Part 3: Pantster or Organizer

Next we are going to look into the “writing mindset.” As a writer, you have one of two mindsets. Either you’ll be a person who can simply write and write and write, getting everything down on paper (or computer) that you need to express. Or you’ll be the type of person who needs structure and an outline. Don’t fret, we are going to help both of you.

No doubt you’ve heard of research about the different sides of the brain. Scientists and other experts have shown that the left half and the right half have different functions. Your ability to dream, create, draw pictures, and imagine comes from your brain’s right side, while your ability to analyze, calculate, and think critically comes from the brain’s left side.

Following this model, you would use the right side of your brain to create your ideas, write your rough first draft, and creatively complete all of your content on your computer—and don’t forget to save, save, save your files! On the other hand, you use your left side to organize your writings, correct the spelling, and follow grammar rules.

In the writing world, there are two types of writers—pantsters and organizers. Pantsters are people who can write by the seat of their pants. They can sit down anywhere, anytime, and write. They write whatever comes to mind without worrying about structure, about format, about following “the rules of writing.” These are the creative right-brainers. (Can anyone say, “That’s me!”?) Then there are those who are organizers. They need a system, a format, something to follow so their logical left brain feels safe and at ease. (Who else is saying, “That’s me!”?)

Let’s address the pantsters first. You are to be commended for your creativity. Let those ideas flow onto the page or computer screen, and write your complete manuscript. You’ll know when you’re finished because your creative energy will cease to flow, and you’ll feel you’ve completed the first leg of your mission, your rough draft. You can call it a “sloppy first draft,” writing whatever comes to mind. It’s important that pantsters forget about any voices in their heads that say, “But it has to be right!” and just let the words flow. Later, you can work on perfecting your prose, but not in the creation phase.

Now we’ll address the organizers. For those who need a system and a format to follow, we praise you for being precise, and we offer you a structured system that will give you the confidence to write your rough draft.

There is no better structured system to use than storyboarding. Storyboarding is a magical way to take all of the ideas running around in your head and record them in a logical and structured way. Here’s how it works.

With a stack of 3 x 5 index cards in front of you (or for those who are computer savvy, you can draw 3 x 5 text boxes), take the first one and write down a one-paragraph summary of what your book is about. However, leave one or two blank lines at the bottom. You can do this for a fiction or non-fiction book. Please note: if you cannot write your summary on one card, then your idea is too big for one book. Next, on the blank lines, write a one-sentence summary of your book—yes, that’s correct, a one-sentence summary. Keep in mind there are writing clinics dedicated to teach people who to summarize their book in one sentence—it’s that important.

After writing your paragraph and sentence summary, your next step is to take a series of cards and mark them “Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etc., and write down a potential title for each chapter. You can have five, ten, or one hundred chapters at this point. Next, under each chapter title, use a series of cards to write down your bullet points. We suggest no more than three points per card. These are ideas you feel fit in a particular chapter. Again, use as many cards as you’d like until you have all of your ideas recorded.

Next, go through all of your cards and decide if you really need that chapter and the corresponding points. Are you saying the same thing twice, but using different words or terminology? Does one set of bullet points fit better in a different chapter? As you decide what chapters and points to keep, remember that everything must be aligned with your original summary card. This is your check and balance system.

Your storyboard may take a few hours or a few days to create. But once you are finished, you will have a complete outline of your book.

Your final step is to ask someone you know to go over your storyboard. This person must be willing to offer constructive observations, and may even have an idea or two for you to change or add. As an organizer, you will know when you are finished with your storyboard by the sense of “peace” or fulfillment inside of you.

That’s it! Your storyboard is complete. And you are ready to start writing your rough draft.