There’s No Crying in Baseball (but there might be in pantsing)

I’ve played this game before.

Even though I had a thorough outline, I pantsed my way through a significant portion of my WIP’s first draft.

Now that I am some five drafts deep into revision, I find myself pinch-hitting for Team Pantser once again.

With the help of my critique partners, I discovered I had rushed through the first part of my book’s second act, telling too many events in summary rather than showing them in real time.  Because of this, I hadn’t taken the time to flesh out the characters, having made them pawns to the plot instead of the drivers of it.

The moment all of this was pointed out to me, it was like the clouds parted and the glow of one thousand suns of enlightenment beamed down upon me.

“I can fix this!” I exclaimed.  “I will rewrite and expand this entire section.”  Expand two chapters into five at a minimum.

In that instant, I also decided to pants my way through this rewrite.  It would be faster, I rationalized.  My critique group accepts and reads chapters on a weekly basis, and I didn’t want to halt my submissions any longer than I had to.

As much as I love outlining, working my way through every twist and turn and callback and reveal in a plot ahead of time, at least for me, feels like it takes half of forever.

And thus armed with my over-brimming enthusiasm, an overly summarized version of events from the original draft of the chapters (sort of like an outline), and a vague idea for a new direction to take, I got to work.

Just writing whatever came to me in the moment.

But unlike the previous time that I did this, this time I hated almost every minute of it.

To be clear, I don’t hate pantsers themselves.  Indeed, I’m kind of in awe of them.  Notwithstanding my foray with it during my first draft, it’s not my normal method of writing—at all.

Discovery writing, the more euphemistic name for pantsing, sounds lovely and romantic in theory, but in practice for this reformed plotter, it’s been the bane of my writing existence, for the following reasons:

1) Pantsers love the literal act of writing more than I do

Because that’s all that this rewrite has been about.

Writing.

Deleting that.

Writing something different to take the story in a different direction.

Deleting that too.

Writing some more.

Over and over again.  Because even though the endpoint of what I’m writing is very clear in my mind, with no set plan for how to get there, I end up trying everything—a multiverse of possibilities, one after another—until I stumble upon an option that seems to work.

I’ve written before about how I treat writing like improv whenever I get stuck, saying yes to every idea to give it its due rather than reject it out of hand.

Pantsing for me has been like writing and improv’s evil love child.  Say yes to everything?  Haha nothing works!  (Until it finally—finally—does.)

2) Pantsers are more courageous than I am

I’m the biggest coward when it comes to writing.

I’ve said before that writing is an act of extreme egoism, especially for an unpublished writer, to believe that anyone cares about what you have to say.

Pantsing takes that egoism one step further, to believe you can actually finish an entire novel before you’ve even tried—in real time, making it up and fitting all the pieces together as you go.

For me, a detailed outline is the ultimate security blanket—an assurance that there is an arc and possible ending that works, even if actually writing the novel takes me far afield of these.

At the very least, I need to know it can be done.  I need a fallback that’s more reliable than my distractible, getting-older-every-day excuse for a brain.

3) Pantsers are less lazy than I am

This relates to all the writing and rewriting lamented in point #1.  That’s a damn lot of work, this act of literally discovering the story as I write.  So much more so than outlining before writing.

This isn’t to say that plotters don’t throw away words as well.  I am currently on my fifth revision, so I’m no stranger to the slashing and burning of scenes.

But how many more drafts would it take me if I’d pantsed the entire novel?  And how much longer to write the thing in general?

Outlining only requires, at most, committing to a few lines of explanation for what’s going to happen, not whole scenes fully written and ultimately scrapped.

Plus it’s so much easier to predict what might and mightn’t work when the whole plot is laid out before me.  It can stop a lot of problems—and their attendant writing and rewriting—before they develop.

Writing may be like prayer in that it’s never wasted, but that doesn’t mean I want to keep retreading the same ground over and over again, at least not in the first draft.

I love, as the famous quote goes, having written.  But the act of writing itself, and so very much of it at that, I could really do without.

~

And yet, pantsing is not so very terrible.

As miserable as I’ve often been during this rewrite of my second act, at the end of the day, pantsing is getting the job done.

I could see myself doing it again.  Next time, I’ll explain why.

Have you ever pinch-hit for the opposite writing team?

(Image source #1 and #2)

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4 thoughts on “There’s No Crying in Baseball (but there might be in pantsing)

  1. I pantsed the first novel, and if I didn’t like the situation and characters a LOT, wouldn’t even have it in my mental list of future projects. But darn, I invested a lot in my young Mexican-American engineer, her family,…

    You’re right: planning “can stop a lot of problems—and their attendant writing and rewriting—before they develop.”

    I’m not an outliner (though what I end up with looks exactly like an outline). I’m a structuralist, which is worse. Everything has not only a place, but a purpose.

    But whatever you have, the advantage of having a plan is that, if you think up an absolutely perfect piece of dialogue, you know exactly where it will go, and you can store it with all that’s scenes bits and pieces until you need it.

    The going off in all directions I do happens as I’m deciding how to write the scene I’m working on. Because it MIGHT fit, it is taken seriously. Because it’s not final, not TOO seriously. My Production files are literally littered with bits of fancy. I throw away lots as I go, but it is all in a smaller universe than all the possibilities for the novel. It’s all the possibilities I can think of for this particular scene, as long as it keeps the scene on purpose and plot. I’m profligate with what I discard – but I have it all down in the Production file.

    The completely off the wall stuff is done while executing the planning file – and discarded, if necessary, while it’s still embryonic.

    We probably do much of the same type of writing – just in a different order, and you can handle a whole book’s worth at a time. I can’t see you writing stuff that is a complete deviation from where your novel is going.

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    • Yes, I think we probably do do the same type of writing. I definitely have a purpose for the things I choose to include, and also save up bits for later (you should see my bedside notebook).

      The biggest problem I’ve had with pantsing is the need to commit to ideas. Of course, all writers have to commit to their ideas, but with an outline, you get to field test the idea ahead of time before you start building upon it (and can likewise take the time to test a number of different ideas and their outcomes with only a few bullet points wasted for every idea that’s discarded).

      With pantsing, unless you’re willing to have your progress grind to a halt while you and your Muse debate the possibilities, you have to choose an idea and just run with it, following it’s logical course and hoping that you made the right choice. That’s what had me writing and deleting so much – usually I didn’t make the right choice the first time. It all felt so inefficient.

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  2. I tried outlining once. I quickly got bored, deleted chapter/scene synopses, everything, and just set off as usual, ‘Once upon a time…’. Similarly I once tried writing longhand to allow ‘ideas to flow more naturally’. Waste of time. Back to my usual beginning-to-end typing with a single finger (another poised above the Shift key, I have some skills), minimal revision, put it out there for better or worse 🙂

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    • My dad made me take typing class in grade 11 and although I was bitter about it at the time words can express how grateful I am now to be able to touch type (I guess father really does know best!)

      I can’t imagine blank-paging an entire novel, only knowing what comes next a short distance ahead in my mind. I require a detailed outline to get started and stay productive (and also to not forget things). Even if I end up intentionally going way off track, I need the security of the outline to give me something come back to if I need it. Even during this pantsing stint of mine, I’d find myself making tiny outlines for upcoming scenes in upcoming chapters to help keep me on course.

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