Wheels on the writing business go round and round

American E.L. Doctorow was spot-on for me when he explained the writing process: “It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
I wouldn’t think, though, all writers would see eye to eye with Edgar Lawrence Doctorow.
Would it surprise you that all writers are on some kind of spectrum?
At one end we have the Pantsers and at the other end are the Plotters. The Pantsers like to make EVERYTHING up as they go along. The Plotters like to plan out their novels to the nth degree.
Luckily, most writers are somewhere between the two extremes — because otherwise how would anything good ever get done?
(Before I go on, I need to dob in my autocorrect. It keeps changing the word Pantser to Panther, which is quite annoying and I’ve had to go back several times already to correct the correction. This never happened back in the day when I used a typewriter. We had sticky keys then, yes, but never recalcitrant keys. Now look what has happened? It was confusing enough I started this writing blog with a motoring tip and as a result will probably have Jeremy Clarkson on my back for treading on his toes AS WELL AS a grammar nazi sniping at me for splitting my infinitives. Now I’m worried the phone will ring at any moment and I’ll have to answer to Sir David Attenborough who’ll be cranky that I’ve strayed into his nature-show territory with the very mention of Panthers.  I do have a cunning plan though. I was just going to go with it. But now I’ve decided to deliberately write Panther and see if it changes it back to Pantser)
Imagine, if you will, the writer is planning a road trip?
“Where are we going, Panther?”
Shrug. “Somewhere, we’ll have to see.”
My dad was like that when I was growing up. He liked taking us for Sunday drives to wherever the forks in the road took him. Sometimes it turned out good, sometimes it was not so good because we didn’t pass an ice-cream shop for hours.
The Plotter, on the other hand, would want to know where all the ice-cream shops were along the route. He or she would want to know much more than the destination, poring for hours and hours over a map or GPS read-out of the route chosen, examining every twist in the road, every landmark and potential wrong turning on the way. It wouldn’t be enough to know where all the bodies were buried, he or she would want to know where all the burial sites were before any characters actually died.
I have to admit, I’m much nearer to the Panthers’ end of the spectrum than the Plotters’. I agree with whoever it was who said: “I just make shit up.”
I do like to know where I’m going, and perhaps where to stop along the way to buy an ice-cream. But study the route? Not me. I think discovery and surprising myself is part of the joy of writing fiction. If the road is already familiar, and if you already know every twist and turn, you’d probably enjoy writing an instruction manual just as much as writing fiction.
I suspect Plotters’ finished books must end up as boring as the way they were written, full of formulas, templates and reminders. Stuff I hate. Really hate.
And they’d have warnings too.
Like: you should always turn your lights on when driving at night.
But also: if you can’t actually find the light switch because you are driving an unfamiliar car, drive really slowly in the dark lest you hit an animal, especially a Panther, which you’ll have to, because it’s already been plotted out, bury in that spot on the side of the road you’ve already determined, before then driving the car over a pre-determined cliff to hide the murder weapon, thus ending the road trip in a neat and tidy kind of way.

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