The Plotting Panster

On the back of a recent radio interview I heard with two wonderful authors Lari Don and Roy Gill a thought crossed my mind.

Am I a Panster or a Plotter?

Do I think about every detail before I even start to write or do I just let the wind take my pen and lead me where it wants to – hoping a story will emerge on the way?

For all who know me well, I am considered a very organised person. In my family home I am known as the Spreadsheet Queen, mainly to do with being extremely organised for the charity events that I host and they can take a while to do. It might also have to do with the extensive clubs and social lives my young children have – thank goodness for Google Calendar! I think I just have a fear.  A fear of forgetting something really important.

It’s a personality trait of mine I find a bit cumbersome at times as I can get a bit tetchy if things don’t go to plan. I have documents and spreadsheets for everything, it’s just my way of making sure I have done everything I need to do (I know, I may have OCD issues).

I blame my continual note taking and list making on getting older (not old), I have to write everything down before I forget it now and it’s getting worse!

But I don’t do any of this when I write. Kids busy at the weekend or an event coming up then yes. Writing a story that’s been swirling around in my mind then no.

An idea for a story will come to me, could be anywhere: the No 14 bus, walking along the street with coins jangling in my pocket or even watching an empty crisp packet blowing along the street. I write down what I am thinking at that very moment in my little notebook and I carry on my way. The plotter in me has now been revealed.

I go home with my book brimming with all the observations I made for that day and more and I sit down to write. I check my notes and say something like ‘Oh yeah, I remember that now’. I then close the book. I don’t leave it open at the page I need. I don’t press down on the spine (a gentle press I might add) to make that particular page stay awake. I close it.

I usually start with a title and the first line and then I just go for it. Sometimes it’s fantastic and I can see the characters forming in my head, their lives unfolding before me that I can’t type fast enough to keep up with my thoughts. Other days I write a chapter and when I read it back, its utter garbage. But that’s my inner panster coming out to play.

As a member of SCBWI – British Isles South East Scotland – I meet regularly with other members and we share our thoughts and ideas on writing processes, end results and so much more. We discuss self-help books, plot, structure and everything else book related. I now have a list of books that will ‘help me’ write the book I need to write before I go quietly insane. But do I really need them? Will it squash my creativity or undermine the release of a story line I need to get on the page if I follow them to the letter? It probably will make my story link better or create the necessary reader reaction…but…

As a writer you tend to fall into one or the other category  – Panster or Plotter.  But what if you were both? What if you plotted madly and then once you sat down you just ran with it, ignoring the scribbled post-its that stick to your elbows as you try to find space on your desk?

What if…you were a plotting panster? Would the world end? Would you lose your way in the heap of lists and notes and chapters of very helpful but not necessarily needed books? No, for me I really don’t think it would matter.

I think I would be just fine and I don’t think the world would end either. The helpful books are just that – they help give you ideas or different strategies on how to resolve an issue you’re having with your novel/picture book/poem. Of course, I am very lucky I that I have my SCBWI pals to annoy/call and get their opinion but it’s what you believe that really counts. And that’s what makes us all so unique, we all do things differently.

Researching a book is invaluable. It means you care what the reader thinks about your setting, the characters and the flow of your work. You need them to believe that what you are writing is real. However, the way you approach it…well, only you can decide. That part is on you.

So, are you a plotter or a panster? Or like me, are you somewhere in the middle?

Go write and be happy.