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Michelle's Musings

Panster vs. Planner

As a fiction writer, I've never been a fan of outlines. It seems to me that you have to know your story before you outline it, so why not just write it to begin with?

 

While I understand the merits of planning, once I have a story concept in my head, I tend to want to sit down and plug away, sometimes not even knowing how the story will end. I'll fill in the blanks, if any, during subsequent revisions.

 

I guess I'm one of those "by the seat of her pants" writers. Which brings me to this term, panster (vs. planner or plotter), that I've been hearing more oftenApparently, it's been around for some time now, from back in the day when folks preached that all books should begin with an outline.

 

Panster is shorthand for someone who does what I describe above--a writer who, in essence, lets the story write itself. A panster has an idea for a story and a few characters in mind, but she may not have the plot points contrived at first sitting. A planner, on the other hand, methodically maps out or outlines plot points in advance.

 

Therein lies the crux of the issue.

 

The common pro for outlining is that it helps structure plot lines. I would think that being a planner might stifle the flow of creative juices with all that organizing of ideas into charts or columns or on Post-it Notes destined for a storyboard. Since one of the tenets of crafting a novel is to disregard the compulsion to self-edit (a struggle in itself) during the brainstorm of that initial draft, does outlining help or hurt that process?

  

In researching this topic, I found just as many blogs and articles for, against, and ambivalent about panster writing. No matter which approach I contemplate, it can be a bit daunting just trying to get a project started--let alone figure out which method to use. Either has its merits.

 

So, what say you? Do you go with the outline, or do you fly by the seat of your pants? Are you a panster or planner, or a little bit of both?

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Breaking Away from the Critique Group

As a writer, I find the process of critiquing one's work similar to that of an artist who steps away from his canvas and revisits it later with "fresh eyes." Only, in the case of writing, the fresh eyes often belong to someone other than the artist. That's not to say that the author shouldn't critique her own work. I just find it difficult to do so without setting it aside for at least a week or two. Even then, I don't trust myself to recognize all the deficiencies. Having a total stranger (in the form of a fellow writer) review my work can provide invaluable feedback about problems I didn't even know existed.

 

What I've wrestled with, though, is sorting through which critical feedback is useful and which is not. For example, I follwed a suggestion to change my novel's point of view and found that doing so helped me resolve an issue I'd been struggling with. I was also told that my prologue did not fit, so I removed it. Later, in a different critique group, the suggestion was made to add a prologue.

 

I'm more of a "do as you're told" person, but I've come to understand that there's a delicate dance to be performed in creating a piece of fiction. Studying the craft of novel writing is invaluable. On the other hand, the creative process must be my own.

 

Recently, I've had other authors tell me that I may want to break away from critique groups as they can stifle the writing process. I'm interested in learning how others grapple with incorporating critical feedback into their writing.

 

How much does one "play by the rules," and when does one "throw caution to the wind?" Read More 

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