The Writing Process — Pantsing, Planning, or Percolating?

I just read Grant Faulkner’s blog on being a “pantser, planner, or percolator” over at the Office of Light and Letters (that’s the NaNoWriMo folks, for those that don’t know. And if you don’t know what NaNoWriMo is… that’s what Google is for). I love the way he explains what a “percolator” is, in contrast to a “pantser” — someone who writes by the seat of their pants, making things up as they go, or a planner– someone who has an outline, character sketches, the works, before they commit to a single word. A percolator, according to Faulkner, is someone who allows the ideas to develop inside their head, bit by bit, but doesn’t make any definite plans.

What I am, I still don’t know.

I started out, as most children do, I think, as a pantser, riding the the wave of imagination wherever it would take it with reckless abandon…and over and over getting stranded on the beach. Later, as a teen and then a young adult, I tried to take a “professional” tact to writing. I read all the blogs and discussion boards, and free books (cheapskate, remember?)  I could find about how real writers went about writing and I decided that the proper way to go about doing things was to plan things out meticulously before I got started.

I produced many half-outlines and numerous snatches and fragments, but never a whole outline, much less  a whole book.

Then, in college, I decided to try this “NaNoWriMo” thing I’d heard about over the the years (Again, if you don’t know, look it up). As I read up on it, it seemed like the whole point was to just quit worrying about quality and pitch yourself headfirst into a novel. So I did. It helped that I decided to do it, on a whim, the first day of November, so I had no time to plan if I wanted to. My novel was awful, crazy, wildly inconsistent in tone, occasionally incoherent, and tons of fun to write. However, I knew that next year I wanted to do things differently and actually produce something I might want to read ever again.

So I planned. I planned for a good three months, not allowing myself to write a single word, because that would invalidate the whole idea as my NaNo novel. I produced a detailed outline, character sketches with pictures, research on the setting, everything I thought I would never do. And the thing is, it worked pretty well. Sure, I got off the outline sometimes, and sure the characters turned out a little different from their sketches, but it felt like a real story, one that could be edited and polished into maybemaybemaybe publishable someday. It’s really a pity that I stopped writing it shortly after I hit the 50,000 word mark, leaving it roughly half-finished. I still often think about going back and finishing it, but my current projects protest too much.

My experience with that novel, Lady of Fortune,  led me to believe that I was really a planner after all. Except, I could never recapture what I’d done with LOF. Maybe I was too impatient, not letting ideas brew. Maybe my ideas weren’t good enough in the first place. But practically every time, all my excitement over the story would drain away as soon as I started outlining and the actual writing would almost never happen.

With Gift of the River, my current project, I am trying to walk a fine balance. I did a lot of “percolating”– thinking, dreaming, dwelling on this story before anything was committed to paper, some planning–a loose outline, a few character sketches, a lot of research–and then a lot of pantsing–I wrote a big bulk of the story last July during Camp NaNoWriMo. The story’s still unfinished and what I have is far from perfect, but it’s the work that’s gone the best since the month I spent on LOF.

Am I a planner? A pantser? A percolator?

I’ll be whatever I have to be to get my stories written. If only I could figure out just what that is.


~ by Morgan Star on October 9, 2012.

2 Responses to “The Writing Process — Pantsing, Planning, or Percolating?”

  1. Don’t you love it when we discover things, not only about our novels as we work on them, but about ourselves as writers?? The life of a writer is an adventurous one. 🙂

  2. I’m looking forward to this year, too. Still not sure what the story is going to be, though. Shades of Panster going on here. Oh, and thanks for reading my blog … 🙂

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