When a Pantser Plots a Road Trip…

What Happens When  a Pantser Plots a Roadtrip?

I’ll answer that in three-and-a-half words.  It ain’t pretty.

I don’t know if it goes against my very nature, but planning a cross-country road trip with my five kids makes me a tad bit nervous.  And anxious.  And really, really, REALLY scared.  It’s not so much the perpetual questions and the fighting in the backseat because I’m pretty much resigned to that.  It’s the mystery.  I hate taking the mystery out of my trip, which probably makes me a pantser in every aspect of my life.

I went to Ireland with my friend Ellen when we were in our early twenties.  We planned our route carefully.  One week to get from Shannon, Ireland to Dublin.  Then we would catch the ship to England and spend two weeks touring England and Scotland.  We had it all mapped out.  We knew where we would be staying.   We planned on hitting every tourist trap from one coast to the other.

And then we decided to scrap the rest of the trip and we stayed in Ireland for the whole month, not knowing where we would sleep at the end of every night.  She was nervous.  I was beyond-the-moon excited!  The mystery!  The possibilities!  Just winging it!  Ahhhh.  It was heaven for me.  Hell for her.

That trip was one of my favorites.  Once we met a nice woman who gave us directions out of Dublin, and we ended up staying at her house for a couple of days.  She set us up with two cute single locals who took us out on the town.  You just don’t get that with careful planning.  Don’t even get me started on tour packages…

So, during this extremely stressful plotting of my current trip, I’ve come to realize a few things that will also help my writing.  It’s not such a bad thing to have a basic idea of where you’re headed.  It’s not such a bad thing to know where you’ll sleep each night.  It’s the journey along the way that it is the mystery. Who knows when we’ll drive by the biggest ball of twine?  Who knows when we’ll meet a family who will somehow affect our lives along the way?  Or meet somebody who will have a fabulous story to tell?

I’ve decided to let my characters learn a bit from my lesson in planning.  It’s okay to have a destination and stops along the way.  It doesn’t mean that everything is planned.  The substance and personality of the characters is what, to me, means the most.  I just have to plan a bit, and I can plop those characters down into a mess I’ve created or just a beautiful part of our country that he/she has never visited before.  It’s okay to plan a bit.  It is.

If it sounds like I’m still struggling, I am.  But, it’s a struggle that I believe will help me in the long run.  Just like I realize that winging it may very well be in my personality but it doesn’t fit with taking five kids on a road trip without some planning, I’ve learned that writing can be looked at the same way.

This pantser needs to go finish the basic outline of a loosely planned road trip.  I will know where my five children sleep the first few nights.  And I know what day I’ll hit Albuquerque because my Golden Heart finalist friend Tammy is planning to house us for a couple of nights.  Shhhh.  If anyone knows her, pleased don’t tell her that my children are hellions.

And now I leave you with a question.  If you’re a pantser or plotter in your writing life, does that flow into other aspects of your life?  And how do you stop that from happening? Or do you want to?

25 thoughts on “When a Pantser Plots a Road Trip…

  1. I too am a ‘pantser’ as many of you know. I struggle with plotting and all the details. I think I love ‘fast drafts’ because they are geared for the pantser. But I’ve learned in my chaotic life that you can’t plan anything. Once one thing happens to deviate from that ‘perfect’ list, it’s a snowball of events.

    I do envy the people who can follow the perfect list, the perfect plotting schedule. I had a friend who scheduled and planned our tour of Savannah, GA one year with a group of Girl Scouts. She had everything down to a “T” and it was a great trip…because we knew what we were doing every minute of the day and because there were so many of us to have to corral.

    I do believe you lose some of the fun quirkiness of a story and a life/trip if things are too thought out. Some of the most fun things are the issues that suddenly pop up when you least expect them. Other than pre-planning for emergency issues and the bulk of your trip, just enjoy-go with the flow and have a great trip, Kim. Go find those Mystery Spots, the Ball of Twine and stop at some local Diner, Drive-In or Dive and enjoy talking with the locals and seeing what kinds of characters you can work into your next book.


