Writers love to reduce complex concepts into simple categories that they can organize and tag others with. We love to give names to genres, writing styles, literary movements, and characters types, despite the fact that it’s nigh impossible to fit any one of these into a particular mold. Of course, being as compulsive and as irrational as we tend to be, we decided it would be a fine idea to attach labels to ourselves. After all, what could possibly go wrong?
*sigh* Oh boy…
But yeah, cheap sarcasm aside, I’ve been thinking a lot about the false dilemma we like to call the different types of writers. Now before I tear apart this idea in my usual nonchalant style, just allow me to answer a few questions that might be brewing in your mind. Do I believe that most writers tend to fit into these categories in one way or
another? Yes, of course I do, there generally tends to be a trend for authors to lean to one of these categories. Do I believe there is no place for these labels in the writing community? Well…yes and no. I can see the use in them, but I find they also tend to be used too liberally.
Well, is that all? If so, then allow me to enlighten you with some of my pretentious musings on this very subject. In case you’re not familiar with these labels, then allow me to share a short summary with you. Pantsers are a bunch of lazy freeloaders that can’t take a few seconds out of their time to brainstorm even a semblance of structure into their novels and Outliners are obsessive freaks that map out every single detail of their novel before they even get started.
Now, presuming that you haven’t closed the tab, Outliners and Pantsers are the two different categories of writers of which I speak. Pansters are individuals that would rather start a project without the slightest idea of how it’s going to go down and Outliners like to have a clear image of their project before it starts.
It would be waste of time for me to bog you down with the details
of the pros and cons when there are countless others that have taken deeper looks into this than I. So it should suffice for all of you to know that it doesn’t matter which side you’re on, and I’m
not here to disparage one side or another. What I do want to address is the almost religious manner in which writers treat these labels.
Among the members of this community I have seen many individuals whom proudly hold themselves up to be either one or the other. And this is not a bad thing (I’m one of them too), but what worries me is that I find that many of these people treat their categories as though they were set in stone. And this can be a problematic approach for a number of reasons.
For starters, let’s not mention the fact that most writers tend to overlap between both of these categories in one way or another, we wouldn’t want to overcomplicate an already complex issue. But it should go to say that this school of thought tends to make beginner writers grow too accustomed to their own current technique. I know many writers that have a set formula with which they go about the creation of their books, but in their case, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Steven King (whom I haven’t personally read, but wish to in the near future) has stated in his book, On Writing, where he says that the first step in his process is just to start. No outlines, no brainstorming, just pure, unadulterated writing. J.K. Rowling on the other hand (whom I also haven’t personally read, but probably won’t read in the near future either [forgive me!]) is the stereotypical definition of the Outliner. Her first novel was sketched into one of the most esoteric diagrams I’ve ever seen.
And again, there’s nothing wrong with these writers having their own set formulas that they’ve followed for all of their careers. But were any of you observant enough to spot the similarities between the two of these?
Go on, I can wait.
If you’re answer was that they are both writers, then give yourself a pat on the back for being the wittiest person alive. However, if your answer was that both of them are seasoned writers, then good on you. These people have already had their toes dipping inside of the writing community for years on end, so it only makes sense that they’d be able to be 100% sure of their current strategy. For the bourgeoning writer, this is not a healthy habit. One should try to experiment with all the different approaches to creating a book, in my humble opinion, because you don’t know when your style of writing is liable to change.
I’ll use myself as an example.
The very firstbook that I started began on a cheapy notebook that I would write in whenever I came home from my walking routine (I mock it, but that notebook has some sweet memories.). The novel I started there was a pure seat-of-the-pants production. Not because I considered myself a better writer with that technique, but because I was lazy. In the end, as with most beginner projects, this resulted in a scrapped WIP.
So later on, with the desire to not conduct a repetition of history with my second book, I decided to go for an outlining process. But I was afraid that I’d get bored if I made a detailed outline, so what I did was go with a routine called the Snowflake Method. And with that routine, I ended up scrapping the second book as well.
Well…maybe I’m not being entirely honest. Once I saw that the Snowflake Method was getting involved with spreadsheets, I just ignored the rest of the rules. I know, 15 year-olds aren’t exactly renowned for their attention span. But that’s besides the point. It was in this time that I avoided novels altogether and wrote a bunch of short stories, until I decided I was ready and got started working on my 3rd attempt at a novel.
Fortunately, this 3rd attempt at a story was actually the story I ended up finishing.
I didn’t pants, I didn’t use the Snowflake Method, and I didn’t map out the mountain diagram that literature teachers are so fond of referencing. If you’re interested in the exact method I used for that, then this is the Youtube video where I learned it.
But if there was a moral to be learned from this story, it was that I had to end up migrating through a variety of different styles before I found something that suited me. But even then, I’ve yet to stop experimenting. I always do small variations on what I’m going to do with my next works and so far I think I’m leaning towards Outliner on the writer scale. Yet I don’t say that with full confidence.
Why you ask?
Because in the end, I’m still a beginner. Maybe a few years down the line I’ll be the greatest pantser that history has ever known. Hell, I might even end up an outline that’s even more arcane that Rowling’s! And because I don’t know for sure, is why I’m willing to experiment. Have any of you experimented with different writing styles? Do any of you hate me for mocking this foundational concept of writing? Want to spam me with adbots? Then feel free to leave your comments!
As always, this has been the QuestingAuthor. Keep writing, my friends.