Sunday, 27 July 2014

On Planning Or Pantsing; or, You Are What You Love but You Aren't What You Do

I read an interview piece recently where a bunch of Nebula finalists were asked whether they considered themselves planners or pantsers* - and was reminded, not for the first time, of just how goddamn annoying I find the question.
THESE are pants.

Right off the bat, I kind of hate that term, "pantser".  All else aside, here in the UK pants are underwear rather than trousers, so it pretty much makes you sound like some kind of sex molester.  I mean, "What are you doing?", "Oh you know, just sitting around here doing some pantsing" ... that's not a conversation you want to have, not unless you have a profound urge to spend the night in a police cell.

But the other reason is, why should I have to choose?  Why should anyone?  Like so many of the things that society presents to us as as binary choices - left wing or right wing, sporty or smart, chocolate or vanilla - planning and pantsing are not mutually exclusive.  They're not even mutually incompatible.  In my own experience, they can pretty much be done at the same time.

As a writer I'm all for personal choice.  I've written Fantasy, Science Fiction, Horror, Crime and - for want of a better phrase - Literary Fiction, and written them as prose and poetry, comics and film scripts.  I've written tweet-length fiction and novels and everything in between.  I've planned and I've pantsed, and sometimes I've even done those things in public.  And I've usually had sound reasons, but the most personal and for me the most important is, I want to have fun with this stuff.  If writing's a sandpit, I want to play in as much of it as I can while I can.

Not only that but I wholeheartedly believe that experimentation makes you a better writer.  Sure, there's an argument for specialization, and let's face it, many an author has done perfectly well from writing the same book over and over again - and some of them were even really good - but as a rule the way you get better in this industry is surely by stretching yourself rather than by limiting yourself.  It's how you figure out what you can do and what you want to do, the kind of writer you are and the kind of writer you're capable of being.

So maybe you're a hardline planner.  Maybe you just love to pants.  However dodgy one of this things might sound, that's absolutely your right.  And sometimes it's fun to stick labels on yourself; it's a big part of how we human beings conduct our day-to-day existence.  But as a writer all I'm saying is, be wary of letting those labels define what you are or aren't capable of.  Be wary of doing the wrong thing because you've decided it's the thing that you do.  Planning is a tool.  Not planning is a tool.  Every possible approach to what you do is a tool in your toolbox, and it's up to you to decide how you go about using them. 

* For those who don't know, "pantsing" is writing by the seat of your pants - i.e. without a plan.

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