I am thrilled to co-post today with John Robin, a faithful and generous WU reader and commenter. While I have not officially met Mr. Robin, and while he is Canadian and mysterious, and while he doggedly hides behind Leo Tolstoy’s profile photo, he and I have become good pals via the magic of email and Facebook. John is dedicated to honing his own fiction, using Author Accelerator (check out Lisa Cron’s post for details about this editorial coaching service) to help him get the most out of the drafting process. With his current manuscript BLOOD DAWN well underway, John is building both a community and a following on Inkshares, a hybrid crowdfunding-based publisher (think traditional publishing meets Kickstarter). Welcome, my bearded Canadian friend!
Sarah: Let’s dig right in. You used the term, “pantsing the plotter” in one of your WU comments. I loved the image of the unsuspecting Plotter losing his pants at the hands of the mischievous Pantser. But as a Plotter myself, I’m not jazzed about getting pantsed. Will you explain this phrase and share how that process unfolds as you write a novel?
John: I spend a lot of time plotting. I don’t plot in a normal way, either. A lot of the plotting I do happens in my head, a habit which comes from playing chess. This means that my plotting is never fixed. It’s dynamic–just like in a chess game. Instead of seeing fixed plot points, I see a tree of possibilities, and I always question how things can be done better. Creativity, to me, is like shuffling a deck of cards; there are always new arrangements and surprises, things you overlook if you fixate on one particular aspect you are attached to.
So when I say my writing method is one of “pantsing the plotter,” I’m talking about that freedom which leads to surprises, consideration of novel structure before writing, but willingness to discover better things–be those changes in the plan that come to me when I’m stuck in rush hour traffic (the best time to plot), or discoveries that come to me when I’m in a scene and my characters tell me they need something that I would never have guessed they need.
Sarah: Sure, but writers like to identify as Plotters or Pantsers, often debating whose way is right. Wouldn’t it be grand if assembling a novel were like assembling an IKEA Mökelby drop-leaf table? A page of instructions, with pretty black and white diagrams to explain steps 1-20, only a lot less confusing and no Allen wrench required. I was recently on a writing retreat during which I had time to wonder, How did Author X write her book? How did Author Y write his book? Are they Pantsers or Plotters, and, since they are considered successful, can I copy their method? Sure, I am a Plotter by nature. But I can change! I can pants my Plotter if Author $Z$ indicates I should. Isn’t it OK to change for the publishing industry? [Read more…]