Why Do Pantsers Get So Riled Up About Planning?

I am a huge fan girl of Larry Brooks over at Storyfix.com.  (You should be too.  Go  check it out and then nominate him for your favorite writing blog.)   He’s a huge proponent of story architecture, which–next to Debra Dixon’s GMC–has been the single most illuminating craft concept I’ve ever read.

Because he advocates something that falls in to the Planning, Not Pantsing school of writing, he has inevitably stepped on the toes of some rabid pantsers.  Someone apparently even decided to call him a prick.  I guess that person is of the same ilk as the students I have who get upset that I actually expect them to work in a college class.  The whole thing has me thinking again, as I often do, about why people get so…riled up about this idea.

It seems, very often, (though not always) that these rabid pantsers are new writers.  I say that because I don’t think most people, when they decided “hey I want to write a book” usually sit down and plot it out, figuring out all the aspects of craft ahead of time.  Most people, when they decide they want to write a book, are spurred on by passion.  And taking time to learn craft and all the nuts and bolts of the trade, would (they assume) diminish that passion.  So instead, they jump right in and go.  And in the process they inevitably manage to break a lot of rules, violate a lot of genre or publishing standards, and they think that that’s okay.  They’re going to be different.  They’re special.  They are creative and that glorious creative spirit is somehow going to make them shine from the slush pile such that some lucky editor is going to offere them a 6 figure contract immediately.

I think it’s a very hard thing for the new writer to be forced to wake up from this dream.  It’s very personal for them because they feel like they’re being told that they (rather than their manuscript) are not good enough.  And I think too that some people are attracted to the idea that writing is this independent, different, don’t have to go by the rules profession.  So when someone wiser or more experienced breaks it to them that, sorry, there are rules, it’s like having the rose colored glasses ripped off and obliterated.  The natural response is vehement denial.  And it’s not until they pass that initial response (and it may take a great deal of exposure, and in some cases they may never accept it) that they are in a position to see the profession for what it is and start learning the rules and the anatomy of what makes a marketable book.

There are, certainly, some writers who manage to remain pantsers all through their professional careers.  I think these are the ones who intuitively understand the concepts outlined in story archicture.  They naturally think with that kind of structure, so they can get away with not planning ahead or outlining in any formal way.  I would have to say that I think those people (the professionals) are in the minority.

In any event, we all know which side of the fence I fall on.

Tomorrow is supposed to be my self imposed marathon to try to get the trials down.  When I planned to do that, it was because I didn’t know what the trials WERE and I’d hoped that simply sitting down and pantsing them would jog some plot loose.  Since I did actually manage to outline them all, I’m not sure that I’m going to hold myself to pushing through them specifically or if I’m just going to have a marathon to write as much as I can, period.  The point is word count.  We’ll see.

I must go churn out a minimum 250 for NPI before I get going today.

7 thoughts on “Why Do Pantsers Get So Riled Up About Planning?

  1. Well, I linked over to Larry Brooks from you a few days ago. While I like his blog, I’m not sure I’m in the position to call him a favorite yet. (Though as a fellow Oregonian maybe I should vote on that alone, LOL) I have ordered the book he says he bases his stuff on though.

    It’s funny that in writing, I tend to fly by the seat of my pants, yet in every other aspect I plan to borderline micromanagement. However, your series during LB & LI has certainly opened my eyes and I’m reading everything I can get my hands on. While I still find myself writing scenes by the seat of my pants I am seeing more of a pattern to the process than I did before. So thank you!

  2. I agree that a lot of the anti-planning comes from inexperienced writer, or writers who don’t ‘get’ that a story has to have structure of some kind.

  3. I’m not going to call myself an experienced writer, but I’m a huge planner. I plan everything, from to-do lists of house chores to story plots. For stories I tend to use the roadmap technique, which is flexible enough not to block creativity whilst still giving a plot overview.

    Even if I don’t end up sticking to my outlines, having them written down helps focus my thought process. I don’t see why people would get so riled up about it!

  4. Hey, some of my favorite authors are pantsters, so go easy. I think the reason pantsters get rabid, is because we are so often told by well meaning outliners that we are doing this the wrong way. I agree that there are rules and structures to writing that should always be in place. I don’t believe there is only one way of making this happen. I think there are things to be said for both methods of approaching the project and I would never dream of telling an outliner that they’re wrong not to do it my way. Some days I think it would be easier if I were an outliner, but I can’t make myself do it. Never could. Even in college and grad school, when an outline was required, I wrote it after the project was done. Granted, I’m a yet to be published novelist, so I’m willing to entertain the possibility that I’m wrong.

    1. I used to be a pantser, so I know whereof I speak. And I don’t mean the nice polite ones. They aren’t the rabid “OMG You’re trying to murder my creativity by imposing any kind of RULE, you prick!” variety. I like Brooks’ system of calling it architecture. Because like building a house, a book needs to have certain things to work. Walls. Roof. Foundation. Windows. Doors. You can put them together in an infinite number of ways, but you still have to have them. Same with writing a sonnet or a haiku. There are rules, but you have infinite creativity within them. That seems to be the point that a lot of pantsers are missing.

  5. Well, as you know my writing has all been more technical, but I would imagine the same urge to defend pantsing to the death (at least the death of a manuscript) is the same urge to defend other things that sound good but are unlikely to work. I’ve known people who insist, absolutely insist, that the carrot-juice diet will WORK and they will lose 40 lbs in two weeks. Or that “6 minutes a day” exercise contraption that promises to get you to tip-top health almost from the second you unpack it.

    For that matter, parents tend to crack down hardest on the children they know can handle it while protecting and coddling the immature, whiny ones. Sometimes they need to do the exact opposite, but I think it’s human nature to feel yourself to be a hero against the world. I would guess some writers just do the same thing with their manuscripts or, perhaps, their view on writing as a genre.

  6. There is no right or wrong way to write; only your way.

    I do think that new writers might spend a wee bit too much on studying other authors whom they admire and copying their methods. So when someone comes along and disagrees, they get bent out of shape and the fingerpointing and abuse starts.

    Writing is a constant learning curve – we are all trying to improve and finding new methods to do that. But just because certain writers do it this way, doesn’t mean it’s right for you to do it.

    New writers need to explore the environment, try on new methods until they find a comfortable fit – and not pass judgement on anyone.

    As I said: There is no right or wrong way to write; only your way.

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