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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Seat of the Pants Writers: The "Pinballs of Publishing"

One of the biggest revelations I had at the 2012 ACFW conference was a workshop I took under author and editor Karen Ball. It was titled, "There's Nothing Wrong With You."

Seat of the Pants (SOTP) describes the writing process for some folk (this therapist included), as opposed to those who plot every scene and write outlines. Writers fall somewhere along this SOTP-Plotter continuum, and I'm convinced it has a lot to do with personality in general. (So convinced, in fact, that I'm going to try to put together a survey to do some research on the matter further. Stay tuned.)

But for now, I want to ease the anxiety that other SOTPs out there might have. For a while now, I've felt that being an SOTPer was somewhat "less" of a writer, not as preferred, not as good...inferior. Translated: NOT OKAY.

So I promptly bought all these plotting books, among them: Story Engineering, Plot v. Character, Story, Save the Cat, and How to Find Your Story. As I began reading them, my anxiety shot through the roof. No joke. It was overwhelming, trying to figure out which story event would finish out Act I and usher in Act II.

Attending this workshop was like letting the scales fall from my eyes! After going through the pros and cons of being an SOTPer, Karen had several other authors on a panel to answer questions from the audience. Mary DeMuth, Lenora Worth, Jenny B. Jones, Jill Eileen Smith, and Maureen Lang were on the panel, all confirmed SOTPers. They got hives trying to shove their stories into three-act structures too! Synopses are difficult if not impossible for them, since they honestly don't know what's coming next.

And while being an SOTP has its own inherent challenges, it has some great benefits. More important, it is OKAY to be an SOTP.

Q4U: Are you an SOTPer or a Plotter? What are some pros and cons of either one?

20 comments:

the walking man said...

Personally I am a poet and I do not plot anything...I come to my first line and run with it from there. I edit for function as soon as it is done and post it right there..the novels I have written i have done the same way but they are tedious and need heavy editing and I would rather be free to SOTP's my poetry.

the walking man said...

Forgot to mention I came over from Shakes place

Jen said...

I am very much a pantser. I was worried about this for a while, before I realised the truth -- my first draft IS my outline, and it's a hugely comprehensive outline that is the envy of any plotter!


I have actually tried to outline, but I'm hopeless at it. My structure comes together as I write, not beforehand.

Jessica said...

Well, I am plotting pantser. I have to have some sort of vague outline to my story otherwise I'll never remember where I was taking it through all the little spins I discover through my story. However, outlining everything that happens would completely rob me of creativity - once the plot is all there the story is there why write it?

Jessica

Joelle said...

I'm somewhere in between. I need to know where a story/novel ends before I start writing, and I usually have some notes as to plot bits that need get mentioned somewhere (especially continuity notes), and sometimes I will flesh out a more detailed outline of the next few chapters, but I certainly don't know everything exhaustively when I start writing, and there are plenty of chapters that can be near-blanks to me until I've reached them.

PatriciaW said...

Sounds like an interesting workshop. I'm somewhere on the continuum, not quite sure where. I like to have some kind of idea of where the story is headed, but I've found that too much of an idea--a full outline--makes me too bored to write the story. But complete pantsing doesn't work for me either. Still trying to figure this one out. (Hey, if you ever want to part with any of those books, let me know. Several of them are on my to-buy list.)

Joanne Sher said...

I WANT to be a pantser (LOL cuz it's less work up front), but when I tried writing that way, my novel would NOT stay focused. Soooo - I'm trying out being a plotter now - and I have a feeling it will fit me better. But I'll letcha know when I know ;)

Nancy Thompson said...

I'm definitely a plotter and used an outline for my first novel. But I was having a hard time getting started on the outline for my second, so I decided to just go ahead and be a pantster for once and write what is now my first chapter.

It was fun and enlightening and inspiring. I wish I could do it all the time, but it's just not who I am. I am a planner, so I need a course of action set in front of me, a roadmap. I can work off the cuff, but I still need structure while doing it. Having said that, I envy those who are full-time pantsters. I wish I could work that way.

Jennifer K. Hale said...

Liberating. That's the word I use to describe Karen's class. I feel like a new writer now--less anxiety about being something I'm not, and more spiritual. Yep, I even feel more spiritual. ;)

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

clearly SOTPers are more spiritual. we rely more on the Lord to put our stories together! :)

phyllis sweetwater said...

I've tried both, but I find myself stuck at the climax, because,, well, I don't know what it's going to be. If I do plot, it changes as I write. Realistically I'll do whatever it takes to get the manuscript finished.

Jeff King said...

"I am very much a pantser. I was worried about this for a while, before I realised the truth -- my first draft IS my outline, and it's a hugely comprehensive outline that is the envy of any plotter!"

Me to a T... couldn't have said it better.

Eve S Nicholson said...

THANK YOU FOR THIS VALIDATION!
I am most certainly a SOTP, and I have great CP's who are... let's just say more structured. For a while now I have felt like I am doing it wrong, or perhaps less of a writer because of it. Thank you so much for the validation.

Sherri said...

I'm a pantser!! I hadn't really planned to try to change myself. That never works well for me. It IS nice to be validated, though. Thank you very much!

And I agree whole-heartedly with Jeannie; we are much more spiritual! :)

Rachel Wilder said...

I'm largely a pantster. I know how it starts and how it ends, with a vague idea of the middle. But how those are connected I have no idea.

I do work from Susan May Warren's 10 Beats of a Romance to make sure I include every element. But that's as detailed as I get.

Abigail said...

Being in the company of ya'll and great (and varied) authors like Jenny B Jones and Mary DeMuth makes me proud to be quasi-panster. (I think I'm a recovering plotser reconnecting with my pantsing side).

Sher A. Hart said...

After the number of times I rewrote my first book, I sincerely hope I can learn to outline. My best hope is the snowflake method. If I can achieve even the first few layers, I will save myself years. I'm not young enough to be a SOTP. For me, that's more a STOP. Oh yeah, my MC has a split personality. Not sure I gave him enough past trauma to be a valid reason.

A L Loveday said...

The book that has given me the best advice said to get the story out of you, then look back over it and figure out your exact plot/timeline/chapter outlines later - I think spending time doing something clinical to the story before it's even written can take away all the excitement and fun from the writing itself, and make you feel constrained in what you do.

This became really apparent when I did a NaNoWriMo challenge last year; I tried to outline a story beforehand, gave up after two days, then started again with something new and nothing planned and powered on through til the end! I look back on that story now and can salvage it into something useable, whereas my first attempt is still unwritten, and still giving me a headache when I think about it...

girlseeksplace said...

I am both. I outlined NaNo last year and the outline fell apart on page 2, so I let it go and just wrote. This year, no outline and I have no idea what's going to happen. I do hope to have character profiles built before November 1. I like to know who I'm working with before I start working.

Pammer said...

Hi, my name is Pammer and I am a Pantster. :) For years now I was not only thinking something was wrong with me because people talk about all those wonderful books that help you write and I couldn't even finish reading one! Then I had someone helping me who basically tried to shove me into the square of plotting though I am a circle. I was dead in the water as far as writing was concerned because I couldn't do it "right"!
Karen Ball's class set me free! And I told her so. :)
I didn't know you were there, though, I would have loved to give you a hug!
Love these posts. Thanks!
Hugs,
Pammer

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Both comments and questions are welcome. I hope you enjoyed your time on the couch today.