I’m Afraid To Be A Garbage-Writing “Pantser” (NOT Panther)

Dare I say it?  Both kids are asleep….  So, I’m seizing the opportunity to slam a few of my “garbage” words down on this blog.  Yeah.  I said “garbage.”

Bear with me.  I’m acting like a “pantser” today.  For anyone not familiar with the term, a “pant-ser” is someone who writes “by the seat of his or her pants.”  I’m usually NOTHING like this.  I generally plan out every stinking detail before I write anything.  That’s kind of why I started this blog.  I wanted to learn how to “go with the flow” when it comes to writing.  (And other things, but that’s a completely different post.)

So, a few years ago, I sat next to a journalist at a writer’s conference.  I didn’t know that he was a journalist until the end of the conference.  We were making small talk and he asked me what I was working on.  I talked to him about my failed attempts to complete my manuscript.

“What’s the problem?”

“I don’t have the entire story mapped out,” I replied.  I wasn’t a trained writer.  I don’t have an MFA degree.  Someone like George R.R. Martin can afford to be a “pantser.”  (NOT a panther, as this stupid autocorrect function keeps stating.  Although, given his Game of Thrones series, it’s not that far off base.  Warg, anyone?)

Anyway, this is what happens when I “pants.”  Getting back to the conference, my thought process was that J.K. Rowling mapped out her Harry Potter series with a 900-page outline before she even started writing anything.  If SHE had to outline her entire story, then an untrained person like me should do the same thing.  I should at least have a general idea of my entire story before I write it, shouldn’t I?  It would be completely arrogant to think otherwise.

“Why do you have to have everything mapped out?” He asked.

I paused, not wanting to disclose my thoughts on J.K. Rowling.  “Well, I don’t know exactly which direction I want the story to go.  So, I don’t want to write a bunch of stuff that I won’t end up using.”

“Why not?” His eyebrows raised up in surprise.

“Well,” I said slowly.  “That’s a waste of time.”

The journalist just shook his head at me.  His expression wasn’t disgusted or amused.  He looked more like a teacher whose student has definitely taken a very wrong turn.  “Okay, look.  Let me tell you a few things that will help you out.  First of all, there’s no such thing as wasted writing.”

“But,” I started to protest.  I didn’t agree with him, but he held up his hand, so I remained silent.

“One of my teachers once told me that you have to write tens of thousands of bad words before you can get to the good words.  There may even be a saying on it.  So none of your writing is actually wasted,” he emphasized the last word, and looked me straight in the eye.  “It’s helping you get to the good writing.”

“Okay,” I replied uncertainly.  I still wasn’t sure if I agreed with him.

He continued.  “The second thing that you should do is write what you know.”

“Oh, okay.” I nodded.  This was pretty common advice.  It wasn’t the first time I had heard it.  “Like what I’ve experienced?”

“No,” he shook his head at me.  “Well, okay yes.  But that’s not what I’m talking about.  When you don’t know the entire story, write the parts that you do know.”

I must have looked confused, because he elaborated.  “You must have a few scenes that you can see clearly in your story?”  He looked at me.  When I nodded, he continued.  “So write those scenes.  Write the scenes you do know.  And then trust that the rest of the scenes will fall into place.  That’s what I do when I write articles.  I work on the parts I do know and then fill in the gaps.”

It was at that point that the gentleman told me that he was a journalist for the local newspaper.  We parted ways and didn’t exchange information, but I’ll always be grateful for the sage advice that he shared with me.

So, I’ve just written over 700 more “garbage” words.  All in a matter of fifteen minutes.  Every little bit on this blog helps.  Someday, I hope to get to the good stuff.

TO ANY READERS:  What do you think about this journalist’s advice?  Is there such thing as “wasted” writing?  I’m curious to hear your comments.  Thank you for reading!     

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