Thursday, 7 March 2013

Pantsers: Dancers Not Sprinters

Oh lordy lordy lordy. Completing Draft 2 of  'The Renegades' is going to take a LOT longer than my laughably optimistic Schedule is still telling me it will.

It's said there are two types of writers; the Plotters and the Pantsers. If writing this novel has taught me anything, it's that I am pure, crack-cocaine-strength Pantser.

Outline? Pffffttt! What's one of them? I've got a Beginning, a Middle and an End, what more do I need? My brain's filled up to the top with fuel, so I'll just pootle me little old way to each destination in me own sweet time. I might take a few wrong turnings - okay, a lot of wrong turnings - and it might take me a little longer to get to each checkpoint - okay, a flippin' eternity to get to each checkpoint - but hey! I'll be learning all the way! And I won't ever get downhearted, or doubt myself, or even get bored and frustrated that the whole thing's gonna take twice as long as I thought it would. Hell no - ha ha, how could anyone even think such a thing?

What a Grade One prat.

I'm on Chapter Four of Draft 2 now. Yep, Chapter Four. After nearly four months.  That means I've done precisely one chapter a month of what I'd always imagined would be mere editing of existing writing.

Except of course I imagined wrong. This is because, even though I'm still telling the same story, the way I'm telling it has changed dramatically. The bare bones, skeleton-frame of the novel has barely changed at all; the themes, story arcs, character goals and motivations are still as they were in Draft 1. But the perspective has altered radically. Reading Draft 1 back, it seemed as if I were hovering above the action like some sort of all-seeing, all-hearing fly on the wall. For Draft 2, I've realised I have to get down to ground level - get right inside the heads of my two POV characters and experience everything through them. Which means there's lots of new stuff that isn't in there yet and badly needs to be - and lots of stuff that can't stay because it no longer belongs in my new, on-the-frontline view of events. This is beyond even rewriting - this is coming up with brand new events and discarding existing ones... in order to tell the story I've been intending to tell all along. Now I've reached the outlining stage; when I've finally realised what the flippin' heck I'm actually doing with this story. That's the way your cookie crumbles when you're a Pantser, I suppose.

How many of you Plotters are reading this now with that strange, warm glow of smugness-disguised-as-sympathy, nodding and saying "Ah yes, well - that's why it's always best to outline first, you see... I know it might seem tedious, but it saves sooo much time in the long run..."? Well, enjoy that warm, fuzzy feeling, guys. No seriously - pat yourselves on the back, have another cake, whatever. I could wish that I was as organised, as methodical and as forward-thinking as you are, and endeavour to adopt your mindset and outline to within an inch of my life before even typing the words 'Chapter One' - from now on and forever into the future...

Except that my little old brain simply doesn't work like that. Can't work like that. No, I'm not being stubborn, it's Mother Nature, goddammit. And so, rather than beat myself up for not having the kind of Writer's Brain that can predict imaginary futures with the precision of an Excel spreadsheet, I am instead going to accept my Pantser Brain for the undisciplined problem child that it is and try to love it like a proper parent.

I may probably never become one of those authors who can churn out two or three books a year, happily working on my outline for the next book whilst doing a final edit of the current one. Does that make my methods wrong? I don't know. All I do know is that they are the ones that work for me. I may take longer to reach the finish line - but hopefully the end product will be worth the wait.

And now - time to hoik up those pants and carry on with the writing...