Book Talk, Ramblings, Tips and Tricks, Writers' Resource

To Pants or Not to Pants

Don’t let the title of this article fool you; we keep our pants on around here.

Welcome to Camp NaNoWriMo! If you’re participating this April and you’ve waited until the festivities have started to even begin thinking about how to begin your story, where it might go, and where it’ll end, then you are probably what we in the NaNoWriMo community call a “pantser.”

Don’t be afraid, my friend! If all your buddies have told you to vigorously outline your novel before writing it and you’re afraid you’re already approaching your draft all wrong, there’s nothing to worry about. Everyone writes differently, and “pantsers” and “plotters” are about as different as could be.

If you’re new to these labels, you might be asking what a “pantser” is.

Pantser: A writer who begins a manuscript with little to no planning.

This just means that you like to improvise, discover surprises along the way, and/or let your characters take you wherever they want to go. By no means is it mandatory to vigorously outline your novel before you begin writing it. A pantser likes to go with the flow and get swept up in the excitement of writing a novel.

In the past, I’ve been both a plotter and a pantser, and I can say with all honesty that it’s easier for me to keep my passion for the project fresh and new if I let the idea take me where it wants to go.

I mentioned in my previous article that it’s easy to lose focus when you’re writing your novel if you don’t have some sort of direction (I think those characters are still circling that same pond). So, being a pantser has its limitations.

Example: Do you have an idea for a story? Great! Before you start writing it, you might want to have an idea of where to start. Otherwise, how would you even begin? Being a pantser doesn’t necessarily mean jumping into a project completely blind.

Usually, a pantser has a good idea of who their characters are (or at least their protagonist), what the main concept of the story is, and how to begin.

A pantser might need to know three things about their story before diving in: 1) a protagonsit, 2) the general concept of the story, and 3) how to begin.

Once you have these core concepts in mind, then it’s time to write!

As you continue on your journey, pantsing away, one thing to keep in mind is to enjoy the journey for the journey, not the destination. Plotters, for instance, always have their goals in mind. That means it can be easy to get swept up in the end goal and lose track of why you wanted to write this exciting story in the first place. When you’re a pantser and you don’t necessary know where your story is going, it can be a bit scary to not know where you’re going to end up. If you have an ending in mind, great! Just don’t let it dictate everything that comes before it, or you might be tempted to skim over everything that comes before.

When I write as a pantser, I tend to speed right through my chapters and finish the draft very quickly. Once the draft is finished, I put my plotter’s hat on and switch gears. Because even though I wrote as a pantser, with little to no planning beforehand, revision is a whole different ballgame. This is where I do most of my plotting, and this is where you find one downside of the pantsing habit.

Your draft might do some wandering, even if you have a strong focus while writing. Having no plan means that you might wander down some meaningless paths before you get to your destination. This means that revision might take a bit longer and it can be more difficult too. Because there was little to no organization before this point, all the work that plotters do before they put the pen to the page now falls on you to do after you’ve put the pen down.

Aha, I tricked you! This was all fun and games, writing whatever pops into our heads. But then again, all stories have some semblance of organization and plot. Whether you figure out your outline/plot before you write the draft (plotter) or after (pantser), it still needs to be done.

But don’t lose heart. While you’re writing your first draft, none of this planning or plotting stuff has to be in your head. Just write whatever pours out of your pen for now; that’s the beauty of being a pantser. You can save all the hard stuff for your future self to slog through.

Future Self: Goddammit, this side plot takes up 100 pages and goes nowhere, what am I supposed to do with this?

Present Self: LOL, not my problem. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

So, let this be a lesson to you, kids: As long as you concentrate on what makes you excited to write your story, you can keep the writing fresh and interesting, surprising yourself at every turn. You don’t need an outline to start writing. But when the first draft is finished, it’s best to contact your local plotter and get some advice for organization and outlining for your second, third, fourth, and fifth draft.

But for now, it’s time to write!


And hey, if writing without any direction or outline makes you want to take a bath with a toaster, then you might just be a plotter and that’s okay too. Check out the previous post for more details.

Happy writing! And remember to thank your future self for all their hard work.


Photo by Carli Jeen on Unsplash