I’m not a person who like to do much planning when it comes to creative projects. I’m what some writers like to call a “pantser”, meaning, I work by the seat of my pants. Oddly enough, I like to have well-thought plans for other aspects of my life – just a bit of OCD happening here – but when it comes to writing or cooking or music, prefer to create on the fly.
I know this will make some people twitchy and I understand that. Some writers, for example, prefer to outline their stories, create character sketches, plot the story arcs. I think that’s great. More power to them. I understand how having the structure in place beforehand can help them string the story together. Makes sense.
But planning ahead makes it harder for me to tell a story. If everything is mapped out ahead of time, then I feel stifled. It’s like the difference between painting on a blank canvas or using a paint-by-numbers kit. One option allows me to flex my creative muscles, to explore and experiment, and if something changes, I can go off in another direction without hesitation. The other option makes me feel locked in, that I have to follow the designated path without deviation.
A great example is a short story I’ve been trying to write for the past six weeks. It’s based on an actual event, but with a creative twist. In other words, I’m using the basic premise but changing the players and some of the facts. I’ve had the story in my head for a few years now and I finally decided to write it so I can include it in an upcoming short story collection I plan to publish.
Initially, I had some trouble getting started. I wasn’t sure how to kick things off, which is usually where I have the most trouble with a story. If the foundation isn’t laid correctly, the entire structure can fall apart. So I thought I’d try working with an outline. I wrote a fairly detailed six-page outline with each paragraph describing what would happen in each section. “Finally,” I thought to myself, “I can get this party started.”
Yeah. Not so much.
I tried writing the opening scene three times, and each time I felt that it turned out like crap. Too bland. Too generic. Too sterile. I was forcing the story to be told, instead of allowing the story to tell itself. Over three thousand words discarded.
A few days ago I tossed the outline aside, sat down at my laptop, and just started winging it. Guess what? It worked. I wrote one thousand words (give or take a handful) in about thirty minutes. Now the story is easier to write because I’m not thinking about it. I’m letting my protagonist and the narrative decide where to go next.
“Pantsing” is an organic way to write, at least for me. I would never claim that one way is right and another wrong, or that one way is better than another. That’s up to each individual author. I had to try different ways to tell a story before I found what worked best for me.
When I find myself giving advice to other writers, I always tell them they have to try different things in order to develop their own style. A lack of planning works for me on most of my stories, but there may come a time when I find I need to outline something and I won’t hesitate to try it. I remain open-minded when it comes to creativity. I feel that artists have to be. Otherwise, how can we grow and improve?
Whenever you feel stuck on a creative project, don’t continue to try doing things the same way every time. Step back, reassess your methods, and maybe you’ll find that trying something outside of your usual routine will do the trick.
That’s the thing about creativity. The rules are made to be broken.