If you’re a writer, you’ll immediately recognize the term, ‘pantser’, as in ‘by the seat of your pants’. Translation, pantser is someone who writes without an outline, without plotting, and without a clue. Smart writers are plotters – self-explanatory.
Guess that means I’m not very smart.
Oh – I have lots of files for the book I’m writing, ponderous files, enough to open my own library if ever I should print them, along with innumerable internet shortcut links that takes a minute to scroll the entire alphabetic register.
It’s that irking process of plotting chapters that eludes me.
Trust me, I’ve tried to plot. I have this lovely file folder with handwritten chapter notes, arrows drawn to connect to other pages, some of them with little post-it leafs for redirection, different color ink pens – you get the picture. Even downloaded one of those cheat-sheets to help organize the chaos of my story-writing brain.
So – how’s that going DT?
Have you ever tried to organize a card-carrying ADD writer? Oh yeah, I’m one those “squirrel” folks who is easily distracted by the slightest interruption. Hell, I can’t even fart and not get distracted. The sign on my office door is “Man Cave – Enter at Your Own Risk”. That’s because it’s in the basement, with no windows, just me and the radon.
We have a real nice office on the first floor, with windows on two sides, and views of the garden and bird feeders. I let my wife have it. The last thing I need is to settle into a hypnotic stare at house wrens warbling for a mate. I can ponder a barren tree in winter for no reason at all. Why? Because it’s there. Not an issue in the basement office, only so much reflection one can do with grade school green walls (I didn’t choose the color).
And music? Forget it. Writers love to share what music feeds the muse when writing. Stephen King claimed in his early years, the muse operated best to ear-blistering rock tunes. I was never one of those kids who did homework with an album playing and the TV on. Who can concentrate with all that racket?
Don’t even get me started on the internet, and that infernal necessity for all budding authors, Social Media.
I learned over the years to take notes, lots of notes. It’s therapy to stay focused on the task at hand, keep from straying. I should be a natural plotter and planner, right? The problem is, I often forget I wrote them. Many of my author friends advocate programs like Scrivener. I actually tried it, and found myself spending more time managing the program than actually writing.
Ever see the movie “A Beautiful Mind”, and the scene where concerned friends stumbled upon a place wallpapered with Dr. John Nash’s schizophrenic notes? I don’t claim to have a beautiful mind, I’m more of a curious Bill Nye trapped in the mind of the Mad Hatter, but my desk looks a lot like that setting.
From the Movie: “A Beautiful Mind”
For me, I have it all in my the head, and what a meandering gauntlet that realm is. I always know how a story will start, and how it will end. Tying the two together is where the real work is. Think of it like planting a tree many miles away, then planning the shortest distance between two points to get home. Should be simple. Yeah, right. For those familiar with the Sunday comic strip, “Family Circus“, think of my journey like Billy, sent out to get another log for the fire, and return a good hour later. It’s like taking a trip to visit relatives in Charlotte, via Canada.
Write a synopsis first, experts say. Been there, done that. I’ve spent hours, even days, crafting the perfect synopsis for a story line. For ease of reference, let’s say the synopsis is to create a bird. By the time I finish – behold – I have a monkey.
When I begin a new scene, I read aloud the previous chapters to get in the groove, jot-down a few notes, then start ‘dem engines. Four to six hours later, I’ve got a mishmash of narrative, dialogue, and action that bears no resemblance to the original idea.
How did the train end up at a different station? I fall deep into a scene. I embody the character, or protag. I am the dialogue. You talkin’ to me? I move through a scene one way, maybe say “Nah”, then do a heel-spin a different way. I experiment, sift through what fits best, and call it a day. Next morning, I re-read the new material, and either modify it, or toss it completely. I swear, some days, I read the result of a prior session, and wonder if I’d forgotten to take my meds before I wrote it.
Believe me when I say that I will write 10K words, and trash seven. It’s not very productive. My process is like rinsing chia seeds in a colander, and losing half the seeds.
I’m surprised I haven’t received an email from my extremely patient agent, that begins with “Hello – are you still alive?” She’s offered kind words in the past, like “It’s important you stick with your writing process“, but even the proverbial Job had his limits. I fear if I call her, I’ll get the vintage AT&T voice still used by networks today, “The number you have reached, is no longer in service.”
What’s a hard core pantser to do?
First, don’t listen to me. I’m a creative car wreck that defies the hydraulic jaws-of-life intended to save me. In the categories below, I lurk between Pantser and Total Weirdo.
I’ve no choice but to embrace the mess that is me, and keep on slogging. That’s really the point, isn’t it? Keep writing, and try my best to “plan” as much as my synaptic spaghetti grid of a brain will allow.
It’s not like I can’t reach the goal line. I’ve finished several books. Believe it or not, I actually finished one in less than six months once (boy, did that one suck). I write every day. I treat it like a job. Good thing I don’t get job reviews.
As for my current project, I can see the end in sight.
I will get to Charlotte. Might go by way of Norway, but I’ll get there.
PS: Dear Victoria. I’m on my way. Leave the light on.