I realized early in my writing career that I was a pantser. Plotting was something you did only if you got stuck. And while I’ve gotten myself stuck many times, I’ve never bought into the idea that plotting is a good thing all the time. Stay with me here, because this post has nothing to do with novel writing.
If you’ve read my blog, you’ll notice I’m writing a new piece for wind ensemble for the first time in years, and what I discovered, much to my surprise, is I’m a pantser with music, too. Who knew? I mean, I’ve got literally reams of paper filled with sketches and form outlines for music I composed all those years ago. And, yes, I’ve kept every scrap over the past fifty years—you never know when you’ll need a theme, incipit, or motive, and even the worst compositions have something useful buried within. That’s one thing that’s rarely true of storytelling. If a plot’s bad, it’s bad, and no amount of massaging and window dressing will save it. With music, I can turn it upside down, run it backward, or do both at the same time, and that crappy little theme transmutes into pure gold.
Anyway… I’ve been pounding away at this piece for a couple of weeks, and just today noticed I haven’t lifted a pencil or gone to the piano a single time. Instead, I’ve committed the most egregious error in all of music—doing it all on my computer without even a midi keyboard for assistance. It’s kind of freeing, in a way; I don’t get bogged down in details, and I don’t have to wait to hear what I wrote. If I want to try a specific chord, melody, rhythm, tone cluster—whatever—I only have to enter it, press play, and hear it in all its instrumental glory. Don’t like the harmony? Nudge a note or two up or down. Don’t like the rhythm? Scrap it and try again.
When I started this project, I had six weeks to write eight minutes of music for large ensemble. Any composer worth their salt will tell you that’s a tall order. For one, we need near absolute silence while we audiate the gestalt of the section we’re writing in our head. Most times, when stuck, I’ll take a road trip on my Roadstar. Well, I’ve already committed over five minutes of fully orchestrated music to “paper”, and I still have about three weeks left. Unless I hit a major road bump, I’ll finish this with time to spare.
I actually did something similar about six or seven years ago, cranking out a seven-minute work for full orchestra in just two weeks. Sure, I stole bits from the piano sonata I wrote in college, but I did everything else at my computer. The entire process was nearly painless, and even when I was almost finished and realized something was missing, I added that with zero effort.
So… I’m a pantser.
I wonder if that works for relationships…