Being a Pantser

Some people need maps, and some just have a great sense of direction. The writing spectrum contains writers from outliners to pantsers. A pantser is someone who ‘writes by the seat of their pants’. Basically, they write. Period. In contrast, an outliner composes a complete outline of their story from beginning to end prior to writing.
Once I traveled to southern China by train from Hong Kong. When my travel companions and I stepped off the train and exited the station, we all consulted a map to find the route to our hotel. The rest of the group started one way and I went in the opposite direction. After a few feet, they called to me, I told them they were headed in the wrong direction. They marched over to me and pointed at the map to convince me they were correct. They were holding the map up in the orientation specified by the mapmaker. I turned the map upside down, showed them all the major landmarks in front of the station, then pointed to hose landmarks on the now realistically oriented map. They folder up the map and followed me to the hotel. One of them asked when I had been to China before, I told him, this was my first time.
I have an excellent sense of direction. I also notice the details around me as guide posts when I travel.
When I first started writing seriously, I had an idea for a series of books. I took classes and read many craft books on writing. I found the three-act structure and set about to outline my first book. I created character profiles — I knew everything there was to know about each of my characters; favourite foods, best friend, and sworn enemies. The setting was equally catalogued; I took hundreds of photographs, even recordings of background noise. Read every book on the area — studied flora and faun, read newspapers, blogs, travel guides of the town my books would be set in.
It felt like work. Still this was the right way to do it, so I soldiered on.
I set down to write. I crammed the story I envisioned in my mind into the setting I researched, inserted the characters I developed and orchestrated scenes into that three-act structure exactly when each should happen. The setting was a grammar school play painted cardboard backdrop. The characters, shadow puppets. All the work of outlining choked the life — and fun — out of writing the story. I abandoned the that book, and the next two in the series.
Maybe I just wasn’t a good writer. Maybe, I wasn’t a writer at all.
But another idea crept out of my imagination. This time, scenes played out in my mind. I just wrote them down. In whichever order they came. I wrote like a pantser. And the story worked, characters came alive, did things I would never have put into their character profiles and setting became not just a backdrop, but the only place in the universe where this story could take place.
I enjoyed writing. The creativity, the discovery. I felt like I did when I read a good book, excited about what would be on the next page. I was a pantser!! But more importantly, I was a writer. I’ve been pantsing ever since.
I believe that the difference between pantsers and outliners is that for pantsers, their first draft is their outline.

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