When I helped a fellow writer with her novel recently, it made me realise that I want to help and support more writers. My first thought was to share the way in which I wrote my own novel.
I wrote it intuitively.
In a nutshell, I began with a what-if situation and let it develop on its own.
This isn’t a new approach. It’s more commonly known as flying by the seat of your pants, or being a “pantser”.
What makes a writer a pantser? Generally, you don’t outline the entire novel before you begin writing.
Let me get one thing straight: I’m an advocate for whatever works.
However, after writing my story organically, I was in a state of wonderment over the way the story-line unfolded on its own; it was an enriching experience, and added an extra dimension to my internal writing culture. I could never have imagined devising a plot embedded with such intricacy. I suppose you could liken this to having a muse. The difference was that I wrote even if I didn’t feel the presence of a muse.
You don’t need heightened psychic tendencies to use this approach. It’s about listening to your inner voice and being guided by it.
Here’s an example. I was in the middle of writing a scene and there was a line that I was stuck on. It didn’t make sense for the line to be included, but a voice, a feeling if you will, told me to leave it there. I marked it in red and I kept on writing. Not long after, as I was finishing off the scene, words surfaced that magically tied in with the line that initially did not make sense. I was so happy that I had listened to that voice.
Your approach to writing a novel could be a hybrid format — that you plot some scenes, and you write others organically. This is a great compromise; a gentler introduction to the world of a pantser. After all, you may need a few lanterns along the way as you navigate your untold story. I knew the premise of my novel, and I knew how it would end, but that was all. I do recommend running with a situation to begin with, but knowing when to let your story breathe is key.
Knowing when to let your story breathe is key.
Keep in mind that choosing to pants your way through does not mean the process is easier. Once your story has been fleshed out naturally, the bad news is that a level of plotting is still required. As a storyteller, or an aspiring one, you probably already know that the events need to line up and the flow needs to be just right. This is imperative, and it’s unlikely that this part will happen naturally. (Pat your subconscious on the back if it does!) The good news is that you can make those plotting decisions intuitively, too.
This is one of the misconceptions about being a pantser; that we let words fall out and hope they’ll know their place on their own. While some of that does occur, it’s only the first part of the process. Part two is taking your raw work and exercising your craft. You still need to sweat it out on a more technical level. I don’t have a stack of novels that I’ve written to support this two part theory ( I only have one manuscript, which I’ll take on a new journey as I query agents very soon), as I only needed to go through this process once to swear by it. You can bet that I’ll be applying the same principles to my future novels.
Maybe you’re thinking: if pantsers have to plot eventually, then why not plot from the start? A very good question. Imagine the materials you give yourself to work with. Would you prefer to work with pebbles or diamonds? I know my preference. But, diamonds have to be mined and then they require a good polish to sparkle, right? When you choose to pants, you essentially choose to mine your story. This is where it becomes more than a choice to fly by the seat of your pants, it’s about going through the entire novel-writing process intuitively, including the editing. Your intuition is a tool, and probably the strongest one in the toolbox for your craft.
Your intuition is a tool, and probably the strongest one in the toolbox for your craft.
This approach is not for everyone. Your publishing goals and timeline need to be considered. Here are some reasons NOT to use it.
You want a system and need structure.
You want to write to a formula.
You want total control of the plot.
You want to churn out a book in the shortest amount of time possible.
You are a diehard for planning.
If any of the above points are important factors, then trying the intuitive way may frustrate you, rather than empower you.
It can be the riskier way; it’s a matter of personal preference, your self-awareness and your agenda. I enjoy the organic approach to a lot of tasks. Sometimes, the less I know, the better. I prefer to jump in the deep end and figure it out as I go along. But I know a lot of people who need to carefully plan out their whole garden before they plant their first seed.
If you prefer to work instinctively (and make decisions that way too), then I would suggest giving this a go.
It boils down to this belief: be willing to trust your subconscious, and it won’t let you down.