Guest Post: Confessions of a Pantser by Mary Lydon Simonsen

I’ve reviewed several variations of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, and enjoyed most of them.  Mary Lydon Simonson is one of my go-to authors for Austen spinoffs and continuations.  I’ve reviewed two of her other novels, Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy and Searching for Pemberley.

Today, I’ve got a special guest post from Mary about her writing routines and habits, or what not to do when writing a novel, as Mary notes.

Confessions of a Pantser

First, I would like to thank you for having me on your blog. It’s always a pleasure, Serena. You asked me to write about my writing routine and habits. Before I begin, I should warn any potential authors that this is probably a post about what not to do when writing a novel.

Unlike many authors, I do not write an outline, and that is because I am a pantser, i.e., someone who writes by the seat of their pants. But… but… no outline, you cry! What about all of those creative writing seminars that state it is a cardinal rule that an author must write an outline? They do have their place; they are just not for me. I’m the person who got in the car in Flagstaff, Arizona for the purpose of going out for breakfast and ended up 175 miles away in Oatman, Arizona near the California border looking at wild donkeys. (This actually happened.) Like a Sunday drive, I just let the story take me wherever it wants to go.

One of the things that works best for me is speaking the dialog out loud. I’ve gotten used to people finding me all alone having a full-blown conversation with myself, usually in a British accent. But when you say things out loud, it is easier to spot your mistakes. It is more obvious that something doesn’t sound right or isn’t nearly as funny as you thought it would be if they are lying quietly in a Word document rather than out there in the atmosphere screaming at you.

Because I have worked out most of the plot bunnies before I sit down to the computer, things really start hopping once I am at my desk. I can easily write three or four chapters in a sitting, that is, if I don’t have any visitors. My visitors happen to be an adorable seven-year old who is missing her two front teeth and her brother, who has no teeth at all, because he’s only six months old. Once I see my daughter’s car pull up in front of the house, I know that my work day has come to an end because my grandchildren have come calling. They will only be little for a short time while, hopefully, I shall be writing stories forever.

On days where I do not hear the patter of little feet, I begin to write as soon as I finish breakfast and go at it until I get bored. I know I’m bored when I click out of my story and start reading the news or some blog (Savvy Verse and Wit for one) or check my sales on Amazon. Considering the number of stories I have written, you might be surprised to learn that this happens a lot. I’m like a dog who sees a squirrel. I’m off and running. But life is a juggling act, and no one wants to watch (or read) a juggler who only has one ball in the air.

Are you methodical about your work habits or are you a pantser? I’d like to hear from you. Thanks again.

Thanks again, Mary, for joining us here. We always enjoy your company. Stay tuned for my review of Mary’s novel, A Wife for Mr. Darcy, tomorrow.


  1. Mary Simonsen says

    Anna and Audra, I’m not sure I have a choice when my grandkids come to visit. My granddaughter comes and sits on my lap! And then she says, “I’m hungry.” So that’s that. But she is as cute as a button.

    I am terrible about keeping notes. I’ll read something interesting and forget where I read it. I have dogeared books all over the house. That is my mid year’s resolution–get better organized.

  2. I take notes, which I then go on to lose, but I don’t write outlines. They wouldn’t work for me anyway, since I’m the type to write things on sticky-notes or create to-do lists and then misplace them. Outlines would just get lost in the shuffle like everything else. LOL I love how Mary always takes time out for her grandkids. So sweet!

    • I have a hard time even keeping the notes straight unless I put them on a printed copy of the manuscript. sticky notes are too easily lost…lol

  3. Great guest post — I cracked up more than once! Ms Simonsen would be a fabu friend — I’d love to go on a Sunday outing with her and see where I’d end up! 😉 Very fun to read about her process and the creative unknowns she faces. Thanks to both of you for taking the time to share!

    • Audra: Now you have had a taste for what her books are like. So much fun!

    • Mary Simonsen says

      Hi Audra. Thanks for your comments. I do try to keep my posts and my stories light (for the most part) b/c there’s too much going on in everyone’s lives.

  4. Like you, Mary, I, too, am a “pantser.” I jokingly say it is because I used to force my students to do outlines for their research papers. I witnessed the anguish on their faces. I never wanted to subject myself to such torture. LOL!!! In looking at Bonnie’s comment, I see English teachers have similar experienes.
    I am so proud to call you as one of my friends. You are very talented.

    • I love when your friends visit the blog. 🙂 It’s so great to see the banter.

      • Mary Simonsen says

        Hi Regina. I believe I “borrowed” the term “pantser” from you. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

  5. Hi Bonnie. It’s good to see you here. I love the fact that I’m an Austen variable. That’s a keeper. 🙂 Mary

  6. Great interview. This book is on my list.

  7. Bonnie Carlson says

    I totally agree that Mary is one of the best Austen variables. Yep, I like to invent words. I always think of outlines and prewriting for analytical or research writing. For creative, always fly by the seat of your pants! It obviously yields great results! Keep ’em coming, Mary!

    • I love Mary’s books.

      • Mary Simonsen says

        Hi Bonnie. It’s good to see you here. I love the fact that I’m an Austen variable. That’s a keeper. Mary

        P.S. This is a duplicate comment b/c I put it in the wrong place. I think I’ll put my glasses on now.

        • Bonnie Carlson says

          I actually said variators, but once again my iPad self-corrected. I hate the way machines think we’re all idiots!

  8. Mary Simonsen says

    Hi Kathy and Serena. My husband writes architectural specs, and he can’t understand how I can write without an outline. I make him a little crazy. Like you, Serena, I can put together a great outline, and then not follow it at all. Thanks again for having me on your blog.

    • Mary, you are welcome any time. I have great outlines for research papers and stories alike, but never follow them.

  9. It seems to me the best authors work without outlines. I have no idea how they do it, though – my mind just doesn’t work that way. Great guest post!

    • I couldn’t write with an outline either. I wouldn’t know how to. I think its too constraining…I used to hate that in high school. I would submit an outline and totally not follow it once I got to the paper portion of the project