The World Divides... N M Browne

Planning back when I could plan.
The world divides into people who divide the world into two divisions and those who don't. As I fall clumsily between two stools more often than not, I have rarely had time for such binary thinking. People seem to defy categorisation largely because we are so inconsistent, switching attributes according to circumstances, eluding definitions. On the other hand, I often say 'on the other hand' and regularly divide the future into two possible outcomes.  I have been know to mutter  ' It will either sell or it won't,' under my breath like a mantra, one which I find oddly reassuring. Similarly, ' the editor will either like it or she won't,' helps because it makes it sound as though both outcomes are equally likely at a time when I am full of the greatest doubts.
 I've always had the least patience with the idea that writers are either 'planners' or 'pantsters', which for those of you may not have heard it, divides the writing world into those who plan their novels in great detail and those who make it up as they go along and write by the seat of their pants.
When I first started writing fiction, I had recently completed an MBA and was on maternity leave from an oil company. I was always short of time and very interested in speed and efficiency. My first couple of novels were written speedily and efficiently through a combination of writing by the seat of my pants until I had a story idea and then by following a broad kind of plan which meant that I didn't have to reorder too many chapters or disappear up any blind alleys. I was rather smug about the success of my method, and felt that it provided strong evidence for my opinion that people's behaviours are rarely wholly one thing or the other. Well, I'm obliged to confess that it no longer works, at least not for me. Other more experienced writers have always told me that the process of writing is a slippery, capricious thing much, I suppose, like creativity itself. It appears to resist categorisation and methodologies and is often downright perverse. It appears that I  have strayed from my position somewhere near the planning fork of efficiency and speed and crossed to the other side, the darker side of chaos and confusion. I used to plough through a novel in a kind of headlong rush and now, unable to plan, I meander. I leave each day's work in a kind of limbo as if I am building a suspension bridge as I go, plank by plank with only the haziest notion of where the misty, other side lies. I have become, quite unambiguously, a pantster.
 I wish I could say it is invigorating, but I would be lying. If the world divides into those who 'tell it like it is' and those who don't, I fear I am on the least comfortable side. I suppose the good news is that I still stand on the glass-half-full side of the optimist/pessimist split: there is nothing to say that a book that is quickly and efficiently written is better than one dribbled out in fits and starts. After all this story will either work or it won't.


Susan Price said…
You're right about creativity being a slithery, twisty beast. I started as a complete pantser, wasting loads of energy as I wandered in the dark, looking for a story.

I'm now perhaps half-and-half. I start with a clear plan that covers perhaps a quarter of the book. Then it's wandering in the dark until I see a distant gleam, perhaps the window of a forest-dwelling witch. Then I plan a bit more around that - then it's back into the dark again.

Short stories always seem to arrive complete, though.
Lydia Bennet said…
I"m allergic to either/or questions as I'm always a mix of both or sometimes one and sometimes another... all those internet quizzes drive me nuts! however I don't search for stories, they follow me about until I write them, the annoying buggers. I'd rather be reading crime fiction, going out with boyf/mates or messing around on facebook. So many things in our culture are a zero sum game though aren't they?
Ann Turnbull said…
All my books have been dribbled out in fits and starts. I do plan, but my plans have flaws that I only discover when I try to implement them. Your last paragraph has cheered me up because it reminds me that it's always like this and yet the story always does work in the end, somehow. The story I'm writing now is still a shining thing in my mind, but getting it down as words on paper is like wading through porridge.
Nicky said…
I am heartened Ann and Susan dribbling and pantsing can obviously work brilliantly!
I don't think I've ever had a whole story arrive Lydia and it's been a while since I was pursued by an idea unless I was doing something else which made it absolutely impossible to write it down.

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