Plotter vs Pantser. The Final Countdown (cue Rocky music)!
For years, I’ve considered myself a slow writer. I can sit at my computer for an hour and knock out three sentences. Even on the days when I manage to write a couple of thousand words, I end up deleting half of them and then rewriting them, and then cutting and pasting them into another section of my manuscript before deleting them again. SIGH.
My debut novel When the World was Flat (and we were in love) took about five years from conception to publication. In The Beginning There Was Us took about three years. That means my current manuscript should be done by the end of this year. HOPEFULLY.
I’m a monogamous writer – I only dedicate myself to one manuscript at a time – but I have a full-time and relatively demanding day job, which means writing is relegated to after hours (when my brain’s about as effective as mashed potato soaked in gravy) and on weekends (when not hanging out with family and friends or stuck doing chores). Sometimes I feel like just giving up, particularly when I catch up with one of my very talented and extremely prolific author friends who manages to write hundred-thousand words manuscripts in the space of three months (and I’m talking FINAL drafts, as in READY TO SUBMIT to an agent or publisher). GRRR!
I must have AT LEAST a hundred unfinished manuscripts which will only ever be read by my virus protector on my computer—some a few hundred words (more so ideas than manuscripts) and others a few thousand. I’ve finally come to the realization that in order to finish a manuscript I actually need to plot my stories, instead of writing by the seat of my pants. As a pantser, I end up writing a first chapter and then poking and prodding it like a dead carcass washed up on a beach, before finally rolling it back into the depths of my hard-drive.
The other benefit to plotting is that it reduces the number of revisions. I must have added at least another TWO YEARS to my drafting of When The World Was Flat (and we were in love) because I kept adding new storylines. This included a COMPLETE CHANGE of the genre after the first draft—from contemporary fiction to science fiction. I do love letting a story evolve organically, but the flip side of that coin is that it would take me about fifty years to have less than a handful of manuscripts finished. If I were writing literary fiction it would be completely justifiable, but I write commercial fiction—as in purely for entertainment—AND I WANT TO PERFORM IN MORE THAN ONE SHOW IN MY LIFETIME.
My current WIP (The Day We Lived Forever) is the first novel I’ve EVER plotted from go to woah. I can literally hold the entire story—scene-by-scene—in the palm of my hand (I use palm cards). I’m anticipating a first draft in two months of ad-hoc writing (am currently halfway through). If I were writing full-time, I could realistically say I would have a first draft in a couple of weeks.
SO, we come to the moral of the story—if you’re a pantser who’s struggling to finish a manuscript, I can HIGHLY recommend you try plotting. We all know the problem with plotting is it can be so BORING, BUT if you look at it as a chance to legitimately stare out of the window or lay down on the couch and call it work, it suddenly sounds much more exciting—at least to a daydreamer like me (stay tuned for another post on the actual process of plotting).
Ernest Hemmingway famously (and arguably) said that writing was like cutting open a vein and bleeding onto a page. Sheesh. I shudder to think what he would have said about getting published! Every Tuesday, I dust off my creative writing degree (yes, from an actual, real-life university) and share my learnings about the process of writing and getting published (yes, I know learnings is technically not a word, but I worked in public relations for a number of years and we like to make words up. Helifordite?). You can check out all of my Tuesday Tips here.