I sat in a chair over at Lucy’s blog – Blondewritemore. She asked if I was a plotter or a pantser – do I plot or fly by the seat of my pants when I’m writing. First time I heard that distinction I did wonder if it meant my work was pants but having grasped the distinction I concluded – rather proudly, if truth be told – that I’m about 70% pantser. I rarely write down a story outline or chapter summary or character description until I reach a point where I have all these balls in the air and I need to get hold of them (maybe that’s what a pantser is – something to hold the balls that I’ve thrown in the air and are in danger of flying everywhere – or have I maybe overshared my metaphor with that image?). It is only then that I might write down what happens next but, really, that’s at the very back of the first draft. I’m a free spirit, people.
But Lucy made me analyse this a bit more (which in and of itself is a bit of a clue to the self delusion I was under) and it occurred to me that I do, in fact, plot. A lot. I’m very organised and like a good list. I plan out trips with a lot of care. I’m naturally a plotter in many ways, so why, in writing, do I see myself as a pantser?
It comes I think from my I hate for natural antipathy to writing. There are reasons:
- I can’t write neatly enough to scribble down the ideas and be able to work out later what I meant;
- I type slowly and get bored with setting out a summary of something I already know;
- anyway as soon as I begin writing in earnest the bloody characters wave from the back of the class, telling me to change what I thought was going to happen because it’s their story and they know best so whatever I have laboriously written gets changed anyway;
- if I try some of the techniques I’ve heard suggested – index cards, postits, mind maps – I get utterly lost or I lose the relevant pieces of paper anyway – PS I went on one of those ‘let’s be better at what we do by bringing in experts from other disciplines who really just piss you off because they don’t know anything about your work and think everything is infinitely applicable across all disciplines’ courses once and was given a mind map to draw. I drew a brain and filled it with a detailed map of my office – I even showed the wardrobe with my colour coordinated shirts and ties in it. And me asleep at my desk. I was told off.
I plot but in my head. For as long as I can I carry the story and characters with me, fighting like puppies in a sack. Perhaps the legal training assists this holding of many strands in my head. Perhaps I’m just a touch lazy.
And, as I reflected, hunting for areas of my life that are totally pantser, I realised I’m not really. Take:
Cooking: I think of myself as a culinary libertine, allowing the ingredients free rein. But in truth I rarely start anything without a recipe having been absorbed. Yes the new lasagne may well contain strawberries and fish-food but those twists are grafted onto a basic idea that I’ve read up at some point previously.
Tubes: I’m not a relaxed traveller and like to arrive for a journey early. But then I’m happy to take my seat anywhere, facing or back to the direction of travel. I’m a pantser, see. Well, no. It was pointed out that, on arrival I will walk down the platform to the point where the carriage I will enter will be nearest whatever exit I need when I alight. I wasn’t really aware of it. I had a great uncle who wrote a book in the 1930s telling you precisely how to do that. But there were far fewer tubes then and I don’t think it made a large print run. So I suppose it is in the genes.
I’m more anal than I thought.