    1. Thanks Loni! And congrats again on the good news about your book being published! That’s so exciting!
      With regards to the perfect list…it’s somebody else’s perfect list. That’s what I don’t like about tour packages. There’s always stuff that I would rather not do and things that I would regret not doing.
      On the other hand, I love when someone plans out a trip, and all I have to do is show up. LOL. My daughter and I went on a trip to Philly not too long ago, and someone planned things down to the last detail. I was like a little duckling just following behind, and I loved every minute of it. So, I guess planning isn’t such a dirty word after all. 🙂

  2. Hugs, Kim, on the road trip! When I was younger, I was a hard-core organizer/plotter, both in life and on the page. Comes with graduate studies in Library and Information Science. 🙂 But after having children, I discovered the joy and wonders that come with wandering off the charted course. My girls taught me that while they need structure, they also need moments of pure spontaneity. ‘Cause that’s where mayhem and often time magic happen. 🙂

    From a writing standpoint, these days I no longer outline but I do know each of my major plot points and turning points. And in between I let my characters discover their own mayhem and magical moments. Can’t wait to see you in Anaheim!

    1. I can’t wait to see you in Anaheim! I’ll definitely need some days away from my kids by that time. 🙂
      That’s exactly the point with kids, isn’t it? Enjoying the moments that come unexpectedly. Learning to bend, learning to enjoy the spontaneous moments that weren’t part of a schedule.
      The other day my husband and I decided it was the perfect day to go blueberry picking–before the heat set in for the rest of the week. We woke up the kids, and we were on the road in less than a half an hour. And they were so excited because it wasn’t planned. Those blueberries tasted so good because they were filled with excitement and spontaneity. LOL.
      Thanks for stopping by, Shelley! Are you signing WELCOME, CALLER, THIS IS CHLOE at the literacy signing? I can’t wait!!!

  3. Diana,
    Quick question…do you look back at those trips as fun or sheer hell? Do you recall fighting with the brother as just something that happened or as hell on wheels?
    Regarding the RV…I want to save that for when a group of us have more time to spend on the road together. This is just a trip to California. We’ll have two weeks there visiting my husband’s family, and then my husband will do the drive back with us. Plus, we always have the problem of being stuck for transportation once we arrive at our destination.
    And, to be perfectly honest, the thought of driving an RV scares the bejesus out of me. I can barely parallel park with my minivan. How in the heck would I park that thing on a narrow cobblestone road while we head out on the Mississippi River? 🙂 I can’t imagine having to find the place that towed our RV away…LOL.
    I’m glad to hear somebody else abhors those group tours. I feel so panicky and stuck. I just want to flap my wings and fly away to something better. Or the very idea that there COULD be something better. 🙂
    And I think I’ll buy one of those roof cargo things. Two kids at a time on the roof should make for a better trip inside the van. LOL.

  4. Hellions for children, you say? Fine, I’m getting those chains for the basement installed this week!

    I’m a pantser too. But I think that may be because in my work life, I’m a nut about schedules and production. Everything’s planned to the moment. I don’t get a safe salary, I eat what I kill, no messing around. But writing is my escape, so it’d be nowhere near as fun to have my fantasies all planned out. I do admire those who plot, and I have to admit, over the years I’ve learned to plot the turning points and ending before I begin, but that’s as far as I care to ever go with that.

    And don’t worry Kim, you’re pantser rep is still intact with this trip. You’re just plotting the major turning points. Who knows what’ll happen in between?
    I told Kim she’s brave to take me up on my offer to keep her and her “children who are well behaved in front of strangers” sight unseen. (And yes, that’s what she told me. And it’s what I told the slightly pale hubs when I broke the news of our houseguests next month) Sure Kim and I know each other from RWA conferences and email, but she doesn’t know what awaits her at my home….

    Ah, and the plot thickens….. ;0)

    1. Chains, you say? You think that will scare me away? I welcome those chains! I’ll pay half the cost of installation. LOL.
      I’m glad to hear that you’re a pantser as well, Tammy. I knew there was a reason we clicked so well. 😉
      I think my pantser rep is still very intact considering I can’t make a decision. I can’t commit to hotels. They’re scary. So, each day I get closer and closer to missing those two-week ahead deals. I change my mind every single day. It’s been hell, I tell you! Hell!
      This pantser needs someone to just tell her where to stay along the way. Preferably hotels without bed bugs. Is that too much to ask?

