Years ago when I first started writing I read something that stayed with me. A well known writer—I no longer remember who—said you shouldn’t tell other people about your stories because if you talked them all out you’d never write them. I certainly followed that advice as I began my career.
As time went on, though, I began to hear about “plotters,” those writers who meticulously plan out stories and novels before they put the first word on screen. That seemed to me to be much the same as “talking a story out.” I didn’t think I’d like it and I just didn’t do it. I often commented on the issue with, “that would take all the fun out of it.” So, I continued my life as a “pantser,” a writer who prefers to discover what is going to happen in his or her story as they write it.
To be completely clear, however, I’m not 100 percent a pantser. I don’t commit to a novel, for example, until I know about where it’s going to end. I often have a good ending in mind even for short stories, although such endings are more likely to change as the tale weaves on. In novels, I will generally know some trends and some high points in the book well before I begin writing those sections. But I don’t meticulously plan and outline and I always leave lots of room for ‘discovery’ as the tale unfolds.
As more time passed, however, I discovered that—many times, but not always—plotters got bigger contracts and made more sales than pantsers. I also discovered that plotters often spoke of writing two or three thousand words a day (or more), and sometimes of writing 1000 words in an hour. I was flabbergasted. I generally averaged about 250 an hour and seldom made more than a thousand in a good writing day. Finally, one plotter told me they could write so fast because they knew exactly what they were going to write when they sat down. They knew what the scene was about, where it was going and what was going to happen.
An epiphany! The scales fell from my eyes. I suppose I should have easily realized this but I’d not actually made the connection between writing speed and complete scene knowledge. Maybe this was the secret to producing more, which is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.
So, a few days ago, I set down to play the plotter role. I’d already written an opening scene for a story in my usual way, but decided now to carefully plot out the rest. By the end of an hour or so, I knew every plot turn and twist in the tale. I knew all the characters and had the setting firmly in mind. I began to write. The words flowed swiftly—500, 800, 1000, 1250. In less than two hours. I was pleased.
Then came day 2. I found myself not very eager to get back to the story. It took quite a bit of motivation to do so, but I got started. 500 words, 600. I began to slow down, paused to check email, 700, paused to watch a sit-com, 800, 850, stopped. Still, a respectable showing, and I’d been working on the tale less than an hour.
Day 3. Again, very tough to get myself motivated. I waited until an hour before bed but I knew I could do a good amount in an hour. I rolled to 400 very quick but then started looking for breaks. I fought that urge, made it to 800 in about 30 minutes and quit for the night. And I realized one important thing. I was bored as hell with the story. I’d enjoyed the ideas during the plotting phase. I thought the story had a good concept and could have some very nice elements of suspense. But I was not enjoying the writing at all. It felt like paint by the numbers to me.
I’m going to finish the story, read through it again, and see if it is worth anything. Not having done this before, maybe it will be just fine. I can’t tell until I see the finished product. But one thing I know. For me, writing is very much a form of play. And when I know precisely how a game is going to turn out, I don’t enjoy it nearly as much.