Slot Canyon, by Betsy James

Molecules and Metaphor:

Betsy James
On Writing and Teaching Speculative Fiction

On Pantser First Drafts

Outliners: Those of us who wrote—usually essays—the way we were taught: “Gather your material. Make an outline. Write from the outline.”

Pantsers: Those of us who wrote the freaking essay, then retro-composed the outline to look as though we’d done that first. Pantsers write by the seat of their pants.

I’m about 75% pantser. I can intuit dim outlines; I usually know more or less where I’ll end up but have no idea how to get there. As a pantser you make lists; talk to yourself; freewrite; shove sticky notes around; go hogwild in metaphoric yard sales and try to stuff everything, from antique butter presses to lava lamps, into the living room. Pantsing is complex, and it’s labor.

Editing, on the other hand, is like that retrofitted essay: recognizing the structure implicit in the material that has offered itself to you. It feels like setting to rights the clutter in a house. Do you need that lava lamp, charming in itself but clashes with the butter press? Out it goes. When you’re done editing you feel peaceful, you look around and smile.

Betsy James is the author of 17 books. Her latest novel, Roadsouls, was finalist for the 2017 World Fantasy Award. She lives in Albuquerque, NM, where she teaches, paints, and hikes in the wilderness. Find out more at