      1. Don’t you bring any nasty bedbugs here…or else! But how do you feel about scorpions and centipedes? Bunnies and roadrunners will be a for sure, snakes perhaps. Still excited about your visit? Hehehehe

  5. I am still boggling over the notion of five children on a road trip, plotted or pantsed. You are a brave, brave woman.

    We took a road trip when I was little that was very, very pantsed — no idea where we’d stay, a vague idea of where we were going. It started off with my mom losing her purse at our first restaurant stop, and only went downhill from there. At one point, I begged them to stop at a hotel with a pool, just once, and they did. I was thrilled, until we discovered that the pool was closed for repair.
    Now that I think about it, I understand why I’m a plotter…

    In fact, I do outline my stories — I know the character arcs, their GMCs, their turning points. But how I get them from scene to scene comes as I write, which allows me to keep some adventure and discovery in the process.

    Good luck on that road trip, my friend. I will be thinking of you.

    1. Erica,
      I don’t look at myself as brave at all. Merely optimistic with nothing to back it up. I have this wonderful IDEA about how memorable and wonderful it will be when my kids look back on the experience. I’m living in a delusional dream, really.
      Maybe the reason you are a plotter is because of that road trip. LOL. Everything happens for a reason!
      I envy you the knowledge of your characters and their actions. Sometimes mine do things, and I’m like, “What the hell did you do that for!?! Now it’s going to take me a long time to get you out of this mess!”
      This is why I should probably plot more. Starting from DC to Knoxville, then Memphis, then Oklahoma City and Albuquerque and Irvine, California…. I’m going to try it in real life and see where that takes me. Wonder how many kids will be joining me on the drive back? Wonder how many I’ll leave at rest stops and have to decide whether it’s worth it to backtrack and pick them up. LOL.

  6. I can not comment on taking a road trip with 5 kids because that truly scares the bejesus out of me!

    I am a plotter in EVERY aspect of my life EXCEPT writing! Weird right? Or maybe that’s why I’m not published yet. Hmmmm, now I’m thinking. Dammit! *Bangs head on desk!*

    1. Kerri,
      It obviously scares the bejesus out of me as well. That’s why I’ve been waking up in a cold sweat for weeks. 🙂
      I would think that a girl who loves lists like you do would be a plotter. That is so weird. But maybe we just need to create a different term for what we’d like to be. Maybe organized pantsers? Or freedom plotters? Something cool like that. We’ll start a trend in writing.

      1. I really like Freedom Plotters – that makes it sound like we’re bad-asses, which we are!

        1. I hereby name us Freedom Plotters.
          Now we just have to figure out how to do the plotting. We have the freedom thing down. I like to think of myself as a free bird…just winging it. This will be hard. But we can do it! We can! Because we’re Freedom Plotters, and Freedom Plotters don’t give up! 🙂

          1. Or… we can forget the writing and plotting. Instead let’s make t-shirts with glitter!

  7. I’m a reformed pantser. After meandering around book 1 for years, I mapped at book 2 and finished the first draft in record time. Okay, okay, it wasn’t a tough record to break. Anyway. I didn’t let the outline deter me from letting the characters tell the story. Once or twice I amended the outline. And it worked. Maybe we need a new word that combines pantser and plotter. Plantser? I like Freedom Plotters, too.

    And I did the (borrowed from a friend) RV thing moving from MD to TX. Ugh. Did NOT like it.

    1. I think as long as a system works, that’s all that matters. Obviously my system could use some tweaking. If you can map out your books like that, AWESOME! I once planned a story out only to switch the hero four chapters in. That was awkward. I obviously had to rewrite it. LOL. But, oh, how I love my new hero. He’s so much better than the other.
      Sorry to hear that about the RV experience. My van experience is going to be unbelievably wonderful and even peaceful. I just know it. That’s called power of positive thinking. 🙂
      Thanks for stopping by, Willa!

  8. Great blog Kim and good insight into the mysteries those famous words “To Plan or Not To Plan, That is the Question.” My hubby and I are direct opposites when it comes to planning. He’s a P (Myers Briggs) and I’m a J. I have access to all of my creativity when I know where I’m going. He says his creativity is stifled by too much planning. It’s true, opposites do attract.

