Am I really a Panster?


2016-05-19 11.16.08

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.

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published four books - Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, My Father and Other Liars, Salisbury Square and Buster & Moo. In addition I have published three anthologies of short stories and a memoir of my mother. More will appear soon. I will try and continue to blog regularly at about whatever takes my fancy. I hope it does yours too. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
This entry was posted in humour, miscellany, writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to Am I really a Panster?

  1. willowdot21 says:

    No you are not you are just human!
    I love writing but hate to finish, I have done some full stories here on WP but in verse. I have two children’s books finished but they just sit on my blog, and a grown up story that I have so many ideas but not the time….. I am a starter but not a finisher…there you and Lucy have made me think too! I don’t plot I just write as I go the stories telling me where to go in my head. …. I don’t know about a plotter or a panster I think I am jut pants.! …or maybe a clot!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hmmm…have to think on this one. As much as I’d like to think I plot out my writing, especially on this blog, I am so easily distracted. Other posts, comments, morning news items, family issues that pop up, etc. Some of my favorite writing comes on the fly. I guess….I’m a pantser after all.

    p.s. Love your desk within a desk pic. ☺

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Balls should definitely be kept in pants

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I worked in the construction industry for some years. There, I was introduced to the concept of the as-built drawing. This particular device sat alongside the detailed plans, and reflected the reality, after all the planned and unplanned changes had been made. Hence its name.
    I have been through the NaNoWriMo mill a couple of times, and I think I now know where I sit on the plotter/pantser continuum, although I don’t know what to call myself.
    I suppose, in construction drawing terms, I start with a back-of-the-envelope sketch, which is really a very loose, high-level outline (and a gradually growing list of sketchy character definitions) and refine it as I go along – mostly retrospectively – until I end up with the as-built drawing. Oh yes – and a timeline, so I can make sure events happen in a consistent sequence (particularly important when main characters in two books intersect).
    But what do I know? Nothing has yet left my hard drive, except to end up on my blog.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      I like the analogy; yes I know as builts well – my world was as a property lawyer and the mismatch between the plans in the agreements and the actual on site detail was always immense. It was always painful to try and get them for record purposes, a bit like trying to knuckle down to editing… And one day you need to free all your writing into the wild and let it run free!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Allie P. says:

    This latest foray has made me think I might be more pantser than I give myself credit for being.

    Love the infinite loop of the desk within a desk.


  6. I am pants at all of my writing! With my poems, I sit at my PC for twenty minutes or so and I am done! I do swap things around a bit, but not a lot!
    With the book that I am trying to write, I just wrote everything down as it came to me. All well and good, but it means I have tons of editing to do! 🙂


  7. Ritu says:

    I am most definitely a pantser comes to writing!!! But too anal in other areas of life to be one!!


  8. I think the theory of examining whether or not you actually write something down or not makes you a plotter is worth a punt. Mainly because I have things organised in my head so, why write them down?

    Some things I do. But mostly as I have a visual image in my head, why spend time translating it to paper?

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I have no idea what will pop onto my screen until I manage a couple words and then a few month. An idea blooms and I’m off to the races. In truth, I hardly race, I crawl all the way to the end. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I’m definitely a pantser but could do with being a bit more plotter, such is life! Disorganised to the end….

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I agree with Derrick!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. jan says:

    I’m a pantser when I start out but as I go along I tend to start plotting.


  13. I’m definitely a plotter. If I start anything without having at least a strong outline, I end up procrastinating about what should happen next. That doesn’t mean things don’t change. They do, but the broad structure remains the same. The reality is, we do what works for us.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Ali Isaac says:

    That’s very interesting. I think of myself as a pantser, yet it takes me ages to start a new book or story because I am busy getting to grips with it in my head. Thats not plotting exactly, but it is thinking it through. And then about halfway through I have to draw some flow charts with who is where and what they are about to do/ endure next. With maybe a list of what’s still outstanding. But that’s about it. So maybe I’m a pantser with some plotter tendencies. Maybe I’m really a plotter screaming to get out. Hehe! Much like you.


  15. You and I could be twins when it comes to writing, Geoff. You could very well have been writing about me in this post.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Helen Jones says:

    You still sound like a bit of a Pantser, Geoff 🙂 And your point about not wanting to type out what you already know really hit home – that’s just how I feel! It’s all in my head, and then I just type it, and the characters tell me what I need to do next.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Sacha Black says:

    Liked this post. I’m a natural plotter trapped in a pantser writing body. It’s infuriating!

    Liked by 1 person

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