This is a guest post by Elizabeth J. Rekab.
I’ve always been taught that there are two different types of writers in the world: the Plotters and the Pantsers. Plotters, of course, are the organized bunch. They’re the ones who create character sheets, chapter outlines, and decide on the majority of plot elements before ever writing a single sentence of the story. They’re the type A, gold star, “top of the class” types in the author world, and I admire them greatly for their truly enviable organizational skills. Pantsers, on the other hand, sit at the far opposite end of the spectrum. They are the ones who fly by the seat of their pants, making up the plot as they go (and as the inspiration strikes them). They often write themselves into tricky plot corners as a result, then beat their heads against the wall trying to formulate a solution.
Folks, I will readily admit… I am a classic Pantser. Usually, an idea will hit me out of nowhere. I could be driving, eating breakfast, binging Netflix, and all of a sudden my muse will tap me on the shoulder and whisper, “Pssst, hey you. What if you wrote a story about a girl who talks to corpses?” My muse refuses to be ignored, so that idea quickly becomes the first sentence, which becomes the first chapter, and then I’m off to the races. I generally decide how I want a story to end fairly quickly, but the lead up to that point becomes a crapshoot. Plot holes haunt me in my sleep, plot twists have me scrambling for my notebook at the most inopportune times, and new plot elements keep me on my toes constantly. In short, my writing experience is a harrowing, rambling, sporadic journey that meanders with a mind of its own before finally reaching its destination: completion.
This post is not intended to tell you that plotting is right and pantsing is wrong. I would argue—as a Pantser myself—that the latter can become frustrating. But at the end of the day, both types will finish their novels on their own time, and both will then go through their rounds of editing, revisions, and beta reading just the same. The lead-up, in essence, does not matter. It’s the final destination (completion) that counts.
So, no, don’t feel bad if you’re a Pantser. I’m not going to sit here and lecture you on why you should painstakingly outline everything. Why? Because there is no hard and fast rule on how things should be done. Every writer has their own process, and as long as you ensure that your final manuscript is a quality product, you’re not doing anything wrong.
I do have one golden rule though. This one rule that thou shalt not break comes from a favorite book of mine, On Writing by Stephen King. In it, Mr. King states that he writes his first draft with the door closed and his second draft with the door open. I’m here to tell you that this is a wise practice, and one you should follow. Do not allow others to derail your train of thought during the crucial initial stages of manuscript drafting; write for yourself and yourself only, with the sole focus of getting your ideas on paper without interruption. No matter your process. The second/subsequent drafts are when you should start inviting feedback with an end goal (and readers) in mind.
I’ve seen way too many writers freak out about their first draft being hot garbage. Let me spare you the worry; your first draft probably IS a bit trashy, or at least nowhere near as polished as it could be. A first draft will always be loaded down with excess junk, and that’s totally fine, because that’s what subsequent drafts are for—cleaning the junk, taking out the trash. The first draft is throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks; the second draft is when you start clearing the wall of the things that don’t (or shouldn’t) stick.
As I try to summarize this post, I’ll leave you with one last bit of wisdom in the form of a quote from one of my favorite movies, Galaxy Quest. When it comes to novel writing, “Never give up. Never surrender.”
Elizabeth J. Rekab is a Young Adult author who’s been on every end of the writing spectrum. She’s worked as a technical writer and instructional designer, and even dabbled in journalism. In summary, she’s pretty much your stereotypical English major word nerd who just can’t cut herself off from the writing tap.
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