Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Diary of a Pantster

I've been thinking a lot lately about my method. For readers out there in blog land who have never thought about it, writers have various methods in which they write.

We have those who outline and plan everything from beginning to end, those who plan the ending first and then plan the book around the perceived outcome, those who have a vague plan and write as they go (by the seat of their pants) and then there are the flat out Pantsters as some are called, those who start with a blank page and have virtually no idea where they are going. These writers truly write by the seat of their pants.

I'm this kind of writer. I read an article once by a very famous novelist of years past. This particular author had very meticulous, detailed outlines for his books. He once said that to write by the seat of one's pants was totally unprofessional. I was quite offended by this comment. And a little shocked. Hey, I don't knock the planners and outliners. Every person's brain works differently. We all approach our craft at a different angle. If it works for you, do it. I've tried to plan. It never works out. I never stick to the outline. I start writing and my characters pretty much just come alive on their own and take over.

And this is really how it seems to a real pantster. It's as if the book writes itself. Once a pantster is in the zone, our fingers are really just mediums for our characters, the ouiga board from which to speak and come alive. Our characters surprise us. Characters we never intended to have a large role become some of the most unforgettable characters ever. The plot may take a nose dive or take a fork in the road that we never saw coming.

It is both exciting and frustrating to be a panster. And frightening. We never know the outcome of our books. Even if we start out with a general idea, the theme of the book will change many times. We discover hidden messages our characters are trying to say. There are many great writers who plan and there are many great writers who write by the seat of his or her pants. I think I would feel more secure if I were a planner, if I had a detailed outline and knew when I would finish each book. My life would be less stressful but I wouldn't give up my panster style for anything now. Why? Because it has never let me down. I listen to my characters. They speak to me and take me to places all on their own. Writing a book is no different from reading. I simply have to keep typing to turn the page and find out what happens.

For those that don't believe in such a thing. True pantsters are real. We do exist. And yes we are always worried that we'll lose it and stare at that blank page and nothing will come forth. But when those days comes, we simply set our hands on the keyboard and listen. No, we're not any more gifted than the writes who outline. For me, I build upon scenes. We do have our own ideas but they are simply more spontaneous and last minute. The ideas literally come to us as we write. Our ideas flow to us as we write dialogue, a new scene, introduce a new character. Our brains just work this way.

Being a panster is like taking a road trip without a map.

Have a beautiful week!


MK Mancos/Kathleen Scott/Kate Davison said...

Love your post!

I'm what I call a plotser. Part plotter, part pantser. When I outline, they are very loose, allowing me wiggle room for inspiration and epiphanies. My pantsing has usually been for shorter works with lower word counts. I don't seem to lose my way as much. For novels, I really need to know where I'm going. Like the roadmap you mentioned - I need to know I'll end up in San Diego and not Tiajuana.


Nichelle Gregory said...

This is a great post! Thanks for writing it, Alisha. I'm a panster and I've often felt there's something a bit shameful about admitting it outloud. I do jot down character traits and details about the setting or world I'm creating with paranormal stories but for the most part, I'm struck with an idea or character and I simply set down and begin writing. It's exciting to see the story begin to take shape as I type. What a joy to meet another panster! :)

Alisha Paige said...

Thanks for commenting, Kate. It is very difficult to be a pantster when writing a longer work. Believe me I know so I respect your method. I would say I have used your method many times before but the better I become at my craft, I've began to trust my Pantster side..very scary!

Nichelle! What a cool name! Wow! I'm so happy to meet another Pantster and I share the shame you have experienced before. Writers that just don't get us often see us as scatterbrained and not serious when in fact we are very passionate about our writing! And you are so right...it is so very exciting to see our stories take shape..almost on their own..this is what we're talking about when we say the story wrote itself, because it really did. I compare it to reading a book. We have to wait and see what happens. Instead of turning the page, we focus and write in the moment. An adrenaline rush for true pantsters like you and I! Thanks for commenting and sorry it took me so long to comment. I've had an insane week. Have a great evening! :)

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