A Panster's Guide to the Dreaded Dead End


Writers, we are all often reliably informed, fall broadly into two categories: plotters and pansters.

A Plotter agonises over their story well before their fingers touch their computer keys, they make copious notes, keep organised files and character bibles and know exactly what happens in the story as they begin to write it. My good friend and writing partner Liam Livings is a plotter, as you can see here in exhibit A (a small snapshot of the deforestation which occurs before he begins a novel)…

A panster does none of this. They literally write by the seat of their pants (hence the name) and have little, if any, idea of where their story is going. This is what they start a novel with…

I am most definitely a panster. I’ve tried plotting twice, and both times my odd, rebellious head veered away from the plan within the first chapter and the copious notes were never glanced at again. I’ve decided I much prefer writing a book like a reader reads it- from page to page, never knowing what’s going to happen next, totally engrossed in the imaginary world that odd head is creating in real time. For me, panster-ing (and yes I know that is not a word!) is exciting.

But alongside that kick of adrenaline there is an obvious and inevitable downside. We pansters get stuck. A lot. We dig ourselves big holes to fall into and regularly write ourselves up the wrong path, which means we smack into road blocks. Nasty dead ends which stop our crazy brains dead in their tracks. Some call this writer’s block, because you literally cannot move on. The engine of your story has died and there is no writer’s RAC to tow you home. I prefer to call it being lost, which is something I’ve always done exceptionally well and with tremendous panache. Being lost is fixable. Being blocked sounds like you may need surgery. Like those weird bras they do in M&S, minimise the issue and then it stops being quite so big.

My atrocious sense of direction is the source of much amusement in Chez Heath, where my satnav is affectionately known as my ‘Disability Living Aid’. I can get lost anywhere at any time and have come to accept it as normal. I don’t panic. What’s the point? All roads lead to somewhere and on most of them you can do a U-turn and head back the way you came. Once or twice, I’ve even discovered something truly amazing whilst lost, like the wonky spire of that church in Chesterfield which I never would have seen had I gone left at that roundabout rather than straight on. That day, like on so many others, I rather enjoyed being useless at finding my way. On those rare occasions, being lost is a gift