Take Off Your Pants!

Writers are generally divided into two categories: plotters and pantsers. Plotters outline their stories. Pantsers write by the seat of their pants. Both approaches are valid. It just depends on which style suits you.

When I was s young writer, I was a pantser. I couldn't imagine being a plotter. It felt too daunting to me. That type of approach, I thought, was for people with scientific brains. I was an artiste with flights of fancy. I just needed to attend my muse, and the pages would flow.

Except they didn't. In my twenties and thirties, I had a half a dozen never-completed projects that I quietly shelved when I couldn't figure them out. It got to the point where I wouldn't say that I was writing a novel any more. It was too embarrassing to admit to abandoning them.

When I decided that I truly needed to finish a book, I started studying craft. I discovered Libbie Hawker and her work on a Creative Penn podcast episode. I immediately liked her. I was impressed with her productivity, her confidence, and her smarts. After I heard the interview, I bought one of her books, Take Off Your Pants: Outline Your Book for Faster, Better Writing. And it is the right kind of book for me. It's short, straightforward, and it said things in a way that made sense and felt important. Also, there were plenty of examples to back up each point. Now, when I'm working on a project, I think of things Hawker stressed in this book: Is my protagonist horribly flawed? (She needs to be at the start of the story.) Does she have a dream? What does she try to achieve it? How is she thwarted? Who is her antagonist? Does her goals mirror the dream of the protagonist? Who is the protagonist's ally? What does our main character learn by the end?

And here's the true confession:  I'm still really a plotter with an asterisk. I wish I could throw that star away and stand tall as a plotter, but, honestly, I'm not there yet, and perhaps I never will be. I still can't tolerate graphs and bar grids. I read craft books all the time and take notes and think about them, and I try to do all the exercises in the book, but I never get through filling out everything I'm supposed to do. I do latch on to concepts though, and I do love making lists and outlines, and I brainstorm quite a bit, and I don't start a novel until I have a solid sense of the story, and now I do finish. So I have a bit of a pantser soul, but I take solace in as many plotter activities as I can stand. And when I'm in story trouble, I often turn to Libbie Hawker and Take Off Your Pants!