Musings of a Half-Pantsed Writer #amwriting

I have come to the conclusion that if there is anything about the writing process, anything at all, that is different between two writers, they will start a war over it. Since there are no two writers who have exactly the same process, that means our profession—er, craft—um, art—whatever the freak you want to call it—(not taking sides here) is at war with itself all the time.

To pants or not to pants?

I just became aware that there is a faction of fiction writers, far more comfortable than I with planning their novels extensively in advance, who think that those of us who are less comfortable with plotting, are snobs. Well, okay, elitists. I—writing urban fantasy mysteries and hard science fiction—am an elitist, because I am reputed to think that I am more literary and creative than they, because I write by the seat of my pants rather than planning my story in advance. I wander all over the page at great and confusing length, exasperating readers, and yet expect critical praise and commercial success for my maunderings.

Wow. I thought it meant that I am easily distracted (true), quickly bored (also true), and unable to organise my way out of a wet paper bag (too damned true).

I am full of envy and admiration for those who can plan a story in advance, in detail, write it quickly, and find an eager readership. But not so a fellow pantser, who in fact does look down on plotters as producing predictable (or even boring) work that nevertheless sells.

Well, yes, that’s kind of the point. Like it or not, humans are wired to respond to stories in a certain way. Write a story that hits those response points, and you stand a chance of getting some sales. There is nothing wrong or bad about that.

Let’s go back to Sturgeon’s Law, here. Theodore Sturgeon, popular science fiction writer of the 1960’s, famously said, “90% of everything is crud.”

90% of all fiction is crud, whether plotted, pantsed, or dictated by divine intervention straight to the writer’s keyboard. Whether mine, yours, or Barack Obama’s. Of the remaining 10%, 9% is merely adequate. Only about 1% has a chance of standing the test of time and being relevant to our great-grandchildren.

If I can write fiction that beguiles a reader’s mind for a few hours, of such quality that he does not regret having paid the price of a latte for it, I’ve passed into the top 10%. Whether it’s too predictable for some or it wanders too much for others, it serves the purpose of fiction. Not crud.

Sure, I’d like to write enough of it, and have enough readers, that the cumulative latte-equivalents mount up to some decent cash. And if I want to do that, I’m going to need a bit a crapload more organisation and plotting.

That’s fine. Right now, my fiction is half-pantsed—neither thoroughly planned nor completely unplanned. But I’m working on it.

The Short Story Rolls Forward! #amwriting

The words are rolling.

I’d forgotten how good it feels to have the words flowing.

Oh, not fast enough to suit me. Never that! but a heck of a lot faster than they have been in the recent past. The short story I’ll be submitting for that anthology (positive! Think positive!) has a title now, “Fire Prevention” (which may change; who knows?) and the beginnings of a discernible structure—faint, but definite.

And I’d like to give some credit to Brandon Sanderson. Not that I’ve had the privilege of meeting the man, nor have I read his “How to Write a Good Book” tome—because he hasn’t written one. No, I’ve been slogging though the videos of his novel writing course at BYU.

Anyone who knows me face-to-face knows how much I loathe trying to learn from videos. It’s worse than having to sit through lectures. No lecture has ever gone fast enough for me, not even at MIT. No more does any video. My attitude is, “Just write it down, dude, and print your #$%^# lecture notes.” But I’ve gotten enough gems from the seven (of twelve) Sanderson lectures I’ve listened to so far that I (almost) don’t mind having to sit still for an hour and (try to) listen. At least I can rewind if (when) my ADHD kicks in. Problem is, it doesn’t go any faster on the second hearing…

But still. The most valuable stuff I’ve gotten from Sanderson’s lectures are a) what are the strong points v. the drawbacks of outlining, b) what are the strong points v. the drawbacks of “discovery writing” (AKA “pantsing”), and c) specific strategies to compensate for discovery writing weaknesses.

In case you hadn’t noticed, I am such a hard-core discovery writer that for formal technical writing I discovery-wrote and created the outline after. It’s part of the ADHD thing, I suspect, and attempts to force outlining upon my workflow have not worked to date. The dead bodies of numerous “How to Outline for Hard-Core Pantser” books litter my e-reader app, and various portions of outline anatomy likewise litter my Scrivener projects. (This is not to put down those outlining book authors. I’m sure it works for them, and seems to work for others.) Really, it doesn’t take much outline at all for my brain to start saying, “Wow, this is boring. I already wrote this story/technical paper/blog article; why do I have to write it again?”

But thanks to Sanderson’s lectures, I’m not saying that about “Fire Prevention.” I highly recommend them.