How do you write? Are you a planner or pantser? Do you draw up a plan and follow it meticulously? Or do you fly by the seat of your pants, let the words tumble out willy-nilly and then select, order, structure and rewrite? Perhaps you do a little of both? Most writers do. And what have sharks got to do with any of this?
I’m a pantser. Sometimes I’d like to be more of a planner but I can’t seem to think myself into a story, poem, essay–even this blogpost. I begin writing with a bit of a niggle that leads me on and when the words fall onto the page they shape themselves as they will.
Am I bypassing the ego and allowing my unconscious to speak? Is there a guiding hand leading me on? I have no answers. I trust the process.
Yet as I’m writing this, a part of me is wondering where it might lead. I’m also a little afraid it may well be leading nowhere! I try to keep my fears at bay and write on. Except…I’m also thinking about sharks. In fact, I’ve been thinking about sharks for days and here they are again, nudging into my writing.
Why have I gone off on a tangent? What have sharks got to do with the writing process?
Beneath the calm waters of the bay, not far from the beach where I walk each day, three sharks live beneath a rocky crevice on a scrap of reef. Not many people know they are there. And I’m not going to tell you exactly how to find them. Enough to say, you would need to swim out a short distance, line up some markers on the shore and dip your snorkel into the sea. And there they’ll be, three Port Jackson sharks, surrounded by a wonder world of reef and rock and weed. That’s one of them in the pic above.
They are harmless, people tell me. And according to those who snorkel more often than me, the sharks live there for most of the year, sometimes disappearing for a few weeks before returning to take up residence again.
But again the niggle: What if I’ve been flying by the seat of my pants only to discover there is no connection between sharks and the writing process?
Another niggle. Lately I’ve been thinking about how hard it is to live in a world that celebrates the superficial. That avoids the complexity of issues for the twenty-second grab. That moves on to the next shock-jock sensation with barely a backward glance at what’s gone before. That prefers the surface to the deep.
But surely the surface is the safe place to be? Surely monsters lurk in the deep? Yes! That’s the connection! This is the real fear of the writer. What will I uncover in the deep? Isn’t it a dangerous place to be?
Flying by the seat of my pants takes me into the deep places where a writer needs to go. It gets me away from the accepted and the superficial. It cuts through my thinking to the richness and mystery underneath. Sure it can be scary. But going deep is the only way for a writer to discover the sharks and their secret worlds, the knowledge and beauty in the depths. Going deep is what pantsers do best.
Write on, pantsers!