Flying by the Seat of My Pants

I am in the middle of writing my third novel, the sequel to THE TRUTH ABOUT ARCHIE AND PYE. OK, let’s be honest, I’m about a third of the way into it, and – after a MASSIVE wobble at the start of this week – I think it’s going pretty well. However – and this may surprise you who aren’t in the habit of writing novels (and maybe some of you who are in the habit of writing novels) – there are still vast swathes of the narrative still to come that I know nothing at all about. Indeed, there are several important things that have already happened that I don’t have an explanation for yet. I have a rough plan for the BIG SPECTACULAR SET PIECE somewhere towards the end, but apart from that, the only way I’m going to find out what happens in the rest of it is by writing it.

This may surprise you. It certainly surprises me.

There are two types of writers in the world: plotters and pantsers (autocorrect turns the latter into panthers, incidentally, which is a LOT sexier). It turns out I am a pantser. I used to think this made me some kind of hopeless amateur, who didn’t know how to do things properly. I used to hate envy those people who used to post pictures of their work-in-progress laid out as complex multi-coloured post-it note mosaics. Every time I saw one, I felt more and more inadequate.

So when I did my CW MA at Bath Spa, I fully expected to be educated as to the PROPER way of plotting, and it was a big surprise when my manuscript tutor, the unbelievably wise Celia Brayfield, gave me permission to plan my novel in whatever way I felt most comfortable with. So pantsing it is.

Apart from the fact that I’m too lazy to plot (which is true), why does pantsing work for me? Here are a few reasons.

  • It suits my style. When I write, things tend to emerge in the weird interface between the brain and the screen. My unconscious is a peculiar place and my writing works best when it’s allowed to draw on that. Particularly when it’s backed into a corner (I’ve written about this before – in particular with reference to the opening sequence of “Back to the Future” and my theory as to the genesis of “The Full Monty” – link down, but maybe I’ll re-host it here some time).
  • It allows for possibilities to emerge from the detail of the writing and not just the overview. Odd things emerge during the writing process – things that it seems right for a character to say, for example – and they can steer the plot in a hitherto unforeseen direction.
  • If I’m not sure where the story’s going, sure as hell my readers won’t, which makes for a more exciting and surprising read.
  • It saves on post-it notes.

But I have to say it’s scary. Particularly if your current deadline is just under three months away. The great thing about deadlines, however, is that they brook no alternative. I’m stuck with whatever I’ve done up to now and I’ve got to make it work. I think it’s going to, though.

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