Confessions of a Pantser

Any of my alpha readers will tell you that I’m a terrible pantser. Even if I try to establish a plan before I write, I get a few chapters in and the whole thing gets thrown out of the sodding window. It’s not my fault – honestly! It’s these bossy characters demanding what they want – especially those sneaky side characters who decide they want a main role in a later book. I’ve got so much respect for authors who are able to plot and stick to it.

When I’m writing, the first half of the book always takes me the longest. It’s when you have to make all those little decisions – who are your characters? What drives them? What do they look like? What differentiates their voice from the other characters? What do they want vs what do they need?

 And that’s just the characters. Next you have to consider the plot – what will happen and how will your character arcs fit into and be driven by this? Couple this with everything else you need to come up with, and it makes sense as to why the first few chapters can take the longest.

I can spend weeks slowly working on my manuscript, writing as the mood takes me. At this stage, I average anything from zero to about 4k per week.

However, when I hit the 40k mark, a change happens. It’s at this point that I’ve established my characters and the plot really takes over. From here on out, it’s a race to the finish line. The story takes over my mind to the point of obsession – everything in my life grounds to a halt. My laptop comes to work so I can write on my lunch break. Takeaways replace home cooked meals. Sleep becomes non-existent. The moment my children are in bed, my laptop comes out. I go from writing a few hundred words every few days to averaging about 5k a day.

This isn’t a brag. Yes, it’s great that I can average that figure, but it comes at the expense of my normal life. My OCD likes to shoehorn in with my novels in the latter half of the process – forcing me to keep going until I’ve reached the final words. My brain tells me that, if I slow down, I won’t ever get the creative juices flowing again. That I’ll be a failure if I don’t get it finished.

So, on the one hand, the final half of my first draft comes together at exceptional speed. On the other though, it always needs heavy editing and reshaping.

Once it’s finished, I’m left feeling almost…bereft. This thing that has taken up all of my mental space is suddenly complete. Of course, there’s still bucketfuls of editing that needs to be done, but the bulk of the story has been told.

What I should tell you, (what my writing friends always tell me), is that’s important to take a break once you’ve finished that first draft. Put it in a drawer, walk away from it for a week, and come back and look at it with fresh eyes. Let your mind and creativity have a break to recharge. This is absolutely the healthy advice and will likely leave you with a stronger manuscript as a result.

If though, you have an arsehole brain like mine, and you dive straight into edits or writing your next book, (or I don’t know, maybe writing a blog post)…know you’re not alone and this is a judgement free zone.

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