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  • Melissa Westemeier

formerly a "pantser"

If you attended UntitledTown, you probably were privy to a conversation happening on the sidelines--what kind of writer are you? A "pantser" or a planner? New writers in particular are "pantsers"--they write by the seat of their pants. I've generally written that way. I've had a vague idea of the story I want to tell, but I'm foggy on the details. It's a happy surprise when I write because I usually have no idea where things will end up. Sometimes a character takes a strange turn, and I've literally reached the end of two books with no idea how to wrap things up--as some readers have probably suspected. It wasn't until those last pages of Kicks Like a Girl that Gretchen picks one man over the other. That's great, because the reader winds up just as surprised as me most of the time. But it's awful because I have no idea what will happen so making things happen in a book can be dicey.

Conversely, a planner is exactly that. They've got the story arc in mind, writing with an outline or some structure assisting them while they go along. I attended a plotting workshop at UntitledTown 2017 and learned about using bullets to plot a book from Patricia Skalka. No surprise that a mystery writer needs to follow an outline, the logistical issues require good organization.Writing a series also demands some organization because readers expect consistency.

This spring I released my first sequel, On the River (available here! or from me! buy a copy! buy one to give to a friend!) and writing it was a GRIND. I sort of knew the big picture I wanted to paint, but this middle book needed transition plot lines for a lot of characters and had to develop their stories, as well as the story of Bassville. Now I'm working on the last book in that series and early on I made a decision to plan it. What did I have to lose? So I typed up a bulleted list of what various characters WANT, what scenes had to happen, what stories had to evolve and how they had to end. That page-long list is the first thing I see when I open the file to work on this book. It's a great reminder of where I'm headed, a road map of sorts.

Planning this last book has made a huge difference in how I write. I'm much more focused, I'm not spinning my wheels trying to figure out what happens next. I'm more efficient. Every day I gloss over that list and pick up one thread to write through. I haven't written a scene just to chop it out later because it doesn't lead anywhere or contribute to the big story arc. While I don't ever see myself working off of a detailed outline (because hey, I like some surprises and I've even had a couple while writing this last book), there's a lot to be said for having a plan. I don't need to know every little piece of the puzzle, but knowing the grid sure is lovely.

Spill it, reader. Are you a "pantser" or a planner when it comes to working on projects?

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