Filling in The Blanks

One of the maladies—and joys—of being a “pantser” novelist is that the story’s not over until it’s over. The raw, clay model of a novel can be reshaped, added to, and trimmed at any point in the process. Just like a sculpture.


There is no outline. No rubric. Nothing written in stone. Anything, and everything, can change at any point along the way.

I am a devout, committed pantser: can’t write by an outline if my life depended on it. It would be like feeding hemlock to my muse. But the novel I’m working on now has been giving me fits. Why? Because I veered off my path of “purist pantser.”

First, because unlike many of my previous works, I actually have a working synopsis. Did I work long and hard on this? No. It’s a pantser synopsis. It sort of came to me, all in a jumbled lump of 4000 or so words, right after a coaching session with my favorite writing coach of all time, Joanna D’Angelo. Before that, all I had was a premise, and a general idea of characters and plot line. Very general. That’s how most of my novels are born.

But after a lengthy Facebook discussion with Joanna, the smoke started to clear and the mirrors came into view: the magic with which I could create this masterpiece. The manuscript sat for few weeks, while summertime activities and medical issues and life in general got in the way. My muse spent a few weeks in Tahiti (wish I could have gone with her). In fact, once I guilted myself into getting back “at it,” for the first few sessions, I had to cajole myself into even opening the document that held my raw beginnings—about 10,000 words or so—and force the words onto the page.


They weren’t good. They weren’t even mediocre. They personified that legendary “shitty first draft,” a la Stephen King.

Then suddenly, the magic began to happen. All on its own.

The problem is, my magic muse gets in a hurry sometimes. She frantically whips my fingers around on the keyboard, moving the story along at breakneck speed. Often leaving gaps. Omissions. Holes in the plot line. Skipping over the waves like a water skier. Like a stone across a peaceful stream. Like a restless dragonfly flitting across that stream to light briefly on a reed or a rock along the way.

I am not one of those people who can blast through an entire 80,000-word manuscript, call it the “shitty first draft,” and then go back to “lick my calf over” (can you tell my husband is an old cowboy?). No. These gaps and omissions and plot holes haunt me, waking me up in the wee hours of the morning, declaring their existence at screaming decibels. They insist—demand—that I go back, right now, and fill them in.


Which is why, at 3:30 a.m. this morning, I climbed out of bed, my brain throbbing from their rants. Somehow, by some magic of the muse’s wisdom, the plot holes had made themselves known to me at some point in the night. And once I knew they were there, well . . . you know the rest of the story.

But now, 2000 words later, I am breathing a sigh of relief. Because I know, now that the omissions, the gaps, the plot holes are filled in (at least some of them), the writing of this novel will progress much more smoothly. Much more rapidly.

Until Ms. Muse again takes possession of my fingertips and races forward at warp speed. Only to pause some tens of thousands of words down the line, at which point she will find something else for which she feels it necessary to disturb my slumber.



Claire Gem is an award winning author of contemporary romance & supernatural suspense. You can find out more about her work at her website & on her Amazon Author Page.


7 Comments Add yours

  1. Hi Claire, Enjoyed reading about your writing process. Life is wonderful when Ms. Muse shows up. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. vicki says:

    Wonderful thoughts about pantser-ing. Which I do. But at RWA this year, I got hit with a story and came home and wrote two pages of how I thought it should go. I realized as I worked, I deviated somewhat. And that’s okay because the final draft never totally resembles that first draft. It’s way better. I think. LOL

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Always enjoy your posts, Claire! I’m a dedicated pantser too 🙂 I like to get it right (or mostly right) the first time so I’ll sit and stew over a line until it feels good before moving on. Makes for a slower process, but a happier writer, lol


  4. Claire, right there with you. If I wrote an outline the characters would have it rearranged by page 2. The one thing that’s fun about pantsing it is that the story is always new and sometimes a surprise.


  5. Wow, Claire. My mind blows up reading about your process! I’ve shared your fascinating post.


  6. Kathryn Jane says:

    Claire, I hear ya! I’m a pantser with runaway fingers and I love when a story is unfolding that way 🙂


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