The best laid plans of programmers and artists

Saturday, the 24th of October, 2015

It’ll be quick, I said, done in a jiffy, I said…

Saturday, the 24th of October, 2015

Planners vs Pantsers

Saturday, the 24th of October, 2015

When discussing the creative writing process, people often talk about writers in two different camps: ‘planners’, those who outline upfront then write to that outline, and ‘pantsers’, those who write spontaneously. Or by the seat of their pants, as you’d have to say to understand why bloomers were suddenly brought into the conversation.

Now, this is a silly breakdown. First, because you’d think creative writers would be able to come up with better names, but also because it doesn’t acknowledge any kind of spectrum. It takes both extremes and says, ‘There’s no other way of doing this. You can’t possibly have a rough overall outline but write to it freestyle, improvising material as you see fit. And you most certainly can’t take some scenes you scribbled down in a moment of inspiration and work them into a detailed plan for a larger story. Who do you think you are, Tolkien? You aren’t Tolkien. You dummy.’

You don’t have a bust in Exeter College. You don’t know. WikiMedia Commons

The reason I don’t like this is the reason I don’t like the middle ground of any two extremes being ignored, whether it’s bisexuals on the Kinsey scale between gay and straight, ambiverts sitting almost comfortably between introverts and extroverts, or people who think Marmite is just okay: it makes it hard for people who fall between the extremes to find support.

Like, any support. At all.

The reason I bring this up is it’s almost November. The reason I bring that up is it means three things: one, my wardobe, which consists quite entirely of TV dad cardigans, is about to become briefly fashionable.

Extremely fashionable TV dad cardigan Warning: finger guns are for advanced TV dad cardigan wearers, and should be kept holstered in skinny jeans at all times by novices. DollarPhotoClub

Two, I need to get a shift on with my Christmas shopping right now. (What have I been doing with my spare time? Working on some incredibly rewarding personal project or something?! I should have been shopping!)

And – most appropriate to this planner-pantser conversation – three: it’s almost time for NaNoWriMo.

NaNoWriMo is a wonderfully confusing contraction of National Novel Writing Month which makes people question if you’re all right and if you need a sit down and a glass of water.

The idea is to write (frantically, often through tears) 50,000 words – enough for a short novel – in a single month.

It’s very much about quantity over quality; they won’t be 50,000 good words. It’s more an exercise in proving what’s possible to your own self doubts and tiredness and I’ll-do-it-tomorrow platitudes than creating some gleaming tome of perfection. It’s about encouraging would-be authors to pick up their pens and see what’s achievable with a deadline and some pressure, and a group of like-minded people to egg you on.

Peer pressure: violently encouraging you to make the right decisions since 1999. DollarPhotoShop

It’s not for everyone, but the pressure and the encouragement can prove a useful tool to get words down, and get a solid chunk of a story idea written. I did it back in 2011, writing a strange comic-angst hybrid about private schools, sexuality, secret cults, and werewolves. Because those things fit together so naturally. Between time off work, becoming a social recluse, and learning how to write on a phone while walking (almost without incident), I managed to hit 50,795 words.

I didn’t manage to turn it into a cohesive, finished story – in fact, I’ve spent the last four years wavering back and forth on if it’s even possible, what with the werewolves, what with the cults – but NaNoWriMo definitely helped me get it down. And I’ve decided to do it again this year, to get through some writing for Cuthbert.

I say some not because I’m unsure if I’ll hit 50,000 – though with no free vacation time and a week-long family reunion in mid-November, making the deadline will prove interesting – but because I have my doubts that 50,000 is enough words to cover the scenes I need for the first half of Cuthbert.

If these blog posts haven’t given it away, I can be a little prattle-y verbose. And the amount of scenes and characters still to write, mixed with the amount of choice and the options that can affect what unfurls, means there is a lot of writing to get through. A lot.

But it seems like a good idea to get cracking on them when hundreds of other exhausted, stressed, and over-caffeinated writers are doing the same; get some encouragement, get some advice.

Just as soon as I work out if I’m a planner or a pantser.

NaNoWriMo: are you a planner or a pantser? Dagnabbit.