If you’ve been reading my little scribbles for any length of time, you probably already know that I’m a pantser. What you might not realize is that pantsing is my normal state of being in most aspects of life, not just writing.
Now that I think about it, that’s not precisely accurate. Before I start writing a book, I usually have about a thousand words of plot outline and characters and their traits. I add notes to this ‘outline’ as I go, since the plot often changes dramatically and the characters reveal themselves to me over time. The Garia Cycle has almost a million words, and less than half of those are publishable, because the story changed as I went along.
The same thing happens in real life. I start out with a vague plan, then alter as I go. This drives my DH insane, poor man. Especially since I’m used to working on my own, and not needing to communicate changes to anyone else.
If you’ve ever seen me in the kitchen, you’ll know what I’m talking about. My usual method of making any sort of complex food is to look up two or three recipes, vaguely remember the ingredients and method they have in common, and add things as I go. Or substitute ingredients- forex, cilantro tastes funny to me, so I have a few things I add in its place, depending on what I’m cooking.
A few days ago, I made refrigerator pickles, because as I said a couple of weeks ago, my garden has a massive surfeit of cucumbers. True to form, pickle-making consisted of hunting up whatever jars I had handy, chopping up cucumbers, an onion, and a red pepper that I knocked off the plant by accident as I came in from the garden, and cobbling together a brine from whatever spices I had handy. The only proportion I got right was the vinegar-to-salt-to-water ratio, because that’s what makes it safe to eat. Everything else, I pantsed.
And the pickles taste great. Mom would be proud of me- she taught me the basics of preserving food, and her favorite phrase was, “Figure it out.” So I did.
I’m capable of following directions from start to finish. Honest; I really am. But I’ve gotten used to not having directions to follow. A few months ago, I wanted to start a sewing project- a skirt. It didn’t occur to me to buy a proper pattern from one of the companies that make them. No, I bought a book on pattern drafting, learned how to take my own measurements, and made my own pattern. Then I started cutting out the fabric and figuring out how the pieces fit together. I made every mistake in the book, but it came out okay- so far; I haven’t yet attached the hook-and-eye closure, so it’s technically not finished. The inspiration for that project is here.
My tendency to wing it makes me a nightmare to work with. At least my DH probably thinks so. We’ve done a few projects together, where he finds out halfway through the job that I’ve never laid flooring or built raised beds. Usually when we bump up against some difficulty and I can’t immediately pull an answer out of the hat, because I’ve been pretending I know what I’m doing the entire time. By now, he just looks at me bug-eyed, shrugs it off, and goes on with the work.
But it makes perfect sense to me- if I gathered all of my data before starting a project, I’d never start anything. Better to grab some basic data, start the project, and integrate new findings into my work as I go. That probably explains a lot about my writing, and why I’m having trouble finishing any particular series. It’s easy to write oneself into a corner without an outline, and I’m still figuring out how to make my style and my writing work together.
This is not intended as a brag about how I’m oh-so-adaptable. I’m not. Winging it is a coping mechanism I’ve developed over the years, after spending my childhood in a perpetual state of anxiety because I wanted the world to be boring and predictable, and it’s not. I’ve learned to roll with it, in most areas of life. I suspect a lot of people are the same.
Plotter or pantser? Do you take the same approach to writing as you do for other activities? Has your approach changed over time? Do tell!