THE PERILOUS PATH FROM PANTSER TO PLOTTER

I was a panster by default. I had three other jobs (lawyer, mediator, and adjunct law professor) when I realized what my real calling was. I was meant to tell stories. Actually, that’s what lawyers do. They tell their clients’ stories persuasively to judges, hoping to distinguish theirs from the masses of others also seeking a dose of daily justice.            I didn’t have time to sit at a desk or anywhere else poised at a laptop or with pen in hand developing an outline for the story floating around my brain cells. Oh, I’d have a notebook handy to capture a line I was sure would be unforgettable or to capture the voices of  my characters but that was about it. Because I was busy writing pleadings and briefs, my creative writing time, which I had relegated to hobby status, was when I was on vacation or  when I could “steal” a chunk of time. (More on this another time, but worth mentioning that the denial one is a writer is a huge impediment to being one.)            I wrote many books as a pantser, many of which sit in  boxes unpublished. I’m not saying they weren’t worthy endeavors but I’ve learned since have two books published that there is a give and take element to writing. As a reader, I receive the gift of the writer. When I write, I share with the reader what I have to offer. I’m not sure if anyone has studied whether pantser or plotters get published more, but my point is there are valid reasons beyond vanity to want to be published.            I enjoy the thrill of being a pantser and not knowing what I will write until my fingertips have danced over a keyboard. It’s like taking a road trip without an itinerary or a map. But we all have heard about road trips gone wrong when dazed and confused travelers stumble into a local convenience store gasping, “Where are the maps.” Or at least turn on the GPS.            Recently I found myself repeatedly lost while trying to write a book different than the ones I have written before. A lifetime insomniac, I had always relied on my middle of the night sleeplessness to brainstorm my story and tire me enough to fall back to sleep. Not this time. I never went back to sleep. The pieces weren’t fitting. My protagonist wasn’t cooperating. She refused to reveal her voice to me through my disorganized and fragmented style. I thought I heard her say one early morning around 4:00 a.m., “When you’re ready for me, I’ll be ready for you.”            Several drafts later, I admitted to my agent I might have to outline. She laughed and reminded me that in one the writing books she has written, she says “even if you are a pantser, there may come a time in your career when you need to think like a plotter, like it or not.” The time had not just come for me; it was long overdue.            I lured myself into the outlining process with fluorescent-colored index cards and post-its. I remembered outlining textbooks methodically in my days at a parochial high school and later in law school. I wondered if those experiences had fed my resistance and were a form of rebellion. Ultimately, I fell into the comfort, routine, and direction outlining was offering me. My protagonist started whispering to me. Themes rose from the mounting pile of index cards. My story unfolded. I knew the beginning,  middle, and end. Even better, I understood why.            Will I always be a plotter now? I doubt it. I love the adventure that comes with being a pantser. I may create my own hybrid, allowing myself the fun of pantsing the beginning of a book when it’s more conceptual than concrete, then permitting the story to have a proper itinerary and map.             Writers: Are you a plotter or a pantser and why?            Reade  “Writing with Quiet Hands: how to shape your writing to resonate with readers,” Paula Munier, Writer’s Digest Books. 

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