The other kind of panster
If you read writing blogs or books at all you’ll inevitably come across the terms plotter and panster. You’ll try to identify which one you are when it comes to your writing. Are you a panster, flying by the seat of your pants (see what they did there) and writing your book one day at a time, seeing where the story takes you? Or do you plot out your stories, using an outline or excel or scrivener, creating a map for your story so you know where you’re going from the moment you sit down in front of that blank screen?
I’ve always considered myself a plotter (my plotting style most closely resembles the tentpole moments approach). Late 2015 I realized I’m a panster in one really significant way – when it comes to my writing time.
I, like many people who have jobs, children, and other responsibilities, write when I can. Lunch breaks. In waiting rooms while my kids are at music lessons.The sliver of time between when the kids go to bed and I pass out from exhaustion. In the mornings before kids get up and the work day starts spinning.
My plan since my oldest was born (he’s eight now, for context) has essentially been just write whenever the hell I can. It sounds good in theory. But with kid(s), job(s), and the general realities of life, I found more and more that write when I can meant I was writing less and less.
I’m a planner when it comes to my family and work life. Giant calendars. Family binder. Pocket sized calendar. To-do lists galore. I’ll put time and energy into planning for everyone, it seems. but myself.
I’m trying to change that in 2016.
Instead of viewing planning as a chore, or something that takes away from potential writing time, I’m trying to view it as a radical act of self care, and something that will eventually lead to more writing time.
Women, especially mothers, work ourselves into the ground. We’re societally conditioned to put the needs of others before our own basic needs, let alone our creative desires.
The magnitude of this set in when I recently was reminded of this quote from JK Rowling:
Be ruthless about protecting writing days, i.e., do not cave in to endless requests to have “essential” and “long overdue” meetings on those days. The funny thing is that, although writing has been my actual job for several years now, I still seem to have to fight for time in which to do it. Some people do not seem to grasp that I still have to sit down in peace and write the books, apparently believing that they pop up like mushrooms without my connivance. I must therefore guard the time allotted to writing as a Hungarian Horntail guards its firstborn egg.
She even famously had to check into a hotel room to finish Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
It hit me. If no one will leave JK Rowling alone to write the most magical books of all time, no one gives a shit if I have time and space to write.
So I’m saying goodbye to my panster ways. I have a nifty new planner, and it is for nothing other than charting my time and my writing hours. The way I use it is pretty simple:
- At the beginning of the week I map out my set in stone obligations – the hours I’m in the office, the night I teach, the weekend hours I need to grocery shop, do administrative stuff, and chip away at the never ending tower of laundry. I use a different color for work for work obligations and appointments.
- When I’m done I see the remaining waking hours I can dedicate to writing time.
- I make a weekly writing goal based on the time I see available.
- I fill in my writing time (using a different color, of course).
- I absolutely do NOT put thing in this planner that go on our family calendar. No other people’s dentist appointments and bill due dates.
This works for me a lot better than saying “I’ll write from eight to nine every evening.” Inevitably the kids stay up light, we have an obligation, I collapse into a pile of overworked despair – the usual. But this approach gives me flexibility. It shows me where my time is week to week and has room for the constantly changing schedule that is my life. It makes me center myself, my needs, and my art. Just three weeks in and I see a difference in my writing output. I am no longer flying by the seat of my pants – I’m making my own map and using it to find some time for myself.