Finally Finishing: From Pantser to Plotter

In every day life, I am a planner. Meal plans and organized grocery lists are a must for my weekly shopping trip. I have running to do lists on different topics, a budget program, and I think about events months to years in advance. Why then, when it came to my writing, did I ever think that I could just fly by the seat of my pants? This has been my modus operandi in my fiction writing, even though that’s not how I function best in any other form of writing or in my daily life. And it has never worked.

I have continued to try pantsing despite the years of delay and continual failure. Why? I feel like I don’t know how to write a story from start to finish. Once it goes past a certain point (a very early one, I might add) the motivations are vague, the ending is obscure, and the action dissolves into pointless conversations. I want to believe that if I just immerse myself in the story and push through, eventually my wandering will lead me to those answers. They will emerge from the chaos somehow and provide me with enough to work with that I can revise my way to a better story. But lacking conception of character and a basic understanding of my plot sends me sprawling into a hole I can never write my way out of. So the drafts still sit there unfinished.

And when I say “drafts” I mean only two drafts because prior to those I just didn’t try at all for the same reasons. Believing that I didn’t know how to write a story since I lacked character and plot for the images playing out in my head, I never even attempted to get them down. When I finally decided to take the plunge to write, throwing myself in canon ball style and hoping for the best seemed the surest way to get going rather than learning how to properly execute a dive and perform a real stroke. Plotting felt overwhelming with so many holes and empty spaces to cover without an idea of how to do that. I couldn’t see them as exciting possibilities and a chance to develop a new skill.

What changed? After abandoning my first novel attempt somewhere upwards of 70,000 words and proceeding to put 100,000 words to my second attempt (thank you NaNoWriMo for getting me even that far), I found myself still no closer to a complete story than when I begun either manuscript. That’s when I realized word counts really weren’t my issue. I had six figures worth of words but no story. It was time to learn to plot.

Around this time, I saw an indie author I followed on Instagram was utilizing K. M. Weiland’s books to help her write her first novel, one of which was Outlining Your Novel: Mapping Your Way to Success. It was a place to start, so I put in an order. Just the small bits of plotting and character development I have attempted since then have wildly improved even my own interest in my story. In fact, it is starting to feel like an actual story! I don’t think I realized before that it felt like a collection of random events to me too. I need to see the story for myself before I stand a chance of showing it to anyone else.

This definitely puts a giant pause on my goal of finishing my novel this year, what with that baby arrival looming. Without this step, I don’t think I would have made it anyway. And figuring out why I haven’t finished before feels almost as valuable as actually finishing because suddenly there is a path to completion which makes the whole thing seem truly possible for the first time.

I’m not sure what particular plan or combination of plotting techniques will work for me yet; I just know that there will be a plan. Story Genius by Lisa Cron is next on my list to grab. Do you have any suggestions for must-read books on how to plot? Leave me your best plotting tips and tricks below!

2 thoughts on “Finally Finishing: From Pantser to Plotter

  1. You should take a look at a book called “Finish” by Jon Acuff. It’s not specifically about plotting, but more about how to successfully finish your projects in general. It has certainly helped me with my writing!


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