And the Mouse (um, Panster) stands alone.

I know that’s not how it goes, but hopefully you’ll understand in a minute.

I recently had an interesting conversation with a fellow member of my writers group when he asked me whether I wrote an outline for the story he’s critiquing. I told him I didn’t, and he said he could tell because of an issue he noted. Funny thing is I’ve also noticed the same issue in his outline-driven-writing, so it seems his reasoning is flawed, but I digress. He added that he used to write without an outline, but changed his ways after taking a creative class. To add to this, the other member present shared she always uses outlines too.

Suddenly, I felt like a little mouse. Although, I too had taken a creative class many years ago, it seems my brain has its own agenda when it comes to writing stories.

How can a group full of plotters understand or even grasp this phenomenon that I’m just taking dictation when scenes fly through my mind, unless I can’t get back to a story right away and I don’t want to forget? So, I stay quiet and keep writing.

Isn’t that harder to go back and fix things, some may ask?

Perhaps, but my brain won’t write creatively any other way. There are times I’ve reread scenes and said, “Wow, girl, you wrote this? Cool.” But, there’re other times I’ll say, “Wow, girl, what were you thinking?” I’ve even cross-pollinated characters or characteristics from one story to another. Whether a scene is a keeper or not, I laugh, then tap into the muse to continue or improve upon the story. It’s like an adventure, or like putting a puzzle together to appease my brain’s left side. I’ve given my mind permission to run wild with reckless abandon, until, that is, I have to work at my day job.

Even when my thoughts are caged, the wheel keeps spinning (thus, the reference to the mouse in the title). The characters live their lives, and I struggle to keep up. It becomes even more interesting when two or three stories are nibbling at my right brain space. When I have other work to do, I find I’m yelling at the characters to quiet down for a few hours. Sometimes, they listen, but I can still feel them lurking.

I’m not against plotting. Like I said in a previous post, I plot my technical writing. I would appreciate respect for the direction my creative writing has taken.

Even now, while writing this, I’m doing so without an outline, but I’ll have fixed it up a bit before it hits the blog. All I ask is just a little understanding and less judgment. In the end, though, I’ll need to connect with others like me.

All Pansters…Unite!!!


Guest Post by Matt Campbell: Computer vs. Paper

Digital Paper

The year is 1993, and I’m on my way home from school. A hundred ideas are flowing through my brain, setting my synapses on fire. I have to get them out. I have to get them written down. As soon as I get home, I go down to the basement and turn on our family computer, a Macintosh LC II (if I remember correctly). It clunks and grunts as it starts up, its hard drive operating at a much higher decibel than anything I know of today. The screen flickers on, I open up a document in some long forgotten word processor, and I begin writing, my fingers ticking away at the keys. My thoughts transfer to the white-gray screen. This is my writing life.

I’ve used a computer to write for as long as I’ve been writing, but not exclusively. I have entire notebooks of handwritten writing that can confirm that. But why? When computers were present, a tool that can be superior to pencil and paper, why would a tech-savvy kid like me choose to cramp my hand?

In order to keep writing when I was away from home, or to break up the monotony of my family’s basement, I needed a way to be mobile. Back in the 90’s, laptops were clunky and expensive. Notebooks allowed a release for my writing. It wasn’t faster than writing on a computer, in fact, writing on paper oftentimes created more work because I’d have to transcribe everything back into the word processor. That never once stopped me though. Better that I get my thoughts down on paper than let my brain explode.

I continued to use a combination of notebooks and computers for my writing well into my college years. Eventually, with the purchase of my first laptop, I gave up the notebooks. It grew too tiresome to transcribe my oftentimes-illegible handwriting, especially since I could take my laptop anywhere I went. But I didn’t throw away the notebooks. Even today, I still write on paper, mainly for brainstorming and ideas, and occasionally to jumpstart my brain after it’s been at rest for too long.

However, the greatest reason I still write on paper, I discovered while writing this post. It’s an obvious reason, but it outshines every single benefit writing on the computer has to offer:

Writing on paper is slow.

As your idea leaves your brain, shoots down your arm, and flows from your fingers onto the paper, you get to savor your thought during the transfer. This is probably why when I really need to remember something, I write it down on paper rather than on the computer. I get a millisecond longer to think about what I’m writing.

Tapping away at the keyboard gets the ideas out just fine. You can manipulate your words and check your spelling and grammar as you go. Computers are great for editing, and they make life so much easier when you’re on the go, but putting ideas on paper holds a special kind of magic. When your ideas are in the computer, they’re flickers of light turning on and off switches in the heart of a machine. When your ideas are on paper, they’re real.


Panster Revealed

It’s so funny how humans never cease to come up with new terms to describe things. Recently, I learned that I am in fact a panster, at least when writing creatively. You see, I spend most of every day planning: planning what to eat, planning where to drive, what to teach the kids, what to do at work, etc. Even my main job involves planning to ensure everything is done on time. I also write technical documents about how to follow process, which, of course, involves more planning.
So after spending so much time planning or plotting, if you prefer, my brain must have been crying out for some release. Well, a lot, considering how much I’ve written on the fly over the past seven years. Once I pushed the kind of stress that choked out creativity away, the characters took up residence and haven’t stopped talking, except when I feebly attempt to turn off the muse source. That’s tough because I have many.

What makes things more adventurous is when I reread what I’ve written to discover the revision involves additional opportunity to let the fingers write what the characters dictate. Even if I don’t like what they did, I am unable to change the course of their bounded lives. I am only allowed to correct details that don’t match reality, and even then, I only do so with stories that don’t contain a fantastical element. Yes, the characters seem to rule sometimes. Sounds funny, right? Strange even, but that’s pretty much what happens. Who can relate to this? I know I’m not the only one, since I’ve already skimmed half-a-dozen articles about it.

So, there it is. My admission that I am a technical plotter turned creative panster. Let the fun begin.