….of being a successful “Pantser”. I cannot write a novel by the seat of my pants. No matter how hard I try, and believe me I’ve tried for 150 pages now, two re-do’s, and eons of stagnancy, I am not good at pantsing my way through a story.
Urban Dictionary offers a great definition of “pantsing”….
A NaNoWriMo term that means that you ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ when you are writing your novel. You have nothing but the absolute basics planned out for your novel.
This outlook towards writing is often opposed by the ‘planner’, who knows exactly what is going to happen, when it will happen, and where it will happen. There is often enmity between the two types of writers.
The truth is, I am a planner. Always have been. Always will be. This is painfully evident in the lesson plans I write, the calendar I keep, and the strategic location of most ordinary items throughout my household. I like order and I want to know and be able to see where things are. I am a visual organizer. These are all probably very good reasons why I became a librarian (although I would argue I am not as OCD as some librarians).
When I embarked on this journey of writing a book, I started a program called Artist’s Way. It was incredibly helpful, inspirational, and was and still is a huge motivating force to just get my pen moving across the page. A large premise of the book is that art is created by stream of consciousness, or let’s just call it what it is, pantsing. I make a great pantser and even as I am typing this, the words are flowing from brain to fingertip to keyboard. Except when it comes to my book.
The problem is, stream of consciousness is very difficult when plotting a novel, especially a mystery. It takes the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel to peel away the layers at just the right time, taking care not to reveal too much too soon. For the past year or so I have hit road block after road block. I have known how the book would end, but couldn’t figure out how to get there.
This summer I started an online writing class. I figured $100 was a good investment but not so much that if the class was a bust, I would be sore about the lost money. When it came to the session on outlining the novel, I hit the road block again. The instructor, a famous author by the way, explained;
The outline gives you somewhere to go. Writing one helps move the story forward.
A fellow writer and class member, who I personally found annoying and bossy, especially after she critiqued me for telling and not showing, recommended a book on outlining a novel.
At first I wanted to do anything but take her suggestion. I still haven’t told her that not only did I pay attention to her endless stream of commentary on every.single.post in the group even though I wanted to strangle her through my computer screen, but I actually purchased the book she recommended. Then I began to read it.
Now I’ve actually started to do the suggestions in the book. Chapter by chapter.
This weekend, I enlisted the help of the husband to hang the cork board that has sat by the wall for four months now, collecting smidgets of thoughts for my book. The past few days, I have spent time each day creating a visual outline on the board simply using sticky notes, notecards, and gel pens.
Early on in my writing process, I adopted the Scrivener software, and even wrote a very rough outline. The problem is, I can’t see the entire outline and the connections between plot points, inciting events, conflicts, and characters all at once. It is incredibly useful software for writers, but I’m finding the physical cork board allows me to lay everything out at once and play with it. See the connections before they are written in black and white. I like being able to take down a sticky note if I don’t like the scene, or move it to another plot point if it isn’t working where it is.
After having written a 75-page thesis for my Master’s degree and writing an outline and over 200 notecards for the paper, it seems like I should have known better than to go it alone as a pantser. I guess sometimes it takes those roadblocks to stop us in our tracks. If we are stuck long enough, we may just see where we are headed.