Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz – What Color is your Pantser?

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Operation Inspiration

Are you a pantser? It’s ok if you don’t know. I didn’t know what it was until a colleague posted a request she’d gotten, and she was looking for advice from other authors. She writes novels and serials for the youth market, and a teacher sent her an e-mail. In it, she wrote that as an 8th grade teacher, she’d taken a poll of her students to identify their favorite authors, and this woman’s name was at the top of the list. “I wanted to ask you one question about your writing, and share your response with my students.   Can you describe the revision and editing process your writing works entail? Thank you so much for your time!”

My writing friend wasn’t sure what to respond. She couldn’t possibly write back, “Uh… none?” Her process is basically writing, then re-reading and making minor edits until the work makes sense to her own mind. She asked our group, “How do I answer without letting her know I’m a pantser?”

I’d never heard the term so I looked it up. It is apparently a slang term for “An author who writes their story without a plan or outline.” In essence, she doesn’t write an outline before she begins writing, she just has a basic idea of what she wants to say, and then lets it develop naturally in her brain. When she goes through it, she finds little tweaks she’d like to make, but it’s not like a process she can teach others to do. It comes naturally to her.

I totally get it. Writing comes naturally to me. I can’t explain how I do it. The words just make sense to me and I write. Hashem puts ideas and words in my mind and I type them out and share them with others. In fact, I had a funny story about this.

When I gave R’ Paysach Krohn a few sample pieces from my first book and asked him for an approbation, just a few lines to put on a book cover or even a quick quote, he skimmed through what I handed him, and his eyes landed on a piece about Chanuka and gifts. He saw a line that said, “I’m a good writer.” He looked alarmed. “You can’t say that about yourself!”

I told him I completely understood. We have a concept of, “Yehallucha zar, v’lo picha,” let others praise you, but not yourself. “But I’m not bragging about it. If someone who was 7’5” said he was tall, he would be stating a fact. He did nothing to make himself tall, so he has no reason to brag about it. I didn’t do anything special to become a writer, Hashem just made me one. It’s a gift, and the question is what I do with it.”

I, too, am a pantser. But you know what? There are millions of people like me, though not all as writers (or maybe there are that many, but that’s not my point.) You are most likely a pantser in some way, because Hashem imbues everyone with special gifts to use and hopefully, they do so for good. Let me give you an example.

Do you like to cook? Some people have recipes that they follow to the letter, fretting over every ¼ teaspoon or gram. Then there are people who cook without a plan. They can throw in a little of this and a dash of that, and they just have a feeling about how the food will taste. They know they can alter the flavors in this way or that and that cooking differences can be effected with a slightly different temperature or method. Their food comes out amazing, but it’s not something you can teach.

Maybe you are into building and your hands are golden. You know how to fix anything and you can build things from scratch without plans. You just see it in your mind’s eye and know what needs to go where.

You might have a way of understanding people innately. You don’t need psychology courses and you always manage to say the right thing at the right time. You can get the temperature of the room in a moment and know just what to do. It isn’t teachable; it’s Hashem’s gift to you, which He expects you to share with the world.

Years ago, I read a book called, “What Color is Your Parachute?” It is updated annually to reflect new jobs and helps people figure out what career to follow. The idea is that you find your natural skills and proclivities, i.e., in what way you are a pantser, and then follow that path. I read the same thing in another book, called Chovos HaLevavos, written about 1000 years before the other book, and the logic has stood the test of time.

Think about how Hashem made you, and then do what it is that He put inside you. Art, music, comedy, accounting, parenting, it really doesn’t matter. Just ask yourself what color your “pantser” are, and follow His lead in like fashion.

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