By Laura Renegar
I’ve always been a pantser. When I owed outlines to teachers, I wrote them after my final draft. I usually knew where I was heading before I started, but my imagination would twist and turn and tunnel its own way.
Then something unexpected happened. With my last WIP, the storyline began coming to me with details before I had time to start a first draft, so I grabbed a legal pad and started writing notes as fast as I could. It wasn’t fancy, and it wasn’t formal. I listed chapter numbers and followed them with choppy phrases that spelled out actions or emotions I thought would happen next. It was very cause and effect, like If You Give A Moose A Muffin but with an edgy YA. My kids were in the house at the time, and I laid on a wooden chest between their bedrooms shushing them and continuing the word frenzy until I’d reached the end.
I was thrilled to have it all down but a little worried that knowing what would happen would suck the fun out of writing the novel.
It did the opposite. Knowing the basics was like a springboard for my imagination. Having sneak peeks at my storyline was like watching a movie trailer. It pumped me up to dive deeper into the adventure. I finished the first draft sooner than expected.
Then I dove back into revising my previous YA. There were changes that needed to happen, mostly easy fixes, but also some changes that would cause chain reactions. No biggie, I thought. I’ll just make notes using my chapter summaries. But alas, that novel had no summaries! And that’s the moment I realized I didn’t want to be a pantser anymore. I had morphed into a hybrid, and that was okay.
I don’t need to stuff my plans into an app for writers or a mix of roman numerals and ABCs. It is enough for me to jot down chapter numbers, settings, and actions. It’s a little like the guide that comes inside of a box of chocolates. I don’t need complete sentences, just a little map so when I’m in the mood to dig in, I know which chapter to choose without wasting time. When the ideas avalanche, I can go as far as I please. When I must write and let the characters lead me, I can fill in that part later. But when I finish my first draft, I want to have chapter summaries to help me get through revision.
One of my best revelations about my new process is this: The plans are mine. I can do them however I want, and I can change them whenever I please. There’s freedom in that—in finding something that works for me but not letting it limit my imagination.
In addition to reading and writing, Laura Renegar enjoys playing guitar, fishing, and watching tattoo artists create amazing art. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two daughters, three fish, and funny little chiweegle pup.