Skip to main content

Don't pants yourself!

A successful young author once told me, "There are writers who call themselves pantsers. You can tell who they are because they don't have anything finished."


Now before you get your pantses in a bunch, let me just say that I know there are writers who identify as "pantsers" who actually DO finish novels and get them published. But the identification as a "pantser" versus a "plotter" (which sounds unflatteringly like "plodder," doesn't it?) is often a way of evading the real work of crafting, which every novelist ultimately has to do. It's avoiding the hard work by placing the focus on what kind of person you are (which isn't about results), not what kind of art you are producing (which is all about results). The truth is, every novelist is both a pantser and a plotter. The truth is, nobody freewrites a publishable first draft. No seven-part novel series was ever born complete in a single dream which only needs to be copied out, like a divinely inspired manuscript, like the goddess Athena springing fully formed out of Zeus' forehead. The truth is, no novelist is Zeus. Every good novel is inspired by talent, dreams, and bursts of inspiration, but without a serious author sitting down and doing the work of building a story structure, those flights of fancy have nowhere to land and ultimately don't become anything.

Neither talent nor discipline alone are enough to complete a successful novel; you must have both. What you don't need is an MFA--In fact, the people most educated in writing and literature tend to have the biggest egos to overcome and the hardest time actually writing a novel. It's very simple. To build a house, you need scaffolding and a foundation. You need to put certain things in place before you can do other things. You can't start with the roof and work down. A viable living creature can't develop skin first and have the bones added in last. A novel is like any other "work." There are many ways to do it and many ways it can look when it's finished, but there are even more ways that it can't be done. A "writer" with a huge ego will take statements like that last sentence as challenges and spend endless years trying to prove them wrong, without ever forming a positive plan.

In my writing group, The Pigasus Pen, we have no dearth of sparkly ideas or compelling characters. The hard part that we're helping each other sort out right now in all of our manuscripts is the structure. I'm working with a chapter outline and an actual calendar of events I've written to help me keep track of what happens when. One of us has tried various kinds of novel writing software to organize her text. Another has worked on drawing diagrams and maps of the physical spaces in her book. Another is researching plotting exercises.

What we've all come to understand is that "writer's block" is just another word for not being prepared for the next step. If you get stuck on Chapter Three, don't blame it on your lazy muse, your disobedient characters, or any other imaginary friends. (P.S. Those behaviors don't make you sound writerly, they make you sound like the kindergartener who eats paste and sits alone at lunch.)

Quit whining and take a look at the well-crafted blueprint for your story, and you'll never be lost. Even if you get stuck in a sticky scene, you can skip ahead and work on another scene. A burst of inspiration may drive you to change your blueprint, and that is totally fine--as long as you still have one.

That's the key difference between a successful writer and an eternally aspiring one. A work in progress is a work. It takes craft, planning, and hard work to progress. Writers' block, an unresponsive muse, or confused characters are all symptoms of a lack of structure. They are red flags indicating that it is time for you, the author, to get serious and pick up the slack. If you're serious about improving your craft and getting your novel finished, don't limit yourself with silly, romanticized labels about what kind of writer you are. Instead, focus on what kind of creation you intend to produce. Are you more interested in "being" a writer or in actually writing? If you truly love the art of writing, don't pants yourself! Zip up and get your butt in the chair. You will amaze yourself with what you are able to create!

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

A Bad Romance Starring Till Lindemann, Sophia Thomalla, Gavin Rossdale, Simone Thomalla, Sven Martinek, Andy LaPlegua, and Leila Lowfire

To misquote Gaga, "I don't speak German, but I can look at foreign tabloids and guess what's going on if you like."


I guess it would be more professional and ladylike for me to be above this sordid celebrity gossip, but I'm not. I'm so not.


So let's see if I've got this straight. From what I gather...


Metalgod Till Lindemann, 54, and model Sophia Thomalla, 27 (upper left) recently exited a five-year, on-off, opennish relationship, which began when Sophia's actress mother Simone (upper right, in the center) and Simone's then-lover (between her marriages to nubile young athletes) actor Sven Martinek (lower left, in the center), who is famous for his lead role in German TV show Der Clown (lower right) thought it would be cute to set Sophia up with their pal Till. Apparently, the 22-year-old Sophia was not repulsed at her parental figures setting her up with a drinking buddy significantly older than her mom, which absolutely makes sense when the d…

35 Great Things About Turning 35

The prime of life starts at 35! It's the best-kept secret from younger people, but your 35th birthday is a major cause for celebration. For mine, I have made my own listicle of 35 reasons why experts agree that 35 is the best age to be:
You get to say, "I'm 35." The number 35 carries so much more gravitas than 30, but you're only a few years older. At 34, I've started fudging my age--by adding a year. People automatically take me seriously, and if they don't, at least they tell me I look young for my age. (Eye roll, hair toss, "whatever.")  35-year-olds DGAF. Inner chill reaches new heights at 35. Despite its #2 status on this list, it's the #1 response I hear about what's best about hitting 35. My gorgeous friend Nerlie was beautiful and resilient and wise beyond her years in high school, but now, at age 35, she gets to fully enjoy being herself on her own terms. She writes,  "I've survived so much that I don't waste time o…

Still Hot

Still Hot, A List: OctoberMindyTillWonder WomanDem Shoes
1. October As my friend Esperanza says, October is still hot "because of these beautiful global warming days." Sometimes it's too hot for me to bake pies, and that ain't right, but we make do. I know it's weird, but sometimes we must resort to the pumpkin pie ice cream from Quality Dairy.


2. The Mindy Project Speaking of Esperanza, she subscribed to Hulu so we could catch up on The Mindy Project together. There is nothing in the world like this show, which bounces gracefully between potty humor and super soapy dramz. Plus a parade of hot, objectified men. We watched the classic "Diamond Dan" episode twice in a row even though we had both seen it before already. Sometimes that's what you have to do when you have talked and giggled through all the brilliant dialog. We wouldn't want to lose the... thread.

3. Till Lindemann Speaking of hot, objectified men, Till Lindemann's book of photog…