I’m in the process of working on some longer projects, which is giving me a great opportunity to experiment with and determine my ideal creative process.
There’s a lot of debate in the writing community about plotting versus pantsing, and I’ve flip-flopped around the issue quite a bit. When I was younger, I was all about pantsing, following bursts of inspiration and just riding the waves of narrative wherever they chose to carry me. Unfortunately, I’m often prone to burnout, so whenever I get blocked, I get blocked badly.
Going into my current projects, I thought I could alleviate some of this blockage by planning. And at first, it worked really well. I grabbed a few different templates off the internet to ask me the questions I’m never able to come up with. Fortunately, though I don’t have the questions, I’m able to come up with the answers pretty easily. Before I even started drafting my novel, I had 26 pages of notes on characters, setting, plot, and whatever else the internet told me I should consider.
One of the major benefits of this for me is that I’m terribly forgetful. I’ll come up with a great idea, but if I don’t write it down, I won’t remember it no matter how hard I try. This doesn’t mesh well with my stubborn adherence to a strictly linear approach to writing novels. For my current novel, I ended up stepping away from it for a couple weeks and forgetting how much development work I had already done. Luckily, I was able to read back through my notes and rediscover what I had already built.
The problem with planning comes when you actually get down to the writing. No amount of planning can ever prepare you for that sudden stroke of inspiration that comes halfway through your draft. It’s like trying to build a relationship with someone based solely on their online dating profile. You think you know everything about them, but they surprise you out of nowhere with that one thing (or two, or a thousand) they didn’t mention. I was staring at my most recent draft thinking about superhero action movies, when I realized I wanted to do something completely different with my story that I hadn’t thought of before. This provokes the challenge of either trusting my new idea enough to not stick to my original outline, or going back and changing the outline and interrupting the flow of the draft.
This recent development has shown me more clearly that choosing between plotting and pantsing isn’t important. Instead, at least for me, the overall creative process requires a delicate balance of both techniques. Being able to both know how to dictate your intentions to the narrative, and to follow the narrative’s own intentions seems to be the key to crafting a story that you can be proud of.