two page dot-point summary. And when all is said and done it is always going to be easier to turn that 60,000 word first draft/plan into a tight, finished novel than the two page synopsis.
So the next thing I will try is to think long and hard about my next novel. I will watch it unfold in my head and maybe note down parts but not the whole story, and certainly not the ending. I want to know the ending, but I will not write it down. Let’s see if that can help me get the good bits of pantsing, with the comfort of planning.
I have just finished writing a novel which, when I sat down to write it, I didn’t know much more than what happened in the first chapter. I had faith that it would be a novel, and I had seen a lot of my writing friends successfully write novels with similarly no idea about where it was going, so I had support from them that I could do it too. This was my experiment with pantsing.
The first thing I was overjoyed to learn is that pantsing is fast, really fast. I started writing my novel on April 4th and finished it on July 31st. I have written a planned novel in a similarly short time, but it had about two years in research and note writing and quite a few non-starts over many more months in that time.
The next thing that struck me is just how much hard-core editing I’m going to have to do. I have to insert people into earlier chapters, remove stuff that never went anywhere, inject some foreshadowing and delete out foreshadowing for things that never happened. This is all stuff I rarely need to do when planning.
The last big difference I noticed was the drive to sit down and write. I don’t know if it was to do with pantsing, a wet cold winter, or the deadline of a submission period I wanted to sub this novel to, but I wrote about 3,000 words a week while working full time. Part of it was the excitement of seeing what would happen next and knowing that my mind wouldn’t head out into the next part of the novel until I’d written the bit I knew about.
After all this, I actually still feel very unsure about pantsing. Next week I’ll share my conclusions about the process and what I’m going to do next.
Yes, it has been a long time since the last one, but the fantastic Antipodean SF have published my story Carbon Leap. And I’m more than a bit chuffed that the header page picture links to my story! Exciting eh?!?
This story got rejected a few times, and the feedback I kept getting was that it felt like it should be longer. But when I wrote it, it came out at around 500 words and it felt like I had said everything I wanted to say. So I’m glad it got to stay flash and it got out into the world.
So I hope you like Carbon Leap, and I hope it makes you stop and ponder the next time you get offered a quick fix.