It wasn’t until I went to a writing conference in New York last summer, that I first heard the term ‘pantsing.’ Thinking it was just another weird Americanism I didn’t pay too much attention to it. Everyone knows that those over the other side of the pond are peculiar, right? I was asked, “are you a pantser?” and, having checked my undergarments, glared and walked away. How rude. We British don’t discuss such things–certainly not with strangers (cue a gasp).
It transpired during the conference, that a ‘pantser’ had nothing to do with underwear and everything to do with flying by the seat of your pants! I held up my hands. I declared myself to be a ‘pantser’ and it felt good to finally come out! I threw scorn on those diligent writers who planned/plotted/sculpted their story before actually writing. To me it was ‘head down, pen poised and go-with-the-flow.’ I didn’t ever know where my story people would lead me or even where they were ultimately trying to end up. No final destination, no route map. I had a seed of an idea taking root in my brain and welcomed the wild undergrowth that sprouted.
Any gardeners out there know that plants are unpredictable. Growth may be sporadic. Sometimes seeds don’t sprout or if they do, they may grow into flowers or plants entirely different to those shown on the seed packet. You have no control. You plant that seed, water it, and hope for the best. This to me is pantsing. Don’t misunderstand … spontaneity is essential in writing but, personally, I found pure pantsing led to writer’s block. I had no clue where my story people should go so, at times, they’d run into a brick wall. I hit that brick wall with them and there we’d all sit for days on end until a new shoot of inspiration sprouted, allowing them to continue on their journey to who-knew-where.
I mulled over this strange concept of ‘planning’ for some months. Could it be that those poor deluded fools who plan actually were onto something good? I stumbled across a thing called ‘Scrivener.’ It looked scary-as-hell. I fled to You Tube and watched some videos on plotting with Scrivener and (cue drum roll) it was a revelation! It–made–sense. I purchased the software and began to break down my new novel, on which I’d been working, into bite sized chunks. I created 3 scenes: a beginning, a middle and an end. I was starting to like this. Further, I broke down each scene into 3 blocks and each block into 3 chapters. I suddenly had 27 pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. To each of the 27 pieces (chapters) I first added a title pertaining to the arc of the story. For example, right at the beginning was the inciting incident, followed by the immediate effect. I added plot twists: one in scene one and the other in scene three. Next I wrote a brief synopsis for each chapter. I sat back and suddenly my story made sense! I could see where my story people were heading and which route would take them there. More importantly to me, I didn’t see 81,000 words waiting to be written (and the pressure that instilled in me), I saw lots of little bite-sized chunks to be written; each was doable. Each was doable because I knew where each chunk needed to lead. It was as though I’d been lost and someone had handed me a Sat-Nav.
‘But where is the creativity and spontaneity?’ you ask. It’s still there (I whisper). I can still pants the short journey from one chapter to the next. I know where my story people are heading but it doesn’t mean I can’t throw a road block or two in their path. In fact I can now throw a whole pile of blocks in their way–whatever my mind thinks up–knowing that they’re still on track to reach their final destination. I really do think it’s the best of both worlds for me and is speeding up the growth of this flower that is my novel.
I should add that no one ‘system’ works for all writers. Plotting AND pantsing works for me. With a skeleton in place, it’s easier to add the flesh. Now I’m waffling when I should be writing …
Happy writing! 🙂