Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

A Note of Explanation…

…for why this is what it is.

I admit it, I am a fan of so-called ‘Seat of the Pants’ writing, or, as it’s frequently-called on Absolute Write: Pantsing. I hate that phrase, not because it isn’t accurate (it is), but because of the way the word looks and sounds. Pantsing. Pantser. It looks ugly in print, it sounds ugly when you say it. It’s ugly. People who don’t write ‘by the seat of their pants’ are called planners, plotters, and outliners. Those all sound much better (though ‘plotter’ has a bit of a menacing tone to it). I much prefer to use a phrase like ‘Discovery Writer’ or ‘Adventure Writer’, though both of those are rather clunky, and ‘Adventure Writer’ is a genre, I suppose, not a method.

Discovery Writing can be a lot of fun. When I sat down to start Parallel Lives ten months ago, I had nothing more than an image in mind of a character. I knew her personality, what she looked like, what she was interested in, what she was all about, but I had no story, no plot, nothing. I had done several weeks’ worth of thinking, several weeks of trying to generate the right situation, the right story, for this character, but I didn’t have a real idea. So, I sat and started to write. I started with the description of the character, a story began to develop, and, in the great tradition of discovery writing, things went in directions I had never imagined. It was great fun.

The thing is, ‘discovery writing’ is great for fiction, especially once you get the ‘front of brain’—where all the visible stuff happens—working with the ‘back of brain’ (I’ll talk about my own vision of front of brain/back of brain another time). It’s not so great when it comes to fact or opinion pieces, however. It’s too easy to write yourself into a corner. And when you’re writing for your own blog, where there’s no editor looking over your shoulder and saying, “What the hell are you going on about?” it’s easy to publish something that maybe should have been reviewed a little bit more, thought about, considered, and, yes, planned a little more.

I didn’t exactly go off half-cocked on Friday in my post about Platform, but I knew, even as I hit the ‘post’ button, that I wasn’t quite done with it, that there might be more that needed to be said. And there is. That became evident when I was commenting on the comments. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to order my thoughts on it enough to get something up today. Maybe Friday, maybe next week, but I will get to it. Some things just take more planning and consideration.

In the meantime, I stumbled across an interesting blog this morning–Shrinking Violet Promotions. I haven’t had time to delve too deeply into their online workshop (which was begun just about a year ago), but I like what I see so far. Take a look, and enjoy. I’ll be back on Friday.

6 Responses

  1. Hmm, maybe Pantsers should be known as Wingers–you know, because they're winging it.

    …No, wait. That sounds too much like Wings, as in Red Wings. Ugh. I've thoroughly disgusted myself now. *Ahem!* Discovery Writers, it is!

    Great post! 🙂

  2. I agree – I loathe the sound of the term "pantser." I typically write in this fashion, though. I'm trying out a more structured approach for my 2nd novel, but I'm finding that it is actually stressing me out. What a headcase I am.

    Thanks for the Shrinking Violets link – seems interesting and very applicable.

  3. Hmm, hadn't even thought of 'winging it'. I like it (and I don't hate the Red Wings; I enjoy and admire the way they play, to be honest with you).

    Jennifer–I'm considering trying to be more structured in whatever my next project is. I think it's good to try different approaches, though it can be hard to break out of old molds and patterns.

  4. I'm a pantsy too, and I also hate that word. I tried outlining my last work though and I have to admit, I'm still getting stuck. Oh well, I guess I'm a believer in writing as you go. Problem is it makes for ton of editing at the end.

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