    I’ve been thinking about this issue myself and wondering if I need to inject a little pansting in my plotting. Like maybe I should have plot touch points, milestones in the story set like singular jewels on a simple gold chain, instead of the exact scene by scene timeline I create. In my “touch point” approach, I’ll panst from jewel to jewel. I’m going to try that. It’s scary because the last time I pansted, I ended up with 600 pages and I wasn’t even half-way through the story. And talk about overwriting! Aiiieee!

    Have a wonderful trip with your children. I hear they’re angels!

  9. Shellie,
    Thanks so much for stopping by! I like the idea of introducing a bit of pantsing into your plotting. Almost like dot to dots. You have a destination, but in the end you can connect them however you want. With whatever colors…
    The good thing about overwriting is that you can always tighten things up and delete scenes. Of course that’s sometimes like amputating a limb. For me anyway.
    Good luck on this new approach. While you’ll be putting some pantsing into your plotting, I’ll try to put some plotting in my pantsing. 🙂 Sort of like peanut butter cups, eh?

  10. Kim, I deeply admire your courage in taking five kids on a cross-country road trip. You are made of pretty strong stuff, lady. But then, we all knew that ; )

    And interesting, this idea of pantsing as it equates to travelling. I’m okay with pantsing in my writing; as long as I know where I’m starting and where I’m ending, I’m off and running. But leave home without knowing where I’m going to lay may head at night, aw hell no. That’s something the hubby is dying to do – just pack the car and take off. The idea *terrifies* me. Happy to fly blind on the page, though!

    1. Jen,
      How fun! This is what I mainly wanted to know. If writers who plot are organized and systematic and have to have everything a certain way outside of their writing life. You know…Type A Freaks. LOL. 🙂
      I’m a bit envious. Really. I wish I had a smidgeon of that. I can’t seem to plan anything out when there are too many choices. Parties? I can do those. But planning a road trip when there are a thousand hotels in one city? What if I don’t choose the right one? One museum over another? Could be life altering.
      I think I might have the same problem with my writing. So many choices. So many different paths to take. And that’s why I love it. I don’t know until my characters do. Sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised. Other times I’m just plain annoyed. 🙂
      Thanks for visiting! Go, fly blind across that page…

  11. Hi, Kim!

    When traveling, I like to have a mix of fluid and fixed plans. It takes so darn long to get anywhere, so I want to make the most of my time overseas. As for writing, I’m a reformed pantser, but that’s not to say I’m a total plotter. To give myself some direction, I sketch out the storyline before I write. But I try to stay open to the different forks in the road that my characters want to explore. That said, sometimes those characters need to be reined in ’cause they don’t always know what’s good for ’em!

    Can’t wait to see you!

    1. Vanessa,
      Kerri and I have come up with a new term for those who are/were pantsers but now plot a bit. Either Organized Pantsers or Freedom Plotters. I think we’re leaning towards Freedom Plotters because it sounds kinda kiss-ass.
      I love that you think of yourself as a reformed pantser. I think some of my planning before writing happened during NaNo since I had to write so quickly. If left to their own devices, those pesky characters wouldn’t allow me to tell their story in less than a month. LOL. I know what you mean about reining them in. So, thanks for the intro to NaNo! I still wear my keychain, and I think of you every single day because of that. Not that I wouldn’t anyway. 🙂
      Can’t wait to see you in Anaheim! Why, why, WHY do you have to live in Australia? Why?!
      If this road trip works out with the five kids, next year we’re heading to the Outback. Get ready, Vanessa! 🙂

  12. Hi Kim, love your post and yep, you hit the nail on the head when you said writing without any plan can equate to going on a roadtrip with five kids and no plan! I like this formula for writing with a loose plan. Sounds good. As you know I’ve just finished a cross country road trip on my own except for instead of five kids, I only had my one. We had an absolute blast. Some of the places we stopped at were planned, usually family’s houses, but the rest were just spur of the moment decisions as we pulled into the towns. So it was a good mix of adventure and safe planning. I think you’ll do fine and have a great time!

    1. Woops, Kim, this is me, Carlene, didn’t realize I was signed in as my mom, Claudia, who says hello!

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