**This post is part of the Writing 101: From Concept to Query (and Beyond!) series. For an overview of planned posts, take a look at the series introduction**
So you want to write a novel.
Congratulations! You're about to embark on a journey that is equal parts exhilaration, frustration, and desperation. Many begin, fewer finish, but I'm here today to provide you with some tools for success. We'll look at some of the methods authors use when drafting, and talk about the one thing every writer who both starts a book and--more importantly--finishes it, learns at some point.
Plotting versus Pantsing
To start with, let's talk plotting versus pantsing.
Plotting is the process of planning out your story structure prior to beginning the drafting process. It can be as elaborate as detailed scene by scene descriptions written out on cue cards that cover an entire wall (making you look, to your unenlightened friends, like a budding serial killer). It can be as simple as a one page outline listing the main points of your plot. Pantsing, conversely, is a term derived from the phrase "flying by the seat of their pants" and is the process of writing without an established story structure. Those who really, truly pants their way through a novel have no idea what the story will hold, instead choosing to watch it unfold like a flower before them.
Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages. Plotting thoroughly can greatly reduce the amount of time you spend in revisions (because, repeat after me, I WILL REVISE MY NOVEL BEFORE SENDING IT INTO THE WORLD). Plotting also provides a useful reference if you can't remember off the top of your head what comes next or where you've been before. Pantsing, on the other hand, allows for more spontaneity. If you decide to change a major plot point partway through drafting, no sweat. You have no established plot to mess up, anyway.
Many writers fall somewhere in between being a dedicated plotter or a die hard pantser. I myself am one of them. My process is generally to sort out the beginning, the end, and a few major plot points in between. I may write them down, or I may not, because they're all subject to change if I feel the story needs to move in a different direction. As I write and figure out where subplots or smaller story arcs will take me, I leave brief notes in my draft highlighting what will happen in the next two or three chapters. As always, those notes are used or ignored as needed. So while my plotting is very rudimentary, fluid, and changes frequently, I'm not a true pantser in that I do go into my first drafts with a rough idea of where I'm headed. True pantsers often write something called a zero draft initially--the draft in which they sort out the shape of the story as they go. From that zero draft, they write a more cohesive first draft.
If you think pantsing is the route for you, go forth and make a gorgeous, creative mess! If, however, you want to try your hand at plotting, whether it be to make a simple outline like I do, or to go really in depth, this post lists some of the most common plotting methods. Give it a read, take a look at different ways writers plot, and try one that seems like a good fit for you.
I will warn you that if this is your first time attempting to draft a novel, it may take awhile to figure out your process. Keep calm, carry on, and try different things to see what works.
Wisdom for the Road
Now that you've learned a bit about pantsing versus plotting and are considering which approach to use while writing your novel, I have a crucial piece of drafting advice to give you. In fact, this is the most vital piece of drafting advice any writer can ever receive.
Your initial draft will suck.
This is just the way of first drafts. No matter how much you plot or pants, they always, ALWAYS, require revision. What you want to walk away from the drafting process with isn't a polished book. You want to walk away with potential. You want to walk away with raw material that you can shape into a beautiful end product through diligent editing. So on days when it's hard, on days when the words won't flow, on days when you're certain that what you're putting down on the page is complete and unadulterated drivel, press on. So what if it is drivel? That's what edits are for. Diamonds don't spring out of the earth flawless and multi-faceted--you have to dig deep to reach them, and once they've been brought to light they need to be cut and polished.
Your book is the same. Dig deep, and don't look for perfection.
At least not to start with.
Next week, we'll talk about cutting and polishing your diamonds in the rough, aka the revision process. As always, if you have any questions or dazzling insights into the literary process, leave them in the comments below!
About the Author
Laura lives on the edge of the woods in western New York, along with her husband, two wild-hearted daughters, a spoiled cat, and an indeterminate number of chickens. Her YA fantasy debut, THE WEIGHT OF WORLDS, is forthcoming from HarperTeen in the fall of 2018.
You can follow Laura on Twitter and add her book on Goodreads.