Monday, June 27, 2016

Pantser? Plotter? Plantser?

Lately I've encountered some terms that I didn't know existed in my writing world: pantser (going by the seat of your pants), plotter (planning ahead) or plantser (a little of both).

Pantser originates with flying an airplane: "the old flying expression of 'flies by the seat of his trousers' means going aloft without instruments, radio or other such luxuries." 

Plotter, of course, originates with plot: "1580s, "to lay plans for" (usually with evil intent); 1590s in the literal sense of "to make a map or diagram." 

Thus I suppose I can choose to fly through my writing or lay plans with evil intent. In crime/mystery writing, I can do both. And I do.

In life, I have been more of a pantser. I didn't really plan anything. I didn't follow rules. Get married, get divorced, get married, get divorced, get married; not planned or plotted. Even my children weren't planned. Flew through a couple of careers, landed in the country of education, where I drifted from grade to grade and role to role. Loved the kids, loved my fellow educators, but never loved the job itself.

The only thing I ever really wanted to do was write.  First I wanted to be a journalist, but I didn't follow through with plans to attend journalism school (listened to my parents instead). Got married the first time and became a bank teller. Then my mother told me I could make up to $100 a week being a teacher, so I flew into that. In those days, teachers' college was free and only one year long. Got divorced for the first time. Quit teaching after three years to travel around the world. Noticed I was pregnant, ditched the travel, and got married instead. Went to university, figuring I'd find my niche. When that didn't work, I went back to teaching. Luckily this profession provided enough pantsing and creativity, especially when surrounded by little people energy, that I stayed. Had another child, got another divorce. Remarried. Stayed that way, finally.

Throughout the flight of life, I submitted short stories and poems to the plethora of Canadian literary magazines that were subsidized and encouraged by government grants at the time. I took tons of creative writing courses and belonged to a critique group that lasted fifteen years. I just never really planned a career, though. I didn't pick a genre. I suppose my work fell under the category of general fiction, or on a really good day, literary fiction. I never sought an agent. I never submitted to a publisher, other than the new-writer friendly mags. Those, however, began to disappear until they are almost non-existent in Canada now. 

When I retired from teaching, I did become a little more of a plotter. I adopted my favourite reading genre - mystery. I began to submit to publishers, with the help of my daughter. Eventually, I discovered Imajin Books, who took a chance on me.

In my writing, however, I remain mostly a pantser, particularly when it comes to my choice of topic or style. I tend to write what I like. I don't include vampires because they sell. I don't follow the genre rules.  Even my "cozy" novellas are not cozy at all. This tendency goes a long way to explaining my lack of financial success.

Right now I'm writing scripts for movies. Even then, my children are doing the plotting and I'm putting air under the wings. 

When I reread this blog, I think, holy crap, do I sound bitter about my life? That would be a very wrong conclusion. No bitterness here. Confusion sometimes about certain choices I've made (regrets, I've had a few, but then again...). Generally, I look at my life as interesting, in the most complimentary way. I've been more than fortunate, especially for an old hippy rule breaker.

Using a cliché is frowned upon, so here is one: I've known great love. For me, that is the most important thing in the world. Great love drives all joys (as the lack of it can drive great sorrow and evil). I continue to love and be loved and for that, I am grateful. I couldn't have plotted a better scenario. 
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