A few weeks ago I asked you guys what your biggest writing struggles are, and the majority of you said you struggle with creating a plot and finishing your first draft. I've been hard at work creating a resource that's going to walk you through this process step by step, but before we talk about that I want to teach you the two ways to finish a first draft.
Now in reality there's an infinite number of ways to finish a first draft, but writers often fall into 1 of 2 buckets: "Plotter" or "Pantser"
Plotters are writers who spend time researching, plotting, and outlining their stories before they dig into the first draft. Instead of just writing when an idea strikes, they take the time to put their entire story in place before they write the first word.
- Plotters can avoid writer's block - Outlining the story in advance allows plotters to hit the ground running when they finally sit down to write. They can fight through slumps, writer's block, and the murky middle because they know how the story ends therefore they always know where to go.
- Plotters can set up killer plot twists - Plotters know the betrayal, heartbreak, and "OMG THAT DID NOT JUST HAPPEN" moments of their book from page 1. With this knowledge, they can carefully set up amazing plot twists from the beginning of their novel that leave their readers reeling in shock.
- Plotters tend to write faster and have polished first drafts - Because plotters spend so much time in their story, they tend to write that story fairly quickly. Additionally, having so much knowledge of their story often makes their first draft cleaner, allowing them to spend less time fixing plot and story structure when it's time to revise.
- Plotters can get bored - Spending so much time outlining the novel can take all the fun out of writing it. Sometimes plotters get so wrapped up in the details that by the time they're ready to actually write, they forget what made them want to write the story in the first place
- Plotters can get paralyzed - Sometimes plotters plan everything out so intensely that they never actually write the story they've outlined! They keep adding details about their settings, characters, and plot, but never take that outline and turn it into an actual book.
- Plotters can get trapped - Sometimes plotters can get trapped in their original outline, making it hard to make changes or follow strokes of inspiration when they write. Plotters can feel forced to follow their original plan, or feel like they have to redo their entire outline to accommodate their new ideas.
Successful Plotter Inspiration: J.K. Rowling
You guys are probably tired of me talking about J.K. Rowling by now, but it's impossible for me to stop when Harry Potter runs so deeply in my Ravenclaw blood.
Undeniably the most famous and most successful plotter of all time, J.K. Rowling spent several years outlining the Harry Potter series after she got the idea for the first book. This allowed her to build an epic fantasy tale with heartbreaking twists. Her outlining is the reason every Harry Potter fan in the world feels heartbroken when they read the word "Always."
Because J.K. Rowling created an amazing plot from the beginning, she was able to write a book series that had millions of readers on the edge of their seats.
I personally can't fathom the discipline it took to spend years outlining that incredible series, but J.K. Rowling is the shining example of what can be achieved as plotter.
Pantsers are on the opposite end of the writing spectrum. Instead of outlining their novel, they get a new story idea and start writing "by the seat of their pants." (That phrase makes no sense to me, but you get the idea). Pantsers don't take the time to outline or plan their story at all. They sit down and write as new ideas come to mind.
- Pantsers get to feel constantly inspired - Unlike plotters, pantsers get to stay constantly inspired and excited as they go through their story. New ideas take them from page 1 to page 300, so they don't have to feel bored.
- Pantsers get to go with the flow -Writing without a plan allows pantsers to take the story in any direction. If they start out writing a romantic comedy and end with a paranormal thriller they're all good; pantsers don't have to feel married or trapped by their original ideas.
- Pantsers get to discover as they go - Sometimes the best ideas happen through accidental discovery, and the writing process of pantsers allows them to make as many discoveries possible. Through this process they might stumble upon an amazing idea they wouldn't have had at the start.
- Pantsers are prone to writer's block - With no clear plan in place, pantsers often suffer writer's block because they have no idea where to go next. This can make pantsers spend ages trying to finish one novel.
- Pantsers have messy first drafts - If pantsers do get through a first draft, they often spend several revision drafts shaping their first draft into a cohesive story. This is fine if writers are patient, but this process can be a huge drag that plotters get to avoid.
- Pantsers might never finish a novel - Sometimes pantsers get so stuck they never figure out how to finish their novel. I know this struggle personally, because during my 15 years as a pantser I wrote over 1000+ pages, but could never finish a first draft.
Successful Pantser Inspiration: Erin Morgenstern
You can find several panster inspirations in my post 5 NaNoWriMo Novels That Became Best-Sellers, but one of the best sources of inspiration is Erin Morgenstern, author of the New York Time's Best-Selling Novel The Night Circus.
During her third NaNoWriMo, Erin began her future best-seller in true panster fashion. In an interview she said:
"I had no plot but lots of atmosphere, and when I reached the 30k word mark and had no idea where to go with it, I sent my characters to the circus.In 2006, I spent NaNo working on that circus. I ended up with something interesting, but not novel-shaped. In 2007, I did another 50k worth of work on the circus.Throughout 2008 I took the 100k+ of circus…stuff and attempted to shape it into a novel. I don’t know how many drafts it went through. Four, maybe? It started to have something resembling a proper shape in the beginning of 2009.”– Erin Morgenstern
Since the break-out success of this novel, movie rights to The Night Circus have been sold and Harry Potter producer David Heyman has signed on to produce the movie.
Erin Morgenstern is living proof of the wonderful inspiration that can strike when you write as a pantser.
Which Way Is Better?
The best way to write is...whatever works for you.
Anyone who tries to tell you "x, y, z" is the only way to write is a liar. Every writer is different and every writer has different strategies and processes that help them create great stories.
I was a pantser for 15 years. I would get an idea for a book, jump to the keyboard, and plow away until I wrote anywhere from 30 - 200 pages. Being a pantser made writing exciting because it was a land of pure inspiration. I got to roll with every new idea that popped into my head, and write and discover things I never would have created if I plotted out every detail.
But being a pantser never let me finish a novel. I would write some awesome scenes and a few exciting story lines, but I could never figure out the narrative drive or the story structure necessary to finish a first draft, let alone polish it.
In 2013 I wanted to have a finished book under my belt, so I experimented with plotting. I learned everything I could about how to outline a story by taking classes, readings books, and talking to other plotters.
I took everything I learned and threw it into the outline of my first novel - A few months later I had my first finished draft.
Over the course of 15 years I probably wrote 1000+ pages as a pantser, and over the past two years I was able to finish my debut novel as a plotter.
Being a pantser gave me the chance to practice writing and hone my skills, while being a plotter gave me the structure and motivation to write a cohesive and exciting story.
Now my writing process merges the best of both worlds, allowing me to create exciting story lines that I know I will finish while taking advantage of my pantser excitement to write amazing scenes.
If you have a process that is working for you, awesome. But don't be afraid to experiment with strategies and techniques from both ways of writing - they might make your writing process even better!
So there you have it!
Good luck experimenting and if you're looking for a technique that blends the best of plotter strategies with pantser techniques, be sure to check out my new online masterclass, Your Page-Turning Plot.