The Loci of Writing: Plantsing and Politics

It’s a year where satire and parody seem unnecessary – this political season has been aggravating and exhausting. I believe there are personal lessons to be learned and am mercenary about the sources. This last month, I’ve been thinking a lot about the people with whom I disagree. It would be a stretch to say I feel compassion or kinship or empathy, but challenging my thinking – a bouillabaisse of stereotypes, personal prejudice and simple loathing, is important to me.

canstockphoto3646334It’s about the locus of control. I’ve been a bit baffled by the people who are intensely invested in Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders or really, any political figure. It seems like they think one of these people would personally remove their credit card debt, mend their marriage, bring back their dead pets, educate them, make their children attractive, feed them well, make their everyday lives a bed of roses (but only after removing all the thorns, treating them with a non-toxic pesticide and laying them perfectly parallel). This is to say, they were relying on outside forces to make their lives better, provided they hand over their glass slipper of critical thinking skills and a vote.

This is where I can get into hostile and loud arguments with anyone, including friends. I am a cynic, but more than that, I cling intensely to an internal locus of control. Everything that happens to me that is bad is my fault. And most of the good things are luck meeting preparation. I just don’t speak the same language and when I hear a candidate’s supporters talk, it doesn’t make sense to me.

canstockphoto11597947To hear grown humans blaming the shittiness of their existence on immigrants or a global economy or god forbid, the civil expectation that you be polite to other humans (all that political correctness, doncha know), is mind-boggling. To hear some men, especially those in positions of power and influence, referring to women by body parts, pejorative gendered terms and bizarre biological theories is like stepping into a world where logic is suspended and civility is maligned. It’s on this same planet where compromise and working together suddenly seems like an 8th deadly sin. It’s a planet where the locus of control in their lives is completely external and they have no personal responsibility.

I grew up with a lot of people who couldn’t see their way clear of their own shitstorm. All that fear and insecurity and lack of knowledge was externalized and laid to rest on the shoulders of everyone and everything else around them. The problem with living this way, is that it means nothing will ever change. If you practice blaming everyone and everything else for your problems, this is what you will be good at, no matter how the external circumstances change.

canstockphoto15646582For whatever reason, I was one of those people who knew the only way out was to do. I joined the Army, went to college, slowly worked my way from a hotel toilet bowl cleaner to managerial roles. Every fuck-up of mine, I owned. It makes me less tolerant of blamers,  less compassionate towards handwringers and less patient with sky-is-falling humans and that’s not the only downside to the internal locus of control.

For me, it’s always been that no matter what happens to me, it’s on me to fix it, to bounce back, to learn from it, to change it. That’s a big responsibility in a world where there are many factors we have no control over. My practice habits now involve trying to recognize what is truly in my locus of control and what is not.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been preparing for November and December. It is my time to finish a good enough draft of my novel to send out to beta-readers. I’ve cleared the decks of old projects and I began meditating a few minutes every morning to prepare myself for the day. I’m not very good at it, but that’s why they call it a practice.

It’s taken me years to get to this point. Three steps forward, two-and-a-half steps back. It has felt like a nonstop struggle to get myself to sit down and write and to practice shutting out all the shoulds so that I could focus. My responsibility. If I look to external reasons for why I don’t write on some days, I’ll find them. It’s easy. But there are two things that I have picked up over the years.

  • If something is truly important to you, you’ll make time for it.
  • If you’re going to use an excuse, add it to a list – you only get to use it once (thanks AB, for that sage bit of advice!).

Now that it’s National Novel Writing Month, up crops the old discussion about whether or not someone is a pantser (flying by the seat of their pants) or a planner (color-coded outlines ahoy). I am a fantastic planner. I have character cards typed up, timelines tacked to boards, a small town drawn out, chapter outlines (at least 3 of them) and all the mailing supplies for my beta-readers lined up.

canstockphoto37898886It makes not one whit of difference to the writing, but I’ve accepted that it’s part of my process. When I write, I go where the story takes me and no amount of neatly typed notecards is going to change that. I’m a plantser. The planning pays homage to my internal locus of control – mirage or otherwise. The pantsing pays tribute to a creative spirit, which seems like something out of my control. And I honor it. I wouldn’t trust it to run the country, but I like to watch it race across the page.

25 thoughts on “The Loci of Writing: Plantsing and Politics

  1. Great post, Michelle. Thoughtful examination of the blamer psyche vs the personal responsibility consciousness. Timely, too. Should be required reading. I also like your “plantser” blending of planner and panster—recognizing that it’s not an either-or, but people can be both, ideally managing the polarities to find a place of balance that meets their immediate circumstances. Thanks!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Donna. It’s a struggle, too, to balance compassion for others against behavior that I find personally grating. Sometimes I remind myself that we’re all doing the best we can with the tools we were given. It’s a real blessing to be able to recognize our own ignorance and that we need to continue filling the toolbox. My home improvement metaphors could use some work!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Wonderful post, Michelle! I am inspired by your planning, especially the “small town drawn out.” That sounds like a lot of fun too. Agree with you about the blaming habit! As for the election season, I have educated myself about the propositions, voted as led by my conscience, and avoided arguments and pointless opinionated FB posting; I feel as you do, that it is “aggravating and exhausting” to do any more than that. Also, reading Emerson has helped, as it always does. Thanks for the informative and rewarding post.


