The Seat of My Pants School of Writing

The Seat Of My Pants School Of Writing

Back in the cold, gray month of November last year, I wrote a nothing little short story out of boredom. This wasn’t so unusual and I had done it before, several times in fact. There was no ulterior motive, no particular rhyme or reason to it, it was just – a writing exercise, going on that age-old premise that the more you do it, the better you get, right?

What I didn’t expect was one reaction I got. ‘Can I hope for a Part Two?’

I hadn’t thought of that, to continue the story past the point where our nameless protagonist took the bait. But what the hell – I wrote a Part Two. And was instantly challenged into a Part Three. So I had to write that, too.

All along, there was no set plan of action, no defined disposition, no overall story arc I had in my head. From one installment to the next, I had no idea what would happen next any more than my few faithful readers did, and more often than not, I was as surprised as they were by what did happen. My protagonist blew her top at unexpected times, characters I’d introduced almost as an afterthought had no intention of leaving if they could help it, plot twists kept on twisting.

What I did want to do was to give myself a challenge – in terms of writing dialogue people would want to read, in terms of pushing my own limits of what I wrote about, of pushing the envelope and my sorry, puny imagination ever further into murky territory.

Now that this particular trip is over, now that the story has ended, I’ve learned a few things I never knew before, about writing, about my protagonist, who looks back at me in the mirror every morning with a beady eye and a cynical grin, about the eternal battle of good and evil and about writing not with a passion, but a fury.

This story became a drug, in all the best and worst senses of the word. I lived for those moments when it was just me, an iPod with a selective playlist and the harrowing white space of a virtual page. Dirty dishes piled up in the kitchen, the laundry hamper overflowed, my floors were in a pitiful state. Meanwhile, I was in the grip of a compulsion I hardly understood myself – to take this story as far as it could go, or as far as I could.

It is said that when Charles Dickens was writing “Bleak House”, he ran afoul of the fiendish beast I call ‘serialitis’. Meaning, somewhere along the line even the justly famous Dickens got lost in his own storyline.

I can relate. I forgot to count how many times I had to backtrack to see if there were any threads I’d left hanging, and all too often, there were.

This is the first draft – the pencil sketch, if you will, the ‘just get it out of your head’ part, as Stephen King calls it. There are so many things I want to change yesterday, so many passages that make me cringe when I read them. On the other hand, I’ve had my good moments, too. Passages I read and think – ‘woman, you are a genius! Genius, I tell ya!’. Those will probably end up being the first ones to fall prey to the delete button.

Even now that it’s over, in the sense that I have a finished book – much to my own surprise, not least – it’s not over by a long shot. Now comes the fun part – the easy part, compared to inventing the wheel from scratch chapter to chapter. Now I get to weed out all my bad habits, change things around, make the storyline darker and deeper and scarier and much, much dirtier. One off-line critic said there was far too much sex. (Is there such a thing?) I’m not entirely convinced there’s enough, and entirely convinced what sex there is - is too…benign!

But the overall premise is not so bad that I feel I have to change that, too. If Christopher Marlowe and Johann von Goethe could do it – all comparison notwithstanding – then damn it, so can I! I made it a particular point that in spite of all temptation, even when I was hit by the what-happens-next blues, not to read either of them, or even Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” I’m saving those pleasures for later – once I begin the rewrite. This is not Milton, this is not Marlowe, this is certainly not Goethe. This is the story I cooked up out of boredom, the story that wouldn’t quit. Even when I wanted to, and that happened, too.

What surprised me most of all – apart from the fact that I even made it this far – was just how many of my own passions went into it. The overall framework of rock’n’roll, and even though I listen to a wide variety of genres, it’s really all rock’n’roll to me  - and my abiding, overriding love of music. Many of my own preoccupations – on life, religion, music, perfume, friendship, testosterone bombs and aging and female competition and writing and even those dreaded four-letter words “love” and its not-so-pretty sibling “lust” – it all went in, and there it stays.

Superstitions I discovered along the way, or I couldn't write: Certain songs I had to, absolutely HAD to hear, or the ghosts would refuse to be conjured, and for several good reasons. Some you might know. More than likely, not. It was easier to write at night than during the day, because there were fewer distractions. I grew addicted to peppermint iced tea while writing, and given my other addiction to caffeine, this is not a bad thing. I had to type in Garamond (my all-time favorite typeface), but I had to publish in Trebuchet, hoping my words might have a similar impact! ;-) 

My sample of Serge Lutens' 'Encens et Lavande' did wonders for my concentration. So did 'Silences', 'Ivoire' and Chanel no. 19. 'Magie Noire' shot it completely. Ormonde Jayne 'Woman' was so peculiar, so different, I gave it to Lilith to wear - and to my sister. 'ChĂȘne', which is mentioned in the story several times, is something I'm saving up for - for a reason. As for the Devil's very particular scent - you're just going to have to keep on guessing! 

So what happens next? The rewrite. The rewrite of the rewrite. The rewrite of the rewrite of the rewrite and when I can’t stand it any more, I’ll test my commitment to this turkey by submitting queries.

The idea is to get it in print. I think it deserves it.

I also think it deserves to be read.


  1. I tell ya, it was a drug reading it. Granted no one asked my to write followups on What Revelation Never Told You, but I went through what you went through for other reasons. I was a nose possessed. Every discretionary moment I had, I spent on that computer. For a while I wondered if it would ever end. Finally, it did. 1 story, 8 volumes of prose, 2 volumes of poetry that I'd started in my teens. I can't remember if I wrote my first piece when I was 17 or 18. I wasn't too prolific in those days, but hey.

    After I finished that, something bit me in the ass again a few years later. I HAD to write all these short stories. I had no idea when it would end. Then it hit me. I had to write 104 of them. Well, I wrote 103 and one poem that tells a story, and then nothing else came to me for the longest time.

    Finally, I felt compelled again to write a final conclusion called 'Closure'. That's it for publication, me thinks. I've written other short stories, but no way do I want that our for public viewing. They either go against me and what I'd do, or they could get something precious to be taken away from me. These last 'hidden' works make me really think I'm more Donn's transducer than a writer in my own right.

    But you tell your own story. Perhaps you're possessed by your Higher Self. It's great stuff, and too bad it couldn't go on forever.

  2. Yea... that was interesting.