I wasn’t born a plotter. I was a pantser through and through. I would sit down in front of a computer screen and vomit out a few chapters, never knowing who I was going to meet or what the plot was or anything. It was great fun, coming up with stuff on the fly, having flashes of inspiration, and basking in the radiance of my own cleverness.
I never finished a book that way.
It wasn’t that I didn’t try. It was just that something would distract me from my work. Something would be shinier than sitting for hours in solitary confinement, staring at a computer screen. I didn’t have the willpower to make myself write.
In 2009, I found myself unemployed during the worst recession we’ve had since 1929. I had a few spare minutes and I didn’t have any money to go out, so I started writing. I wrote two novels during that time. One was based on work I was familiar with from earlier writing, and one was something I started from scratch. The first novel was The Corsican, and I finished it and published it. I rewrote the second book no less than 13 times. I got professional editing for it to try to bail it out. No matter what I tried, I could never give it enough structure to do anything with it.
That was my turning point. Having pre-writing and an idea of where I was going, even as loose as it was, created a book that was a thousand times more coherent than writing by ‘going with the flow.’
I’m still learning my style as a plotter. I’ve done outlining, character studies, and timelines. I haven’t found the ‘perfect’ system for me yet. With each novel I begin, I have another chance to take what worked for me last time, and put it to use.
The easiest way to finish a book, in my opinion, is to know the ending first. Once you know the end, you can engineer the rest of the book back to its beginning. Knowing the ending also helps you determine the pacing, the arc, and the stakes of the protagonist, what he’s going to win (or lose.) I think that any method that gets you to the ending of your writing is the way that you should go. I also think that if you don’t experiment with writing styles, that you rob yourself of a chance to find what works best for you.