    1. Thanks, Carla. Planning is such a weird part of my makeup – even if I plan things, I don’t seem to follow the plans – like I just need to get it out of my system.
      I find the rhetoric that has arisen during this political season to be so toxic and depressing. I try to remind myself that, during any leaps in social evolution, there is a great deal of discomfort and we’re feeling it this year!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I understand that process of getting the plans down on paper or a whiteboard in order to clearly see them, and it’s really fun to do that! As for outlining novels, I find that I cannot do that too well. It seems more productive for me to follow the plot and characters blindly into whatever occurs. Though I put a novel aside a few years back and have not resurrected it, I think I will be able to pick up the strands that have been there in my mind once I do dredge the materials out into the open. Writing: the best life ever!!!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Hip Hip Hooray for the Panster! I want to say, “Me Too, Me Too!” to everything you said. As often happens when I read your posts, my heart jumps and sinks. Jumps at reading so much of what I think and sinks that I didn’t say it.


    1. Thanks for the positive affirmation. Obviously I was just working up a head of steam for writing today. A “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” kind of pep talk. People are always writing and saying things I wish I’d thought of and they generally say it better. We just have to cling to the idea that our voices are unique and keep writing!


    1. Thanks Catherine. It’s taken me years to shake off the sense that I never met any goals – I could plan all I wanted and things just went awry. I tried not being a planner and it was very uncomfortable. Now I just look at it as part of my process and try to appreciate what I actually get done.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I hear you! I have the same unshakeable determination to take responsibility for all that happens in my life, all I do and all that is done to me. I’m a bit obsessive about it really. I believe I am responsible for what I create. It means that like you, I range from being infuriated to mildly annoyed by blamers. And then remind myself I should be more tolerant. Blaming is the least effective, and most self-destructive way to live life, and yet I would guess way more than 50% of people live this way.
    Happy writing Michelle. I wish you all good things with your novel.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. One of the things I remind myself, about taking responsibility for everything in one’s life, is that it can impact self-compassion. I think there’s a connection between forgiving kindness for ourselves and what we are able to give to others. I can be extremely unforgiving of my own failings and it’s something I work on, because I know that it translates to intolerance towards others.
      We’ve exchanged comments frequently about the many things we have to practice and learn, Alison. It’s so good to know I’m in good company!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. The bed of roses line my favorite. You have the vinegar and fire kicking up in this, and you: glad to hear you’re meditating, too. Bill


    1. My first several drafts were inundated with curse words. I finally got it down to a couple, trying to mediate the vinegar a bit.
      My meditation practice at this point is embarrassing. I keep telling myself that I’m just making room in my life for the habit. I sit cross-legged with a timer and try to focus on my breathing. I’m up to a whole 6 minutes without fidgeting, Bill!
      I was so accustomed to meditation in motion (running and gardening), I eschewed the sitting still kind. But a knee injury has put me out of commission for awhile and reminded me that I still need that space to center myself. All obstacles are lessons.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. For someone from Europe, it’s so weird to hear people describe Bernie’s proposals like that. Even with a way better social security system, getting cancer is bound to make you spend a lot of your savings on treatment here. But at least you can have the treatments you need. Giving birth will cost you either way, but you get a mandatory recovery period for 6 (up to 13) weeks with around 60% of your usual income. For a lot of people here, Bernie’s proposals sounded more as basic solidarity measurements than as a bed of roses.

    Blaming everything that happens to external forces is just a shitty way of dealing with things. It makes people negative and bitter and they either lose their friends because of this, or end up with other resentful people. My mom is a good example of that, and of course she can’t imagine why I don’t want to come around more often to get all the energy drained from me. Good for you for getting this far on your own!

    I wish you tons of planned inspiration while you’re writing Michelle! 😉


    1. I think my sarcasm got in the way of the point I was trying to make. Regardless of the candidate’s promises, the ferocity with which supporters have defended them, as well as the viciousness with which they attacked others who didn’t, is bizarre – as if these candidates were personal saviors.

      Calls for revolution have gotten a little tiresome from both wings of American politics. We have watched too many body and home makeover TV shows in this country. When the cameras stop rolling, the people have to live with whatever nouveau shitty things the crew has done to their homes. People regain the weight without the 6 hours of daily workouts and cameras on every thing they put in their mouths.

      We have to live with whoever takes office in January. And when the cameras go away, I want a person isn’t going to rip everything apart in a fit of pique. Now I’m all fired up again this morning!

      Sometimes I worry that I’m overselling my “bootstrap” story. Obviously, I have been fortunate in many ways – as of yet no major health crises, no unforeseen tragedies. And there were many kind and generous humans along the way. Still, I see resiliency and the willingness to look inward as a saving grace.

      Thanks for the lovely wishes of encouragement on the writing. I’m obviously in a wordy frame of mind!


  7. A splendid post. I share your views on accountability, and your bafflement at people who — against all evidence and logic — always seem to think the problem is out there. Again, I feel consoled and less lonely after reading one of your posts. Thank you.

    If your book is anything like your writing here, I’ll be wanting a signed copy.


    1. Thanks, Cate. Every time I write a post about anything lately, my political anger seeps out. Can’t wait until I’m just writing about anything else. 4 more days to go…

      It’s the highest compliment to be told someone feels less lonely after reading a post. Isn’t that what all this blogging and writing is about – to remind each other we’re all in this rickety boat together? Feeling a tad philosophical this morning…the meditation is sinking in.


  8. A plantser is the perfect thing to be when writing, Michelle. Much like acting, if you know the direction of the script and what your dialogue is, you have freedom to be creative and play. Good luck with your ventures!


  9. I always enjoyed your structured thoughts. I would trust you to find an exemplary recipe of donuts sent to earth by a band of space bandits hiding in the kuiper belt and execute it perfectly. However, it is always nice to have the experimentation. After all, chemotherapy was discovered by dropping of nitrogen mustard gas in the United Kingdom during World War II. Yes, they cured cancer using weapons from chemical warfare.


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