Pantsers Beware!


Misty Landscape
Photo by Denis Defreyne (click pic for link)

Hi, my name is Roni and I'm a pantser.  (This is where you guys say "Hi Roni" to make me feel okay about myself.)


Alright, over the past few weeks, I've attended two workshops for pantsers--one by author Sandy Blair and the other by author Kathleen Baldwin--and have learned a lot.

First, I've learned to accept that pantsing isn't an affliction, it's just another equally valid method at getting to the same goal.  But more importantly, I've learned that often, it is not really a choice.  Pantsers and Plotters brains work differently--not just with writing but in most aspects of our lives.

Pantsers like creating order out of chaos, but in order for us to do that--we need the chaos first.

An example:  I love to cook.  I'm good at it. But, I am by no means a neat or organized cook.  I cook like I'm on fire--pans banging, spice bottles littered everywhere, veggies being chopped at random moments, dishes piling up on every counter as I go.  However, once the meal is ready, I present this lovely, gourmet plate of food.

So, my husband (who would definitely be a plotter if he were a writer) watches me do this at night with knitted eyebrows.  "Honey, why don't you chop everything all at once?  Why don't you move the salt dish closer to the stove so you don't have to sprinkle to world with kosher salt on your way over to the pot?  Why don't you load the dishwasher as you go?"

To which I, of course, reply with a perplexed look, "Why would I do that?"

That would take all the heart and excitement out of the process for me.  I can clean the kitchen after the meal and bring it back to order, but doing that during the cooking would ruin the joy of creating for me.

Now for him (the plotter), he gets pleasure out of sitting down to a meal knowing everything is already done and organized for the night.  He will never "get" my viewpoint, just as I don't "get" his.  But both are perfectly okay.

But what does this mean for you if you're a pantser?  Well, what I took away from the workshop is that we have to go with what works for us and stop beating ourselves up.  Otherwise, we are going to screw with our creativity. Here's the warning:

If you are a true pantser and force yourself to intricately plot out the whole book--it could kill your creativity and you may no longer be able to write the book!

Did you hear that?


The passion and excitement for a pantser is in experiencing the story as your write.  If you write it all out in outline form first, you've already gone on the journey and you may lose interest in going on the same journey again.

Now, if you're a plotter, this is not the case.  Plotters take comfort in having that outline and thrive with that order already in place.  So if a plotter tries to pants, their stress over the unknown may choke their creativity.  So the key is to know what works for you and to stop forcing yourself into a round hole if you are a square peg.

Of course, that's not to say that pantsers don't have to plot.  Every story needs plot, obviously.  But it's just a matter of WHEN we plot--before the writing (plotters) or during the writing (pantsers).

And it's important to figure out which way works best for you.  If you're not sure which camp you fall into, try a few methods out and see what feeds your muse the best.

I've discovered that I'm a pantser, but like to have my characters backgrounds fleshed out before I start writing.  I don't necessarily need to know what is going to happen to them, but I need to know their history and wounds.  I think this need to know their past comes from my therapy background.  Plus, I'm a character-driven writer, so I tend to show up with characters and a vague idea of the hook, then decide, okay now what journey are these people going to go on.

The downside of this is that I often end up with a lot of words I can't use as I write my way into the story (I have 10k in my cut file so far on my new WIP), but I enjoy the journey of discovery.  If you are a member of RWA and get the Romance Writers Report, there was a great article called "Once More Into the Mist" this month on this very thing.  Author Jo Beverley said she often writes 200-300k words for every 100k book she publishes.  The thought is daunting, but that's what works for her.

So, moral of all of this: accept what kind of writer you are and stop trying to be something else because you may murder that fickle muse otherwise.

Alright, so I'm curious as to your thoughts on this.  What's your process?  Do you fly into the mist or have a GPS?  Do you find yourself forcing methods that seem great but that just don't fit you?  Did you try out various ways and see what works best?  Have you ever done something that completely beat down your muse?


**Today's Theme Song**
"Welcome to the Jungle" - Guns 'N Roses
(player in sidebar, take a listen)