I hate the "grocery list." I do. I hate it. You want to know why? Fine, I'll tell you why. Because I didn't used to need one, and I hate the fact that I need one now. Seriously, ten years ago, I could walk into the grocery store with no list despite needing 30 different things, and I'd walk out with every single thing on my not-list. I never got home and had to deal with "CRAP! I forgot the <one thing I went to get in the first place>!" These days, if I go to the store needing three things, I might come home with two of them. Yes, I said "might."
It's all very distressing. Mostly, it's distressing for my ego. I've been in list training now for probably five years or so. 'Cause, see, I hate the idea of needing the list, so I try to brush off the need, "No, I don't need no steenking list!" But, yet, coming home with only 2/3 of what you went in to get just doesn't work very well, and it causes repeated trips to the store to get the things I forgot, and I hate that even more. Especially if it's something I need right then, which does happen.
Granted, one of the reasons I forget things is my kids, specifically, my daughter. She likes to go to the store with me, and we never make it even 10' into the store before she's asking for things, and, pretty soon, the flood of items she's inserting into my mental landscape has completely blotted out the actual mental list that was there. Which is why I need a paper list. Besides, she likes the paper list. She gets to hold it, and she likes to go get things while I'm, say, picking through the apples trying to find ones that aren't bruised.
Which brings me to pantsing. We were at the store the other day without a list, my wife, my daughter, and I. Theoretically, since my wife was with me, we should have had a list, especially since she's the one that makes lists in our house and is in charge of my list training. Seriously, she loves lists. But we didn't have a list, and there was a reason for that that I just can't remember right now. See, I should have written it down (except I didn't know I'd want that particular piece of information again). Anyway, we were walking through the store tossing back and forth the things we needed to get and going back and forth in store as we remembered things that we'd already passed and all of that, and it occurred to me how like pantsing it is to go to the store without a list. [For any of you non-writers that may be reading this, "pantsing" is not what you might be thinking and has nothing to do with high school hazing. Pantsing is short for "by the seat of your pants" or, in other words, not having a plan. Writing without a plan (plot), specifically. To look at from an Indiana Jones perspective: "I don't know. I'm making it up as I go."]
Without the list, the following things happen:
1. I spend a lot of time walking back-and-forth through the store trying to get things as I remember them rather than starting at one side of the store and ending at the other. In other words, it takes a lot longer because it wastes a lot of time. [To put this in writing terms, it's like having to do a lot of revising as you go back and put things in that you forgot. Like forgetting to have one character tell some other character some vital piece of information that he wouldn't know otherwise.]
2. I still forget things. This is especially true of items I only need every few weeks. Like laundry detergent. I hate when laundry detergent is one of the things I need on a given trip, because, if that's not written down, I will forget it. That means an immediate trip back to the store or putting off the laundry, and, let me just say, you can only put off doing the laundry so many times. Not having laundry detergent is not an excuse when other people can smell you. [In writing terms, this are major revisions. Having to go back into the draft over and over to fix the holes you left.]
3. I buy things I don't really need to be buying (this is especially problematic when my daughter is with me). If I have a list, I go directly to the things I need, finishing my trip quickly and efficiently. When I don't, I wander through the store and pick up extra things "just in case." "Oooh! Cheese ball! Things I wouldn't see if I wasn't wandering around trying to remember what I was supposed to be getting. [This is like writing things in that don't really serve your story just because you like them. Sometimes, these things can be entertaining side bits (like "Oooh! Cheese ball!"), but, often, these are just things that bloat the story (like those Oreos you know you should have just walked on past and are now sitting in the cupboard causing all sorts of guilt) and would be better left out. Yes, I'm calling your story fat.]
4. I let my daughter talk me into buying things that no one else in the family wants to eat and, really, we don't want her to eat. Like the jar of nutella sitting in the cupboard that no else likes, and we won't let her eat any of it more than once a month or so because it has so much sugar in it (actually, that wasn't a whim purchase, but it serves to illustrate the point, because that stuff is in our cupboard only because of my daughter). [This is like applying every piece of advice you hear to your manuscript, whether it's coming from CPs or agents or whomever. I don't have definitive data for this, but it seems to me that pantsers have a much more difficult time with not responding to every suggestion about their manuscripts that come along. (Plotters tend to be more focused and more easily discard bad advice.)]
I'm sure you've figured out that the list is a metaphor for plotting. Just to be clear.
Having said all of that, I'm not saying that being a pantser is a bad thing. It's just a bad thing for me. If I don't have a plan, if I don't, at least, have notes, I don't remember it. So I make story notes. Right now, I have notes for about half a dozen different stories or books for the future that I add to when I have ideas. It's just... necessary for me. If I'd started all of this before I had kids to distract me, maybe it wouldn't matter, but it does, so I have to plan out what I'm doing just so that I remember what I'm doing.
Which is not to say that I'm extreme or anything. I don't storyboard everything or anything like that. Heck, I don't even make actual outlines (which is ironic, because I was trying to teach my daughter the importance of outlining, recently, because she was working on an essay for school, and she kept mixing up her main points with her evidence). But I do need a list. There are probably a lot of you out there that don't need lists, yet, but there's one thing I can tell you for sure: even if you don't need it, it never hurts to have one. Just in case.