As an MFA student of creative writing, some of the writers in my workshop classified themselves as pantsers and planners. I had heard the terms before, but I didn’t understand them well. We spent time debating the merits of pantsers who write and figure out what will happen in their stories based on what they discover as they write as opposed to planners who know what is going to happen and must just sit down in their chairs to write the story. I try to be a planner, but I have a deep appreciation for letting go and trying to have stories and characters surprise me. It leads to a lot of revisions and drafts.
When Kelsey Sorum and I were in the middle of writing our book together (The Responsive Writing Teacher should be out in early 2021!), we talked about our different writing processes. Kelsey created the graphic below to represent mine. Betsy has written about the non-recursiveness of the writing process, and I love how Kelsey captured my tendency to come up with ideas from my drafting process. Usually, my planning period is short–I just want to get to drafting. That being said, I then have to spend substantial time revising. Kelsey slowed me down, helping me appreciate the benefits of a well-planned structure on the front-end before jumping into drafting that would require back-end work.
I have emphasized the importance of understanding the writing process with students for a while, but my work with Kelsey inspired me to do more thinking about how I talk to students about their individual writing processes. I wasn’t sure how it would go, but I started with a group of student writers who I’ve met with regularly for several years. These writers are now in middle school and high school, but since we had weekly virtual meetings throughout the summer of 2020, I got to talk to them about their processes. They understood what I was asking, and they valued the conversation. One of them realized that she spends most of her time drafting. Ideas are rarely a problem for her.
In contrast, another student has seemed stuck, but his drawing helped explain what could otherwise look like writer’s block or avoidance. “I need to have a solid idea and plan before I draft, and then I don’t have to spend much time getting my piece done,” he said. “I do like to revise, though.”
When I asked these writers if they thought younger students could understand the concept of individual writing processes, they thought so for sure. In the past, I have taught students about the writing process, pushing them to think about its recursiveness, but usually with each element of the process represented with the same amount of space. I am looking forward to getting to know not only about students as writers, but also how students describe their processes.
Please know that the students whose processes I am sharing are experienced and committed writers. The second writer hasn’t done much writing this summer, but I trust his non-productivity because I have seen so much of his work. I do recognize that offering too much leeway in the way of pantsing versus planning could be problematic for some developing writers who appreciate an excuse for not writing. However, I also think that some great and reflective conversations could happen if students consider both their current writing processes and how to change them in order to become more productive. Additionally, this sort of self-awareness could strengthen writing partnerships, a topic Lanny will take on– look for his next post!