Hello! Pete has kindly asked me to Guest Post today, following his excellent writing series on the question of ‘Planner or Pantser?’
Just to introduce myself – I’m Kasia James, author of the recently released character based science fiction novel, ‘The Artemis Effect‘. If any of you out there follow my blog, you’ll know that this beast has taken me about nine years from the initial thoughts on the sofa to getting it on to Amazon for other people to (hopefully) enjoy, so I’d like to chat about the question at hand in light of that drawn out process.
I should say, first of all, that it certainly wasn’t nine continuous years. There were a lot of breaks in there, which is why I’ve titled this post Pantser or Panzer: my progress was slow, but inexorable, rather like a tank.
When I initially set out to write the book, I did brainstorm a whole range of ideas around the premise that the science fiction I’d read up until that point dealt terrifically well with technological concepts, but often quite poorly and shallowly with characters. The general shape of the plot emerged fairly quickly, so in that sense I can say that I’m a Planner. Initially I had scraps of paper everywhere with notes, thoughts and bits of research, but after a while it became too chaotic, and I did condense them all into one notebook, which also now contains the research for one of the other books I’m working on. It’s an interesting hand-made thing, covered in red wallpaper, which I bought in Istanbul. At least it is hard to lose! Planning for my work never seems to transfer from paper to any kind of program though – I find my ideas flow much more freely in scribble than in stark black and white on the screen.
I think the best analogy for the way I write is perhaps to the way I prefer to travel. I’ll book the airfares, and the first night’s accommodation, but after that there is often just a general direction, and I allow myself to discover what is in between those two points. I know that many people (not just writers) like to plan every step of the way, but I can’t deny being a complete Pantser in this regard. I enjoy the unexpected twists and turns, and even overcoming those annoying delays and blockages (at least in retrospect) of both travel and writing.
For example, I certainly didn’t plan out every scene and chapter of ‘The Artemis Effect‘. The story is in three threads – one in America, one in Britain, and the third in Australia, but initially there was a fourth thread (also in Australia), which dropped away after a few chapters. She just didn’t seem to fit, even though she was going to be able to capture some of the phenomenon I wanted to include in the general progress of the book.
During the editing and re-editing process, more Pantser-isms emerged. I completely scrapped the first few chapters (because they were terrible!), and towards the end, did quite a lot of smooshing together episodes, as it was just too choppy with three threads constantly flipping back and forth. I suppose had I planned it from the start, this might not have been necessary, but I plodded on through it, Panzer fashion – determined that I’d get something readable in the end.
The other way progress was tank-like was its incredible slowness at times. As I was trying to work at the same time as writing, bouts at the keyboard were sometimes very spaced out, and so I would spend a long time just re-reading back over the chapters in that thread, to make sure that my head was in the right place for those characters at that moment. I was always quite clear that I was writing primarily for myself, so I felt that it didn’t matter a great deal how long it took me to get there. I’m terribly impressed by Pete’s recent progress in writing over 50,000 words in a month!
When the question of getting the book up on Amazon, the Panzer determination was even more necessary. Having the work proofread and edited (repeat these stages several times), cover art discussed and produced, and then painstakingly formatted is not something to take on lightly if you are keen to do something as professionally as possible.
So, I guess all in all, I’m falling pretty much into the Pantser camp. When I write a long piece, I have a general direction in mind, but I like to enjoy the journey, with all its twists and turns. Thankfully, I did get there in the end!