By the time Sunday rolls around, I’ll have some idea of what I’m going to write about for this blog. I’ve never had a true plan or outline for my posts, but something will happen and I’ll think to myself “there’s a good topic.” Nothing came to me this week. Nada. Zip. Zilch. I went to bed last night worrying about what to write today, and woke up this morning with the same concern. I went to brunch with my sister and told her I was struggling. She tried to help with some ideas (thanks, sis!), but nothing latched on to my imagination.

I came home from brunch, sat down at my laptop and told myself I was just going to have to start typing and hope something happened. In one of those tiny day-to-day miracles that I have a bad habit of overlooking, something did happen – I remembered that I’m a “pantser.” Making it up as I go is exactly what I do.

Early in my meetings with the Toronto Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers group, I learned about the concept of planners vs. pantsers. Planners are those who plan their writing with careful, detailed outlines before they ever start actually writing the story. Pantsers are those who sit down with only a loose idea of what they’re going to write and just figure it out as they go (flying by the seat of their pants, thus the name). Like most dichotomies, I suspect this one is probably false, but it’s a useful place to start when you’re trying to figure out what kind of writing works for you.

These were not concepts I was familiar with previously. All I ever heard in my youth was that writing a novel required an outline. I’ve talked about this before, but many of my early attempts to write my novel involved me trying to write an outline of it, and failing miserably. My failure to be able to put together a coherent outline of my book was, to me, an indication that I would be a failure at writing it. And again, as I’ve mentioned, it was Stephen King’s On Writing that finally taught me it was perfectly fine to throw away the outline and just sit down in front of a blank sheet of paper with a vague idea of a story to tell.

It was my writer’s group that crystalized these into categories for me, and while Mr. King taught me that I wasn’t the only pantser out there, learning how common it is was enormously helpful. There are a lot of writers of both styles in my group, and some who fall between (the internet offered me the name “plantser” for the in-betweens). Beyond learning that I wasn’t alone, it was also helpful to learn that I love the writing that comes from both styles. Stories done in either style can be beautiful, compelling, touching and well-written.

One person in the group described it as simply a difference in where you do most of your work – planners front-load their work, doing it before the writing, while pantsers leave it for the end in the editing process. Neither way is “better” and neither makes your story any more or less legitimate. They’re just different paths to the same place.

If you feel you need a plan, by all means make one. Try outlines, try writing without one, try making a complex board of articles tied together with tacks and red string if you think it would help. Find groups of creative people and learn from them. Just don’t think you have to do it exactly the same way as anyone else. The whole point of creation is that it makes something new and unique. It shouldn’t be surprising that the road to that outcome might also be unique.

If I’m trying to say anything today, I guess it’s that you just have to trust in your creative process. I still get stressed when I don’t have a plan, because of some silly notion planted in my head in childhood. But today I trusted that if I sat down at a keyboard, something coherent would come out of me eventually. And approximately 700 words later, here we are. Maybe not the best thing I’ve ever written, but it’s something. If I’m lucky, maybe it even connected with someone.

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