Pantsing Through Life

Sunny FrazierReturning guest blogger Sunny Frazier, whose first novel in the Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries, Fools Rush In, received the Best Novel Award from Public Safety Writers Association, offers some thoughts about the path of a writer.

A question authors often get asked in interviews is: Are you a “pantser” or a “plotter?”

What the interviewer wants to know is if the author thoroughly plots out the storyline before sitting down to write, or does the person just plunk down in a chair in front of the computer and start hitting the keys.

I’m not sure why the question is relevant. I don’t know anyone who goes blindly into writing a book without some idea of what it’s going to be about. True, some books read that way, but still. On the other hand, the idea of detailing every single plot twist and turn, outlining a novel to death seems to suck all spontaneity and creativity from the joy of writing. Much of the fun comes when characters take over and lead a writer down an unexpected road.

The same is true about life.

I was at a junior college, talking to students of a creative writing class. It was a chance for them to have one-on-one time with an acquisitions editor. I love doing this sort of thing, seeing the nervousness give way to excitement, knowing they eagerly claim any pearls of wisdom I happen to drop. One young woman was very professional, very intense. She outlined her entire career plan for me: finish college, intern at a publishing house, write a book, become successful. She could see her destiny and it was one straight path.

Maybe I should have kept my mouth shut. Instead, I gently took her wrist and said, “Listen. Here’s what’s really going to happen. You’re a very pretty young woman. You’re going to wind up getting married and having children. You’ll have a job, but people will tell you to put your dream of writing aside. Don’t listen to them. Whatever else you do, find some way to write. I don’t care if it’s for a local newspaper, church bulletin, or story contests. It doesn’t matter if you get paid or not. Just write. Never give it up and you will achieve your goal.”

Valley FeverSee, she’s a plotter. At that age, when life looks so easy, why not take the straight route to one’s dreams? It’s hard to spot obstacles or potholes, especially wearing rose-colored glasses. Nobody tells you that there are detours ahead. Writing is an art and people will be supportive, financing your dream and encouraging you from the sidelines.

Most writers I know are like me. They came to their career by the seat of their pants. All I knew, from the time I was young, is that I wanted to write. I didn’t know how it would happen or how I would get there, I had no game plan. With no money for college, I joined the Navy. When they made me a dental tech, I volunteered to do travel articles for the base magazine. When I worked for the sheriff’s dept, I wrote cases up for the Narcotics Officer Magazine. I wrote search warrants. I wrote term papers for my narcs. I wrote stories for the in-house magazine. It didn’t matter who I wrote for, whether I got paid or not. I wanted to write and nothing could stop me.

But, oh, what incredible side-trips my journey took me on. If I’d gone to college and taken English or creative writing, could I have written about an attempt on Baby Doc’s life in Haiti first-hand? I was there. The stories of meth dealers and sex dealers—would my mysteries be as interesting without those cases I worked on?

I hope this college student loosens up a little. Careers in medicine or law have to be planned out. But, the best career path for a writer is one with surprises at every turn.