Planners and Pantsers

Here’s an article that was sent to me a while back about “planners” and “pantsers” in the novel writing process, exploring how some authors plan while others prefer writing by the seat of their pants or other artistic impulse. But, while it’s an essay on how to write a novel, what I find additionally interesting is how many particular authors view(ed) the writing process, both planners and pantsers.

How to Write a Novel is an essay, exploring steps in the background of writing a novel. Namely, planner or pantser, mental state, planning (which certainly exists in one form or another in either category), and fiction as a vehicle to express an idea. It begins below and I included another two paragraphs to give you a taste of how it treats some of the authors included in the article.

1.There is a long-standing debate about a critical aspect of the novel-writing process. Currently and colloquially in some annexes of the writing community it’s been playfully termed the “pantsing vs. plotting/outlining/planning” debate. Pantsers fly by the seats of their pants: they write and see where it takes them. Planners, well, plan before they write.

Precedent and vehement feeling may be marshaled in favor of both approaches.

Virginia Woolf took copious notes before she wrote her novels, as did Fyodor Dostoevsky and Vladimir Nabokov (his notes on index cards). William Faulkner scribbled his outline for A Fable on a wall which his wife tried to paint over. Joseph Heller created an extensive spreadsheet for the correspondences between various plots in Catch-22.

James Joyce, though, thought “a book should not be planned out beforehand, but as one writes it will form itself, subject, as I say, to the constant emotional promptings of one’s personality.” Mark Twain too, insisted that a book “write itself” and that “the minute that the book tried to shift to my head the labor of contriving its situations…I put it away…The reason was very simple — my tank had run dry; it was empty…the story could not go on without materials; it could not be wrought out of nothing.” Ernest Hemingway said much the same, and believed in simply pouring out what was within, stopping each day before he was completely empty, and resuming the next.

Source: The Millions : How to Write a Novel – The Millions
Obviously, people, planners and pantsers, just have their differences and there isn’t a secret for success. We really do have the freedom to write either way, and it may be that either approach can help in times of writer’s block, indecision, or general malaise. Shrug, at least it’s a thought.

Or, maybe all of us really do fall into both categories, depending on our writing place. Sort of like changing hats between writing drafts and editing, we use different approaches to meet the needs of our projects . . . or perhaps the needs of our psyche at the moment. Who  knows?

Anyway, all of you planners and pantsers, keep writing! If you are so inclined, look into the thoughts and practices of the writers you’d like to imitate—you know, in all that elusive free time strewn about in your life! There’s a whole wide world out there, to read, learn from, and write about, so let’s get to it. 🙂

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