Have you heard the big news? No, not the item about a certain billionaire that took a spin around our atmosphere in a dick-shaped rocket ship instead of putting that money towards – oh, you know – literally anything else.
No, the big news is that Shari Lapena is a Pantser! I know, right? It’s so freaking exciting.
Okay, wait – perhaps I need to back up a bit. In writing (specifically fiction) there are two kinds of writers: Plotters and Pantsers. It’s pretty much what it sounds like – Plotters plot. That means they know exactly where they’re going, almost before they’ve even started. They know the backstory of every character. They’ve mapped out what’s going to happen in every chapter. They know every twist and turn before they’ve written the first sentence. It is incredibly methodical and the preferred (vaunted, even!) method.
Pantsers on the other hand do none of that. (Or not much. There are some basics that you’ve got to touch on, no matter what.) Pantsers, instead, rather whimsically, fly by the seat of their pants. What’s going to happen? No one knows – not even the writer! The story takes shape by their hand, as they go. That big plot twist? That secondary storyline? None of it is there, even in the writer’s mind (in some cases). These things, they take their time, revealing themselves when they're ready.
It sounds delightful, but there is quite a bit of judgement within the writing community about the two, with Plotters definitely coming out on top. If you’re a Pantser, you are highly encouraged to get with the program and figure out how to be a Plotter. (The main encouragement being that it is much easier to edit your piece later on, which is surely true. Rewrites can be hell if you’ve accidently created a bunch of plot holes for yourself. There’s a difference between Pantsing and meandering. I’ll write another newsletter when I figure out the difference!)
But, here’s the thing – I am a Pantser and, much like being left-handed, I can’t seem to change. You can shove that silverware in my right hand all you want – as soon as you look away, I’m going back to what feels good to me.
Oh, the shame that comes with being a Pantser! (Much like the odd left-handed bias from back in the day. Is there a connection? I will create a Twitter poll and report back.) You could make it so much better for yourself. Also, why aren’t you working harder? At least that’s how it feels.
So… all of this is a longwinded way to ask you to imagine the thrill I felt when one of my favorite authors revealed that she’s a Pantser! (Not just favorite authors, but favorite mystery writers. To write thrillers and be a Pantser? That is bold. And no – I will not categorize her work as “a guilty pleasure.” It is pleasure pleasure. No need to shame ourselves for what we enjoy, nor minimize someone else’s talent and hard work.)
From Shari’s latest newsletter (Hey, she has one too! I must be onto something.):
[Q: Do you write an outline and know what your ending will be at the start of writing a book? A: Oddly enough, I do not write an outline for my books. I have never been able to do that. What I do is start with an incident or an idea and a couple of key characters and see where it goes from there. I have to make the story up as I go along, so I never know what the ending will be at the beginning of the book, or even when I’m in the middle! I don’t know until almost the very end. That keeps it exciting for me. I simply can’t think out where a book will go without actually writing it.]
To me, reading this is equivalent to winning a million dollars. What did I just buy myself? The freedom to do what I want. This is permission to create the way that comes naturally to me. If it’s working for Ms. Lapena – six novels in and several million copies sold – then it can surely work for me.
What will the next newsletter contain? What’s the ending to my novel I’ve been working on (and off, and on) for the past year? I don’t know! And that’s okay. We’ll discover it together. I can’t wait to hear what my story has to tell me. In the meantime, I’ll sit comfortably in the mystery.
(By the way, I have a pretty avid fantasy about running into Shari on a subway in New York, for some reason. I dream that I’ll board the train and there she’ll be, resplendent in her tortoise shell glasses. I’ll be the only one to recognize her. “Shari Lapena?!” I’ll say. And then we’ll chat about writing as the cars lurch along. Finally, we’ll come to her stop, but we won’t be done talking yet. We’ll emerge from the underground and flow into a coffee shop, conveniently located on the corner. We will sip the best espresso the city has to offer. We will talk about Pantsing, while wearing pants. It will be very meta.)
I hope you've enjoyed your weekly (Costner-free) update! (Don't fear - Kevin will be back.) In the meantime... Like this? Help me out and tell a pal – the more, the merrier! Until next week! Stay safe & well in the meantime. You are worth it! Make plans to come back next week - I love having you here.
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