Why I Am No Longer A Pantser (Lessons Learned)

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So, another year down and first off, I hope you all had a great holiday season and New Years celebration. Yes, I’m a little late with this, but I got it done eventually, didn’t I? *smiles innocently and patiently waits for a pat on the head*

As the first blog post of 2018 (cue sparklers) I wanted to take the time to reflect on lessons learned in writing over the past year, and most importantly, discuss why I am no longer pantsing my work going forward or as I like to also call this year ‘where the damn hell is the next Watchers book, you slacker!’

Up until recently, I was a panster. Hell, the idea of sitting there and planning out a novel just seemed to take all the fun out of it (we’re writers, dammit! We’re supposed to be aloof and creative people). It was something about meticulously planning a novel which just seemed to sap all the fun out of it. And for a while, I believed all I needed was a rough outline, a signpost which says ‘these characters need to be X, Y, and Z; the plot needs to go from A, B, C. Cue giant laser death cannons by page 100’. That sort of thing. And for a long time there, I thought that was all I needed.

How wrong I had been.

Now, I’m working at completely readdressing my old method and tearing it apart. Why? Because last year I failed at my writing goal of releasing 3 novels and managed to just release the 1. Yup. That was bad.

For a while, I blamed it on things outside of my control. It’s true, 2017 was a very busy year for me full of many exciting changes. I moved country, spent one month travelling, I got married, I started my own business. I travelled a little more. All in all, I probably missed about 2 – 3 months of writing time over the year while I felt I had to address other things and get the new chapter of my life organised before I could return to writing.

And the truth is, if I planned better, I could have easily managed everything and produced more work.

So, what went wrong?

The first thing warning flag is that I have been writing the latest installement of the Watchers series for over 2 years now. And despite all that, I am only on the second draft.

The reason: I tried pantsing a full second novel in a series.

This resulted in endless plot issues, character problems, dead-end scenarios, long sessions of smashing my face into the keyboard and wanting to hit delete and just walk away from writing. In short, the work I have to show, in its current state, sucks! The problems have been endless, and the more I go over things, the more issues I find from bad planning. Problems I could have avoided by doing more planning in advance.


How did this happen?


The answer is simple. I took too long writing the novel. I had no idea where the messy middle was trying to go. And lastly, I had many different ideas for the plot over the span of two years. Ideas I once thought would work and ditched halfway through. Characters’ motivations changed. Even my writing style changed over those two years.

Basically, I’m now doing several times more work trying to fix the damn novel than if I’d just planned ahead.

As a fix, I’m writing the outline I should have two years ago and now trying to mash what I have into shape without chopping off too many pieces. But as time goes on, oh boy, the chopping room floor is worse than an abattoir’s floor (over 6,000 words and counting).

The best advice I have to start 2018 of with, is to plan your novels, especially if planning a series. Know your plot and character arcs. Know your themes. Keep true to your writing style. And above all else, know where you are launching yourself if you plan to fly by the seat of your pants. I’ll outline my new process soon, perhaps as a part of a series if there is enough interest.

So for now, I’m back to the drawing board to fix this damn novel and make it the best I can be. Book 3, oh boy, that will be far better planned than any previous work of mine to avoid this issue ever cropping up!

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Paul W. Ryan is the Irish Author of The Watchers series, Monster Hunter Extraordinaire series, Rage, and The Rot and Death. Be sure to prod him with a stick and throw him a bucket of fish heads once a week. It's the only way he'll get more novels done.