When it comes to writing novel-length stories, I’ve always been a planner. I generally struggle with plot, especially creating subplots and character arcs – my stories tend to be quite linear, with only one plot line. Unsurprisingly, this means I often struggle with getting anything to novel length.
For me, the most exciting part of a new story is the world-building. Creating the characters, discovering their back stories, spending weeks studying Google Maps to find just the right road for them to live on. I was the same when I used to play RPGs with my husband and friends, which drove them all mad waiting for me to finish up so we could actually play.
After I’ve done all that, I start working on the plot, detailing it out in bullet points, and then a paragraph per scene/chapter. And, of course, the obligatory Pinterest mood board.
The biggest problem with this approach is that, nine times out of ten, by the time I get around to the actual writing part, I’m bored of the story.
This time around, I’m trying something new. As soon as I had the first inkling of an idea, I grabbed a new notebook and started writing. The only thing I knew about this story was that it was going to be about a police detective who deals with supernatural creatures.
Yes, this eternal planner is attempting to ‘pants’ it.
(If you’ve never heard the term before, pantsing means that you’re free writing, with no plan or outline. Writing ‘by the seat of your pants’, if you will.)
I’ve written something every single day for two weeks in that notebook. And none of it is background or worldbuilding. It’s all plot. Admittedly, I have absolutely no idea where that plot is going, but I’m still writing. I type up the notes as I go along, usually in the evening, but do no editing, other than the occasional attempt to make a random set of squiggles into an actual sentence.
I’m currently at around 15,000 words, which is a lot more than I usually manage. I think I have a vague idea of where this is going, and – unlike my usual attempts – I have character arcs already starting to happen, and the first hints of a subplot or two. More importantly, I’m still interested in the story, and I’m still eager to write more.
I’m thinking of this as my pre-draft. There are so many things that will need fixing (I’ve not even decided whether it’s set in the UK or the US, and one of my characters has completely changed species) that I feel bad even calling it a first draft. But I’m determined to just keep moving forward with it. I know that if I start even basic editing, I’ll lose momentum. I can fix everything else once I have the whole story written.
I think there’s two factors at work here. The first is that by pantsing, I’m not giving myself the time to get bored with the idea. I’m allowing the story to be dictated by the characters, instead of me forcing it, and it’s fun.
The second factor is more practical, but still just as important. I can type much faster than I can write by hand. By handwriting, I have to slow my thoughts down because I can’t keep up. I’m having to think about what I’m writing and I have time to make sure it’s right, rather than just dumping words on a page to hit an arbitrary daily word count.
You know what though? I don’t entirely know why this story is working when so many others have failed, but I really don’t care. I’m writing every day. I’m enjoying what I’m writing.
And I think I’m coming up with something that could one day be a good novel.