Writing Habits Revisited

One of my first blog posts was about the habits of a writer. Do you like it quiet? Can you work in the middle of a three-ring circus? Do you drink water? Tea? Something stronger? What time of day do you do your best writing?

Today’s post is a bit like that early post, but with an emphasis on a writer’s writing habits, rather than his or her surroundings and physical environment.

I’ve read a lot recently about the discussion going on among writers about the differences between being “plotter” or a “pantster.” So I’m going to jump in and add my two cents.

For those of you who may not be familiar with those words, a plotter, as you might expect, is a writer who plots out the details of her story before writing. A pantster, by contrast, is a writer who writes without plotting first; in other words, one who flies by the seat of her pants.

Which are you?

I am a card-carrying plotter. I outline a story to within an inch of its life. I’ve tried flying by the seat of my pants, and I find that I experience much more writer’s block and frustration when I don’t have an outline to follow.

There is one book that was instrumental in helping me to organize my thoughts and ideas into a coherent story. That book is Phyllis A. Whitney’s Guide to Fiction Writing. For anyone who is unfamiliar with Ms. Whitney, she was a prolific writer who wrote for many of her 100-plus years. She is my favorite romantic suspense writer, and I aspire to be half as good as she was. She was a plotter. She kept a notebook for each story, which she outlines beautifully in the book, containing all her notes, outlines, plotting ideas, character sketches, chronological information, research, and so on. Her reasoning for such a notebook, in part, is that it helps keep a writer organized and it helps one avoid writer’s block. I found that to be true. When I wrote my first novel, I kept a notebook religiously and I rarely dealt with writer’s block.

But I’m a plotter in real life, too. Maybe that helps explain why I’m a plotter as a writer. I like to know what’s going to happen. And when. To the minute. If I try to go to the grocery store without a list, trying to remember what I need by the seat of my pants, I’m a complete mess. When I have my list, I’m like a grocery-shopping machine. I’m in and out in a matter of minutes. I plan weekly menus, too. Without a menu, I never know from one day to the next what I’m making for dinner. Or whether my kids will have something edible for lunch. Making a menu helps me plan my week. And as long as we’re on the subject of menus, you may as well know that I follow recipes to the letter. “A pinch of this, a dash of that” is so not me. I’ve been known to visit four stores in search of lemongrass rather than doing without it if the recipe calls for lemongrass.

I’m not suggesting that being a pantster is bad. It’s just not for me. There are writers who can write amazing, cogent stories without an outline. They’re my heroes. They are the same people who can probably go to the grocery store without having a list that looks like it was generated by NASA.

The important thing for plotters to keep in mind is that there are times when a writer has to listen to her characters and be willing to deviate from the outline if it’s necessary to the development of the story. It happens. In the novel I’m currently working on, it took me quite a while to realize that I was missing a character. Once I was willing to admit that the story had to change to accommodate a new character, it got much easier to write.

So what do you think? Are you a plotter? A pantster? Are you like that in real life, too? I’d love to know.

Until next week,

Amy

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6 comments on “Writing Habits Revisited

  1. Beatriz V. says:

    I enjoyed reading your posts, Amy. I’m a pantster for sure–hence the struggle with my novel 🙂 In real life, well, I’m a pantster too–sort of…I’m learning that with out lists and planning I drive myself nuts! I have been using a calendar for the past 3 years and now can’t live without it! So both in life and writing I’m working on organizing more and having an outline. I find it interesting how lifestyle and writing styles can be similar. And how like in anything in life, habits can be changed/learned (I will learn to outline and map out my stories) I look forward to reading more of your posts!

    Like

    • amreade says:

      Hi, Beatriz,
      I use a calendar too, but I find that I sometimes forget to look at it because I’m trying to remember everything! Good luck with your writing. The book I mentioned by Phyllis Whitney has great suggestions for setting up an outline for writing. If you’re interested, I’d highly recommend it. I highlighted it all the way through and I keep it handy to refer to it often. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment!

      Like

  2. marlainagray says:

    Hi Amy — I’m a pantster. I have a general idea of where I’m going when I write something, but I’ll also come up with things as I’m writing and sort of generally surprise myself. It seems to be working so far, so I’m going with it.

    I do make to-do lists and grocery lists, but I’m starting to improvise on recipes. 🙂

    Like

  3. Rebecca H. says:

    Nice post, Amy. I happen to land in the category of being a plotter, and I’m like that in real life. I tend to plot out my stories; I have notebooks with my outlines in it. In real life, if I don’t have instructions written out, I’m a total mess!

    Looking forward to your next post,
    Rebecca H.

    Like

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