Sunday, June 20, 2010

Two Types of Writers or Two Types of People?

Almost every day, here's how my work morning begins:
Before I run into the library, I look down to make sure I'm wearing shoes.  I check to make sure I'm wearing socks. I give myself an extra point in my shoes and socks match. If it's seasonally appropriate and I'm wearing sandals, I make sure I'm not wearing socks.
I take a quick look at my shirt to see if it sort of goes with my pants. Then, I feel the lobes of my ears to see if I'm wearing earrings. All the while, I'm wondering if everything that should be in my bag (my laptop, cell phone, etc) is really there.
This tells you three things about me.
1. I have a hard time getting out of the house in the morning
2. I'd be a great candidate for that fashion show "What Not To Wear"
3. I'm not a planner.
Once, when I told a friend about my morning routine, she suggested that I decide what I was wearing the night before. She told me that on Sunday nights, she picks out her clothes for the entire week. 
And there you have the great divide: My friend is a planner. And I am not.
If you're reading this and you're a planner, you're nodding at the good common sense of her plan. If you're like me, you're wondering how this works. After all, what if on Thursday morning, instead of that happy-looking turquoise number you picked out, you feel the need to dress completely in black?
There are planners everywhere. You can spot them instantly. They're the ones with the big orders in the supermarkets,the parents of preschoolers who are sitting at the playground wondering about college, and the friends who pull out their BlackBerries to make arrangements for your next lunch date. 
You can also tell the non planners. We're the ones who see these things..and slowly back away.
Writers are often asked if they're plotters or pantsers (Pantsers refers to those who write "by the seat of their pants".) Personally I prefer the term "meanderer" but either way, you get the idea.  It's not hard to guess which camp I fall into.
Here's my question.  Is your writing process a manifestation of your personality?
If you're a planner in life, then are you a planner in writing? And if you prefer to take things as they come in everyday existence, then is that how you create a novel? Is it possible to be one thing in life and another as a writer? 
...and is there such a thing as middle ground?

ADDITIONAL COMMENT: A friend (who is a planner) read this and said that it was clearly skewed. For the record, I am in awe of people who can plan and wish I could be more like least, some of the time.


Andrea Vlahakis said...

Great post, Nan. I'm definitely a pantster, and it's definitely a manifestation of my personality. But what a fascinating question about morphing from one into the other. I TRY to be more of a planer when I write, but usually fail. I think your term, meanderer, nails it.

nanmarino said...

Just read your blog, Andrea, and it seems like we're grappling with the same things. (Great minds think alike, right?) I'm trying too, but I'm not sure if it's working either

Anonymous said...

I'm totally a planner, and it shows in my writing process. I love my index cards and chapter outlines. However, I will rearrange them and veer off if need be while actually writing. Of course then I will write a brand spanking new outline to match the new course of the story. Did I mention I love crossing things off my To-Do list?

Stephanie J. Blake said...

In writing, I'm a meanderer...I like to revise. If I plan out the novel too much, I'm bored and can't finish it. In life, I'm too organized and very set in my ways.

Very interesting.

Becky Levine said...

Fun post, Nan. I have to admit I'm a planner, but not because it comes natually. Because if I don't plan, I start to feel like the world's edges are fraying and things are going to start collapsing in on me! :) So my blackberry (yes!!) is me, trying to use both hands to push back at the incoming tide.

And, yes, I plot. I'm working on a 1st draft right now & really wishing I was already revising. I'm trying to get better about being loose, because I think it's something the 1st draft needs, but it sure doesn't come easy.

nanmarino said...

Karen, so sometimes the outline comes after writing part? That's interesting. You use it to help you keep focused, right?
Stephanie, It's so cool that you can be extremely organized in life and then meander in your writing. Of course, you totally blew my theory that you are what you are. But that's a good thing.
Becky, I understand the world's-edges-are-fraying feeling. Even though I write without plotting, I'd prefer to be revising too. That's my favorite part.

cleemckenzie said...

I always thought humanity was divided into such smaller categories, but you've really simplified my life, Nan. For that I will always be grateful. I'm a planner, ergo, I must be linked with the non-planners in order to keep things in this world balanced. Of course, there are times (ahem, like when I'm trying to write a book) when planning is a total bust, so I guess I'll have to rely on you for help when A isn't followed by B and my socks don't match. Eeeek!

MaryWitzl said...

I AM the middle ground: I'm both! Sometimes I lie in bed, hatching plots, working out details, going over and over characters and what makes them tick. And sometimes I just jump right in and go for broke.

The advantage to planning ahead is that you can still go meander when you feel like it (which I always do). The great thing about NOT planning is that it's more fun -- but the rewriting tends to take forever. What I cannot do is meander and end up without a dozen subplots that do nothing for the story.

(That 'Don't Wear This!' section in women's magazines was pretty much written with me in mind. We all serve our functions.)

nanmarino said...

Lee, After all these years of sharing our writing, I had no idea you were a planner/plotter.
Mary, Do you take the middle of the road with other parts of your life too?I know all about those "don't wear this" sections. My sense of fashion is so bad that once I was chosen to get a makeover for a magazine.(It was fun, but I wasn't allowed to keep the clothes)

Anonymous said...

I will start with an outline, fast draft for the first draft, then restructure scene order--adding and deleting scenes as needed. Then I write a new outline to match, and go through a second draft. The outline gives me a quick reference tool to the story. All that, to keep me on track and make sure things are making sense.

nanmarino said...

Karen, sounds like you've figured out a great way to combine both plotting and meandering. I've never tried to have an outline to the story after writing it. I might give that a try.

Stephanie J. Blake said...

I might have to try outlining this time around.

nanmarino said...

Steph, I'm trying it now. But I'm not calling it outlining. Something about the word scares me and feels too rigid. So even though the story is not in verse, I'm pretending I'm writing a verse story (those fragmented short sentences are sort of like an outline, right?). And I'm adding in pictures from the internet.
It's a bit odd, but hey, whatever we have to do to move things along, right?

Anonymous said...

I'm a planner and an outliner. I sometimes drive myself crazy getting organized.

I'm passing a blog award to you.

J.A. Palermo said...

I'm both. I have a loose outline for my first draft and get tighter with the second. But I think I'm going to try a tighter plot from the git go with my next book.

nanmarino said...

J.A., I'm starting to understand the value of an outline.
Medeia, Wish I could channel some of your organizational abilities. I have none. You passed on a blog award to me? Cool. On your blog? Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post, Nan! I'm definitely a pantster... err... meanderer in my writing. Outlining is too structured, to blocked in, for me. I need to be able to go with the flow and follow my muse wherever she leads me without worrying about outlines, index cards etc.

In life, I still meander a bit, but it is more structured in that I do plan but am open to hanging a left if I see something interesting to investigate along the way.