Pantsing vs. plotting – an unexpected turn


I recently had the fun of being interviewed for the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers podcast by Mark Stevens, who writes the Allison Coil mystery series. Stevens interviewed me about Jon Krakauer’s new book, Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town, and also on my own writing process. For my purposes, though, the podcast really gets rolling when Mark talks with Jim Heskett, author of The Whistleblower Trilogy (and whose website describes him as “author, podcaster, charlatan.”)

My scary desktop

My scary desk

Part of that interview focuses on the differences between “pantsers” – writers who work by the seat of their pants – and “plotters,” the more rational among us, who write from a detailed outline. Anyone who’s ever seen my desk (well, you can’t actually see the desk because its surface is buried in stacks of Important Stuff) would correctly tag me as a pantser. A part of me envies plotters – how wonderful to face the blank page, knowing what belongs. Prevailing wisdom suggests that many writers who start out as pantsers eventually go over to the dark side, which is how I think of plotting.

So imagine my glee in hearing Heskett, whose portion starts at about 27 minutes in, describe himself as a plotter gradually turning pantser.

At about 33 minutes, Stevens asks him about “this new world of seat of the pants writing”:

“At once, it’s more fun and a lot more tortuous,” Heskett says. “I mean, it’s more fun because I don’t know where the story’s going to go and sometimes I come up with stuff that surprises me. … Sometimes it’s also incredibly tortuous when I don’t know where the story should go next.”

I found further affirmation in Heskett’s description of his first draft as “essentially like a very, very, very long outline.” That’s my process, too, although I didn’t have a term for it. It’s reassuring to hear that I’m not alone in the hot mess of the first draft process.

Check out that podcast, and the others on the Rocky Mountain Fiction Fiction Writers website. As always when listening to writers talking about writing, there’s much terrific and useful information.

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