Now, there’s an argument for pantsers if I ever heard one. Although I doubt that was the argument Ms. L’Engle was trying to advance with that statement. (For that matter, I have no idea whether she was a pantser, either. Maybe she was a plotter. Does it matter? Not really. She was the highly successful author of several beloved children’s classics. That’s what matters.) It’s also a highly applicable statement to make about our lives, too, although again, I think Ms. L’Engle was making it in the writing sense. But I’ll get to that. Let’s start out with the whole writing thing.
Let me back up a little for the benefit of those of you who are new or unaccustomed to those two creative writing terms. Plotters are people who chart out their writing ahead of time. Situations. Characters. Events. All put down on paper (or in these latter days, screen) with the meticulousness of a medieval scribe painstakingly illuminating a manuscript. Pantsers, in contrast, tend to just go with the flow. They may or may not have an end point in mind as regards their story (hey, it does happen), but exactly how they’re going to actually reach that point --- what events are going to occur, and in what order, and which characters are going to float into the scene (or out of it, as various characters meet ends both sundry and catastrophic) remains a mystery, glorious or otherwise.
Neither is better than the other. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. But writing, that great solitary exercise, allows the writer to choose which works best for him/her. Sometimes, what we wind up with is actually something quite counter-intuitive as far as our natures are concerned, which is kinda cool. Take me, for instance. I’m a pretty concrete-sequential person in many areas of my life. I like structure and I’m a pretty organized person. So I thought I would naturally be a plotter in my writing endeavours. And I tried. Honest, I did. I wrote lengthy chapter outlines before writing, frequently plotting several chapters in advance. And it didn’t work. I gradually found that what I planned for one chapter was spilling over into several, or more importantly, I found that things were straying very significantly away from what I had planned altogether. And it was all the fault of my characters, God bless their contrary, independent natures.
Say what? Well, they were doing things I hadn’t plotted. They were saying things I hadn’t remotely imagined. But this wasn’t a bad thing… no, no, they were asserting their own realism, becoming actual people with minds of their own, and I was becoming less a puppet master and more an observer/chronicler. Which is great. The first time I realized this was happening, I was as excited as Victor Frankenstein screaming, “It’s alive!” when his newly animated creature begins to stir under its own power and volition. Although this was a whole lot less grisly/creepy.
So nowadays, I don’t sweat the plotting. I just watch intently from my position in front of the keyboard, keenly interested to see what this or that character is going to do or say, so I can record it. Oh, sure, I’ve got events and such in mind, but I don’t get bent out of shape when (not if) one or more characters hijacks my agenda and heads off in a new direction. Because inspiration usually comes during work, rather than before it. Right on, Ms. L’Engle.
The same principle applies to our lives, too, you know. We can plan and plot our agendas as much as our little control-obsessed hearts like. But it’s ridiculous to assume all is going to go according to our plans for world domination. Mainly because --- gasp! --- we are not in control, much as we and our whole society would like to think we are. (I know, I know… that’s a very counter-cultural assertion to make. But it’s true.) Besides, inspiration usually comes during work, rather than before it. Our days are a constant pattern of improvisation because of the myriad unpredictable and unknown factors arising each and every day. Sometimes those factors are the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, which ain’t so good; sometimes they are the results of an incredibly benevolent Providence, which is (those of us who are believers, read God for Providence). Either way, we need to be fast on our feet, looking for ways to improve our lot, insofar as we are able. Because, you know, inspiration usually comes during… yeah, well, I think you get my point.
For it is as Mrs. Whatsit said: “Life, with its rules, its obligations, and its freedoms, is like a sonnet: You're given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself.”
And that requires daily inspiration during the work.