Confessions of a Former Pantster (Pantser?)

I wrote my first two books in high school.

Hot messes.

I didn’t know anything about craft, but I had enthusiasm. Back then I could stay up all night, clacking away on a word processor (I am old), fueled by inspiration, not hampered by pesky things like plot, pacing or setting.

Fast-forward about 10 years when I decided to become “serious” about writing. I made writer friends, learned about the industry and eventually queried a book. And another book.

I continued to pants everything, jumping in with a character and a vague idea of what would happen to them. I knew the beginning and end (usually), but no idea how to get from one to the other. Probably why my books suffered from saggy middles.

Let me stop here and clarify that there’s nothing wrong with being a pantster (pantser?) – if it works for you, I am impressed. I *thought* it worked for me, because it’s what I’d always done, but the more years and drafts I wrote, I began to realize it didn’t, for several reasons, the biggest being:

I can’t write out of order.

No matter how hard I try, I just can’t. So, I’ve spent a lot of time staring at my laptop screen or writing in circles.

Enter plotting!

I read OUTLINING YOUR NOVEL by K.M. Weiland last year – or maybe the year before? Covid has rendered time meaningless. I tried several of the exercises to figure out what worked for me, but the biggest takeaway was thinking of the story as a series of scenes versus chapters.

That removed a lot of (self-imposed) pressure. I’ve never been good with word count goals because I edit as I write. And chapters felt SO imposing.

With my current WIP, CLAIRE, I spent time upfront outlining the main things I wanted to happen. Then instead of seeing it as one giant project to be tackled, I broke it down each week by scenes, similar to this:

SceneProgress/Notes
Claire’s mom busts her for lyingDone
Family dinner, Claire learns she’s going to babysitter’s houseClaire’s reaction feels like too much
Any issuesMake sure I mention beforehand that Mrs. Wilson runs a daycare
Prep for next week
Back-up work!!!

I generally take Saturday or Sunday off from writing, to give myself a break. Sometimes both. Prepping the week before for Monday makes it easier to jump right back in. And I’m able to adjust. Maybe I thought X was going to happen, but after I worked on those scenes, I realize Y needs to happen instead.

I also started book mapping. If you’re not familiar with the concept, it’s basically pulling out a handful of themes or plotlines and “mapping” them. It helps me focus on main concepts and cut out scenes that don’t advance plotlines or add in scenes to further strengthen them. I think (?) it’s generally a revision tool, but, like I said, I edit as I draft, so I bring it in early.

Here’s a rough example, using two of my four concepts:

ChapterTension with fatherFriendship with Lindy
1Lindy invites Claire over
2Hanging out
3Claire wishing she could talk to him about X

I’m currently outlining my next WIP, EMMA (another new/old project) and reading SAVE THE CAT! WRITES A NOVEL by Jessica Brody, so my process might change or expand, but right now, the scheduling and book mapping feels like a sweet spot – a structured way of writing without being too rigid.

Published by Jennifer Pickrell

I write YA contemporary filled w/ romance, angst & family drama. Things I like: cats, snacks, baseball, green tea, taking pictures of trees & movies so bad, they’re good.

One thought on “Confessions of a Former Pantster (Pantser?)

  1. I too am a recovering pantser, and a book that’s helped me get into outline and story is Take Off Your Pants (an appropriate title for us, really).

    Thanks so much for sharing your experience!

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