Flying By the Seat of My Pants

*Trigger Warning: Brief mentions of self-harm and suicide, though there are no details or descriptions given.*

When I first began planning for this project, I came up with an outline in order to give myself a frame to work from. As someone who doesn’t like to use outlines, I promptly saved the file and never looked back. This means that my entire writing process for the first draft is an example of “pantsing” (the process of writing freestyle, without a preplanned structure; referring to the saying “flying by the seat of one’s pants”). I choose to write this way because of the raw emotional atmosphere it gives almost every scene and interaction. The events form as they happen and as a result, everything feels less forced.

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Because of my choice to “pants” my book, the pacing of my novel is a bit strange. Every scene is unplanned so events jump somewhat erratically; sometimes I focus on a week continuously and other times I jump whole months with little to no detail about them given. I wrote out a rough timeline for the book, separate from the outline, but that has, in part, contributed to the problem, as it encourages me to jump large periods of time between “important events”. The real-life events took place over a span of almost two years; it is impractical to try to fit everything that happened into a novel of about three hundred pages, but despite that, the speed at which events happen in my story makes me feel like I am short-changing reality.

In order to make this story my own, instead of it be a biography, I changed the parameters of the situation. I included Sam in the catalyst of Charlie’s depression, whereas, in real life, my involvement (which Sam’s perspective is based on) began well after the depression had set in, though before the official diagnosis. Important scenes including when Sam first learns about Charlie’s self-harm and her first attempt at suicide happen very differently in the novel, and, in a way, those differences deflate the emotional impact of those scenes. By having Sam see the evidence of Charlie’s self-harm and confront her about it, Sam does not experience the raw terror of suddenly having that secret thrust upon her. By having Sam be present for both suicide attempts instead of just the later one, though the fear is still real, it undermines the initial uncertainty that maybe things won’t get that bad again, and then the growing horror as a second attempt becomes more and more probable. By changing Sam’s experiences, the emotions that she is feeling are no longer the same as the ones I felt. Our circumstances are different and that diminishes my ability to write her emotional state accurately.

When I started this project, one of my main goals was to express the raw emotional state that I was in; to show my readers that these emotions are natural in situations with such high stakes and to show them what I did in that position, the mistakes I made, the choices, the losses and the victories won. By highlighting the emotional path that I took, I could paint the circumstances in the raw light that I understood them, even though I was telling a story that was not my own. It was never my intention to turn this project into a biography, but now the choice to make it somewhat different than my experiences has led to unforeseen consequences.

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While I am not sorry that I chose to forego the outline, my writing process hasn’t been what I expected it to be. Things that seemed so innate to the situation I lived through are so different now when I am looking through Sam’s eyes. Honestly, the dichotomy between the emotions I experienced and the ones I am writing now from Sam’s perspective have incited thoughts of a full rewrite, in order to reclaim the depth of emotion that I am striving for. Any writer knows that a book is ten percent imagination and ninety percent rewriting and editing, and I can see that as a very likely outcome for this project. Whether or not I decide to do that though, for now, I am dedicated to finishing the first draft as a whole; I’ll only be able to get a true sense of the book’s emotional value after it’s completed anyways. So for now, I stay the course. The first draft hopes to see completion somewhere between now and end of January and I am eager to see where it is then and where it will go from there.

Thank you for your company thus far. We still have a long way to go.

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Photo by James Wheeler on

Current Word Count: 94, 500 words
Project Status: Writing First Draft

Author: katiefortinwrites

A writer for 8 years now, I'm here to continue my endeavors and to share my journey and experiences as I work through my latest project: a book about depression, hope and overcoming. I hope you stay and laugh and cry with me as we go down this road together. Who knows what beauty we'll find there?

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