The English Major

Thanks to the fact that my school doesn't have a spring break, I only have finals week left and then I'm free from all cares and worries until September. Except for that pesky business of raising my four kids and taking care of the house, the bills, and all the other mundane tasks of life, of course.

So I've been giving a lot of thought this year to whether I should continue to pursue an English degree or if I want to do something practical instead. It's been said that English is a fairly worthless major when it comes to getting a job, but I'm doing the editing minor to get job training, and what I really want to do is write books anyway, not get a job. To be perfectly honest, though, I've been wondering how reading a lot of very old literature and speculating about what the author was trying to say will help me write books for today's market.

Something my literature professor said last week really struck a chord with me, though. She was talking about authors framing their stories in certain ways in order to make connections with past literature, juxtapose certain concepts against others, allude to certain things, etc. It made me realize that maybe studying old literature can have a positive impact on my writing, even if I'm not using that literature as a model for how to write my own stories.

For instance, an author we studied this year was Alexander Pope. He wrote what is called a "mock epic," in which he used all the literary devices of an epic poem, but he was writing on the subject of a lost lock of hair. By putting the story of a lock of hair being cut off in the frame of an epic poem, he helped make his point that the people involved were making mountains out of molehills.

So, what do you think? Does the English major have practical value? Will it help me with my writing? Or do you think I should switch to Linguistics or the English Language major, which I could finish up and have a degree with much quicker?

To Pants or Not to Pants

I'm taking a class on Usage this semester, and when the stress of school isn't driving me batty, it's actually quite fun. One of the things we had to do for the class recently was write a dictionary definition for a slang word that is in use today. It could be any kind of jargon for a hobby we like, something we say in our families, etc. Well, I chose the noun "Pantser."

Those of you who have been around the proverbial writing block for a while will have heard this term and probably even know what it means, but humor me here, because I'm going to give you my definition. Let me know what you think. And let me know, are you a pantser or a planner?

Pantser [pæntser]

n. One who writes a novel by the seat of one’s pants, or, in other words, without plotting, planning, or outlining. She’s a pantser, so don’t expect her to do any outlining before she sits down to write her novel.

Derivational morphemes can be affixed or removed, creating such forms as “pantsing,” “to pants,” “pantsed,” etc.

On October 13, 2010, the organizers of National Novel Writing Month, (NaNoWriMo) published an article titled, “The Great Debate: Are you a planner or a pantser?” The term had been used within the writing community for a few years prior to that time, but it increased greatly in use and acceptance after the article appeared.

Pantsers are generally looked down upon by planners, and the term is sometimes used in a derogatory way when said planners are trying to tell aspiring authors how to go about their craft. Not all writers think being a pantser is a bad thing, though. In fact, there is a small minority that believe pantsing to be a superior method of drafting the novel. Some authors take the stand that either way is perfectly acceptable, as long as it works for the individual.

Some authors claim to be a hybrid (somewhere between pantser and planner), one who does some light planning but generally wings it, to differentiate themselves from those who spend copious amounts of time plotting, planning, and outlining all the minutia of their stories. However, purists would still call the hybrids “planners.” To truly be a pantser in their eyes, you have to sit down with the blank page and let the characters and the plot take over with no idea where they will lead you.

The term pantser is still not in wide use, although it is generally used and understood within the writing community. However, we predict that it will gain popularity and perhaps someday generalize to mean “one who does anything by the seat of one’s pants.”

1. Plotter 2. Planner