Organization

Organization, and faith in that organization, is another quality that goes into fearless writing. The dreaded…plotting.

Whenever I am asked what planning goes into my writing, I tense.

“I’m a pantser. I make it up as I go.”

Here it comes. First, the incredulous look. Then the patronizing smile. Followed immediately with what things I’m doing wrong and how I could write so much faster and better if I would just be a plotter, not a pantser.

I’m pretty well resigned to those looks now, and well-meaning writers telling me everything I do is wrong, and that if I’ll just follow their plan for writing, I can finish a book in 6 months, or a year, or whatever the author’s idea of “fast” may be. (Usually not fast enough for me.) Showing every step of the work on paper, index cards, in outline form, or in a book of scene summaries is “the way”. That’s organization.

This is where it gets interesting. As a pantser, I am highly organized. I have to be.

I draft fast, I like to redraft and rewrite quickly, and I need as few moving parts as possible. I’ve only got so much desk and wall space anyway. My organization (steps, scenes, character arcs, plot arcs, pacing, conflict, goals, emotional resonance, not to mention how to get from scene to scene) is up in my head.

It has been since I was a young storyteller—not even writing yet—because I learned to mentally keep track of complex plots, intricate character arcs, and even hours upon hours of dialogue I composed. I didn’t have a television growing up until about the fourth grade. Most of my free time was spent inventing massive worlds and the creatures and characters populating them. I would take these stories and play them every day alone or with my friends at school, which meant that I had to remember whatever scene was in progress until the next time. I wasn’t alone in this respect. My friends knew how to do it, too. We could “play” the same make-believe for months in this manner.

I don’t know if those years made me into a pantser or if I was born that way, but I do know that at my age, I’m probably not going to be converted into showing all my steps on paper. Doesn’t mean I can’t. Just means that when I’m asked to do things like lay out a beat-sheet, I’ll be doing it with the complete character arcs already in my head. A reverse outline will come from the synopses I’ve already written using the reverse outline in my head.

That’s not a lack of organization. It’s just different.

If you plot—plot boldly until your written system is so streamlined you can do it in your sleep.

If you pants—pants boldly until your mental system is so streamlined you can do it in your sleep.

And then write in whatever way brings you joy, sets your heart and words free, and lets your creativity soar.

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