The plot thickens…but my pants wear thin. From sliding by the seat of them, of course.
My name is Martine, and I am a pantser.
I know I’m not alone, but sometimes it feels like I am. When plotters are having a big convo on Twitter about how they could not possibly write a whole book without planning it out first, I disagree, but I do it silently. Because part of that conversation involves comments on how overconfident or flat-out deranged you’d have to be to write an entire book “by the seat of your pants.” How could you possibly know that it would turn out? Why would you waste all that time writing yourself into corners and then trying to back out of them, tearing your hair out when you realize nothing happens all through your boring, saggy middle? Where would you get the hubris to write thousands upon thousands of words just assuming that your magical brain would make it all work or, if it didn’t work, that you’d most certainly be able to fix it?
These are all valid points, yet I don’t dismiss them because I’m full of myself and my magical abilities. I dismiss them because for me, there isn’t any other way.
For me, almost all the joy of writing a novel lies in the process of discovery, the journey I get to take with my characters, the surprising twists and turns. I know that writers who plot their book first—or at least draw up a rough outline—often deviate from what they thought they would write. I know there are still surprises for them. But there’s no way it feels the same. To me, deviating from an outline is akin to choosing a different path through a forest than what you intended, but you can never get lost because you had the map of these pathways before you went in. The way I do it, I’ve never seen this forest before, and there is no map. There may not even be a path to choose; I just have to pick my way through.
I start with at least one or two characters, sometimes in a particular situation, and I build from there. I don’t write according to a plan because I’m writing to find out what happens next. I write in order to meet the latest character who pops in unexpectedly. I’ll start a scene because an interesting start to a conversation begins to sound in my head, but I have no idea how the conversation will end, the ideas it will explore, until I write it. The writing produces the story for me, not the other way around.
The truth is, I don’t want to know what lies ahead when I’m writing. The thrill of finding out what my story is as I go is worth every wasted moment for me, every dark alley of writing I have to backtrack out of, every scene I end up cutting because in the end, it just doesn’t fit.
There are a lot of things that I believe are not necessarily made better by too much planning–like travel. I’m a big believer in knowing you’ve got a roof over your head for every night away, but if your vacation is so well planned that you never have time to stroll aimlessly through an unknown city, that’s a little something you’ve missed. Many of life’s best and most interesting experiences, like getting married or starting a new career or having a child, are things we simply can’t plan at all. We dive in, take a leap of faith, and figure it out as we go along. For my writing, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Today’s post comes from Martine Fournier Watson in celebration of her debut novel The Dream Peddler, out April 9th, 2019 with Penguin Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House. In the book, the stories of a traveling salesman selling dreams, a woman aggrieved by the disappearance of her son, and the local townspeople weave together for a tale that explores grief and our innermost desires. Learn more about the book. Congratulations, Martine!
About Martine Fournier Watson
Martine Fournier Watson’s short stories have been published in literary magazines such as Beloit Fiction Journal, Roanoke Review, Scrivener Creative Review, and Sixfold. Her debut novel The Dream Peddler publishes with Penguin Books in April 2019. She is represented by Bridget Smith of Dunham Literary. Originally from Montreal, Canada, she now lives in Michigan with her husband and two children.