Wisdom Wednesday: Pantsing

Why am I back so soon? I’m introducing a new idea, that’s why. As part of my whole “pull yourself together, woman” initiative of 2019, I’ve decided that I need to engage more with my audience. One of the ways I’d like to do that is by posting more regularly on my blog. Sundays and Wednesdays seem reasonable. Sundays are for news, hence the name “Big News Sundays,” and Wednesdays will be “Wisdom Wednesdays.”

Yes, but why?

For one, alliteration is cool. For two, while I don’t pretend to be well-versed in writing, I have been doing it on and off for years in a dabbling capacity. I have, through osmosis (read: YouTube) picked up a thing or two about a thing or two. In addition to widely accepted knowledge, I’ve also got thoughts of my own to contribute. Big thoughts, man. Like, woah.

Moving forward, I’d like to share some of those thoughts, pearls of wisdom, if you will, on Wednesdays.

Starting today.

This week, I’ve been working on a new project. It’s going well, but it’s different from past-projects in two big ways. First, it’s a short story, so I’m not pushing for 70,000 words. Second, I’m not really planning this one out.

If you’re at all familiar with the fiction writing process, you’ll most likely have heard the words “Plotter” and “Pantser.”

Plotter is self-explanatory. This is a writer who plans out their whole story, start to finish. The practice is called “Plotting,” and many writers, including myself, use it extensively to plan the story they’d like to tell. In theory, if you plan out the story ahead of time, you’re saving yourself time. Theoretically, you won’t get writer’s block, because you already know where the story will go. Also, in theory, you will know ahead of time what’s going to work in the story and what isn’t. By asking yourself the hard questions before you sit down to write, you can save yourself a lot of wasted time traveling down the wrong path with your story. It takes a while, depending on how granular you want to get with the story details, but it’s a solid practice. I do believe that it makes a good product.

Pantser is a little more mysterious to the outside world. Contrary to what you might think, it is not, in fact, someone who runs up behind you and pulls your pants down when you’re not paying attention. It’s a term that derives from the phrase “by the seat of your pants.” These are writers who, with little to no preparation, can sit down to write and churn out their stories, seemingly by the seat of their pants. There are many writers who work this way, Stephen King being one of the more famous ones. Those who do write this way do so for any number of reasons. Most commonly, they like the sense of freedom it gives. You’re not penned in (see what I did there?) by an outline. You’re free to discover your characters and the world they inhabit as the story unfolds.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve always looked on pantsers as mystical creatures; magical beings with amazing gifts we mere mortals cannot marshal. I was pondering it the other day and I came to a conclusion. There’s nothing magical about pantsers. It’s just a different skill set.

Much like people who can do complicated mathematical equations in their heads, the pantsers of the world aren’t engaging in sorcery. They’re just not showing their work. They are, in fact, solving the very same problems that plotters spend days, weeks even, agonizing over before ever beginning to write out their stories. They’re just not writing out all the steps they took to get to the answers.

As I’ve been working over the last few days, I’ve found that leaving the story up to chance, letting it go where it will go is liberating. I’m watching it all unfold just like my future readers will be. I’m not getting bored with the story yet, which has been a chronic problem with my longer works. I’m starting to think that maybe, magic can be learned.

If I had any advice for new writers who are struggling with finding their process, it’s this – don’t get stuck believing that you can’t do something. Whatever it is you’re doing, try it from a different angle. If your natural inclination is to plan the heck out of your stories before you write, try setting aside your character worksheets and just going for it. If you normally just shout “LEEEEROOOOYY JENKINS!!!” and just go for it, take a pause and plan your next moves. Either way, you might be pleasantly surprised by the result.