The Joys

and Hazards

of Pantsing

I learned a new word this week, “pantsing.” Before I tell you what it means, let me share a horror story.

I heard it twenty years ago, during my new-hire teacher orientation (I taught high school science for eleven years). The workshop leader was a veteran math teacher who exuded authority and experience. She went over the do’s and don’ts of teaching – do call parents early with concerns, don’t buy shopping cart fulls of beer in town. She was heavy-handed on the “high ethical standards” required for the job. This was the rural south, after all.

Mostly, she gave tips for classroom management – ways to keep the wild wolf pack from eating you alive. At the time, I didn’t know just how much I’d need her advice. This is what she said happened during her first year of teaching:

“I was standing at the overhead projector in front of the class, wearing a wrap skirt, low heels, and a blouse. You need to dress professionally; it helps gain student respect.” She eyed us meaningfully – high standards, ya’ll.

“I wrote a math equation on the transparency sheet, then I turned around to face the class. Somehow, my skirt got caught on the projector, and as I spun, my whole skirt just came right off. I was standing there, in front of my class, in my underwear, and there was not a thing I could do about it. I never got that class back.”

I was too green to know what she meant by “I never got that class back,” but it stuck in my mind; it’s there still. The way she said it, it sounded like the worst thing that could possibly happen to a teacher. She lost her leader lady composure for a moment, just talking about it so many years later.

We prospective teachers lost our composure, too. It was hilarious; we all laughed. That’ll never happen to me!

Except, it did.

I was demonstrating a yoga move. I was a recent yoga covert, and a student had asked about downward-facing dog. I said I’d do it for a second at the end of class if they finished their work – stir up some yoga awareness and appreciation.

I, too, was wearing a blouse. An untucked blouse, loose-fitting and flowy, with nothing underneath but a bra. I failed to take that into consideration. That shirt flew up over my head, and they all saw me in my underwear. I never got that class back. It’s just as horrifying as Mrs. Math made it sound.

This week, I’m participating in Fantasy Writer’s Week at ProWritingAid. I like to write magical realism (they’re calling it curio fiction, which sounds very British) – reality with a hint of magic or supernatural elements as opposed to full-on dragon quests and fairy realms (but those are cool, too).

The workshop is unexpectedly informative and enjoyable. It’s unexpected because it’s free. Rarely is something free so worthwhile. I especially enjoyed an interview with the author of The Poppy War, R. F. Kuang.

And I learned the term “pantsing.” It’s not when someone sneaks up behind you and pulls your pants down. Well, it is, but it’s also when you write “by the seat of your pants,” without much outlining or other plotting and planning.

I’m a pantser. I get an idea and just start writing, continuing on until I run out of the idea. Often, I get a ways in then have to stop, scrap what I wrote, and start again. This may happen many times. The final product is still a mess, but now it’s a long mess that I’m emotionally invested in and don’t want to change.

If nothing else, this workshop is leading me to believe that it may be time to think ahead – check that my shirt is tucked in before I flip upside down for an audience, put a knot in my wrap skirt before twirling in circles.

You know, so I don’t get pantsed again.