Angst in my Pants

Are you an outliner or a pantser? If you frequent online writing boards as I do, you have no doubt been assailed by this question lately. Probably several times. It is the flavour of the month in the online world of scribblers. Apparently, you can’t be both and must align with one of these groups or the consequences will be dire. Apparently.

If you are lucky, you don’t know what I’m talking about. You may not even care, but stick around while I make fun of this important subject.

Outliners are writers who plan their writing, usually incorporating written notes, in order to structure and plan their stories. To the pantser, this method is too regimented and boring and outlining stifles creativity.

The pantser freewheels and flies across the page by the seat of his or her pants, never knowing what they are about to write. To the outliner, they are undisciplined rabble and their writing must be a complete mess.

In truth, the outliner is actually a pantser while outlining, and, at the completion of the outline, becomes an outliner. The pantser bypasses the outlining stage and merrily pantses through the manuscript from start to finish.

By now, you must be fascinated by this vitally important writing subject and literally (see what I did there?) dying to find out in which metaphorical camp I pitch my metaphorical tent.

OK, if you must know, I’m a pantsliner. Or a linerpantser. Line of Pants? Pantsouter? I’m looking for a word that says I’m a who-the-hell-cares-how-I-get-to-the-end-of-my-writing writer. You can see the need for a catchy name.

I am a loose outliner in my head. I formulate my stories in there, where there is plenty of room to roam and graze on ideas. I don’t write anything down, though, instead making mind-movies, which I ‘watch’ and rewind and refine until I am ready to start writing. This can take anything from a week to twenty-five years, but by the time I put finger to keyboard, I’m ready to rock and roll.

In my head the movie unwinds and I rewind and fast-forward as required to fiddle and adjust and edit. I have been on the other side of the tracks and produced written outlines in the past, but for some reason I find it much harder to deviate from a written plan. It makes me claustrophobic and my writing stilted.

I sympathise with people who are compelled to be one or the other, rather than being open to the possibility that writers can have individual methods to take them over the line. I have friends who are outliners and others who are pantsers. Some of them are very close to being normal human beings. Well, as close to normal as any writer can be. OK, not that close, really.

But does any reader or writer – at the end of the day, in the fullness of time and at the exhaustion of clichés – when they finish a book, know whether the writer outlined or pantsed? Or care?

I thought not.

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