In a social media writing group, someone was pondering on how others write and if they work in a particular way. The replies fell broadly into three groups, planners, pantsers and a mix of the two to some extent or other. I wouldn’t say I am a pantser, because that implies you know what you’re doing but dashing along doing it by the seat of your pants. I think there ought to be another category, starting with an idea (as I wrote earlier with the headline, One dead and one injured in fishing incident at sea) and following it where it takes you with a lot of thinking as you go along – sometimes it flows, sometimes it grinds out, but there is no plan, maybe a general idea, but that can change in a variety of unexpected ways.
Someone wrote they never planned anything – I wouldn’t say I never plan, but any idea I have is a very rough idea. This person once tried a plan/timetable but soon wandered off along a path that meant all the planning was worthless. Another person continued on the same theme, it’s best for me to write and see what happens. That sounds so much more interesting and challenging as a writer! Here’s what someone else commented, which is similar to my way of writing, I make it up as I go along, I tried plotting but storylines wander off in their own direction. This also is me, my characters take on lives of their own once I get going and I think this is a lovely explanation of the reason for writing this way I’m a discovery writer…I have no idea what is going to happen – I love to be surprised! This person had tried planning but never finished anything because they were just too bored to write it.
So, on the other side, why do some writers plan so meticulously? I think it actually comes down to the type of person you are, but somebody rather severely wrote it’s easier to reach a destination if you know how to get there. That may be true in reality, but even in reality is it as much fun as when you set off and go by the byways and come across the unexpected and interesting? I hope the next person doesn’t mind me quoting them directly – this is the polar opposite to me, but I don’t mean it’s wrong, it’s just so interestingly different: absolutely thoroughly plot every book, with a chapter-by-chapter synopsis, and a full character study right down to the housekeeper who opens the door for the detective – and full research. I might be a bit compulsive, or I might just be a realist, I kid you not. Sometimes, I can take longer to plot/research a book than actually write it! For me, that would be absolutely pointless – I do tons of research, but I do it as I go along as my story demands. Ideas spring into my head, for example in my last book, Winterdyke, the main character was researching a family’s history and out of the blue it seems they were the makers of agricultural machinery, so I stepped away from the story and investigated eighteenth and nineteenth century agricultural implements.
I don’t think there is a universal correct or best way to write, every writer is different, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from each other and try different ways of pursuing our craft. Back when the world was normal, I lead writing groups, and gave writing courses, but I would try to offer different ways of reaching the same goal, and not be proscriptive in what was best – the best way to write is the way that makes a writer happy, produces what they want at the end, and for it to be the best it can be.