How I Lost the Plot…and found it again

Weeks ago, I wrote this and very happily described my methods for becoming a successful plotter. Today, I have to be perfectly honest. I lost the plot.

Earlier this week I felt much like the frazzled creature in the picture. I had been diligently plotting, which was going just fine, creating a neat little spreadsheet denoting scenes, acts, turning points – all the good stuff a novel needs. But then I tried writing. 15 000 words later, I hated it. I hated my characters, hated my story, hated my syntax, hated EVERYTHING.

shift+delete and start again

I returned to my outline, convinced the error lay there. I tweaked, adjusted, restructured, stared at the wall, changed my character’s names, changed them back again, hurled invective at my keyboard, threatened my screen with a hammer and in the end put my bum in chair and started writing out the scenes as noted in the still very neat, nice, orderly and perfect outline.

10 000 words later, ‘hating everything’ is a bit of an understatement.


Fed up with my inability to get the story I wanted to write onto the page, I went trawling through the Internet. Thanks to my mom (hi Mom!) who told me about this random little island called Socotra and then thanks to Google and Wikipedia, I was struck by a new wave of inspiration.

I dutifully returned to my outline and tried to fit my new ideas into the existing framework because the existing framework was perfect – neat acts, action-reaction scenes, perfect character arcs etc. The problem was that the new idea just wouldn’t fit into my outline. Something was broken. Convinced this story would never be written and that I was a failure, doomed to ever remaining an aspiring author with nothing but reams of deleted text to show for it, I did the unspeakable.

I hit shift+delete on my outline!

Oh the joy of returning to a blank page with just the wisp of an idea, a hint of character, a feel for the setting and the ability for the story to evolve unhindered as it wants to. I started writing, ignoring all notion of outlining, plotting or creating neat little boxes for my ideas.

The result? 12 000 words and going strong. I love my world and I love my characters who are driving the story forward with their choices. This is their story, not mine. And that I think is the secret to my failed attempt at being a plotter.

1) I was trying to write the story I wanted, forcing my characters to do things to fit the plot which felt heavy handed and contrived.

2) My stories are character driven, not plot driven. There is a difference.

3) My characters need breathing room and don’t like feeling predestined by a delineated plot.

4) I get bored when I know what’s going to happen. I don’t enjoy writing the story if I know what’s going to happen next. I like my characters surprising me.

5) I’m a pantser and there’s no changing that.

I did learn some important things about pacing and creating tension though while forcing myself to plot. There is definite value in plotting but it’s just not for me. Am I writing the perfect book by pantsing my way through it? Is it the best approach and most productive? Definitely not, but it’s the only way to keep writing fun and my words alive. My first draft will undoubtedly require some serious editing before I can call it half decent but that’s ok, because I enjoy editing a first draft even more than I enjoy writing it.

Anyone else a pantser who’s tried plotting? Any luck?

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