The Perils of Pantsing

Posted at Oct 24, 2019 9:42 pm

As I read a peer’s thoughts about difficulties with their writing process, I found myself nodding my head and muttering in a distinctly Yoda-like fashion, “Yesss, yessss. You know the power of the Dark Side.”

This peer is a pantser. I’m a pantser too. And yes, we’re certifiable.

Over the years I’ve listened to other peers (some who have gone on to become huge NYT best sellers), talk about graphing out plot points and dark moments and story climaxes, and my eyes glaze over. It’s not that my stories don’t have plot points, dark moments and climaxes–or my personal favorite–“over-the-cliff crises”–it’s just that I can’t sit down and PLAN how these all unfold within the story arc and plot, moment-by-moment and page-by-page. It totally kills my creative process. Totally!


I can’t use outlines. *Holds up cross to ward off evil entity*

I can’t plot with tables. (Dammit Jim, Excel is for numbers!)

I can’t use sticky notes or index cards to arrange and re-arrange plot structure on the walls. (For reals? Some people actually have that kind of wall space? Mine’s all dedicated to sci-fi posters and pictures of Star Wars, seashells and T-birds. I’m all about random.)

I have attempted all of the above. The result is the same. My creativity goes catatonic.

I’m the worst (or the best, depending on your viewpoint) kind of pantser there is–a freaking Wild Card Pantser. I have a basic idea who the characters are and where the story is going, and then I turn my muse loose and hang on for dear life.

Sometimes some pretty amazing things happen when the ol’ muse gets the bit in her teeth and breaks into a gallop, and others times (*cough* the last two weeks *cough*) she’s dragging her nose on the ground like the weary End of the Trail pony.

The problem with pantsing is you tend to ride that headstrong muse right into blind corners and dark alleys and then you have to FIX what you and your overzealous artistic partner broke. And that can be an agonizing and confidence-shattering thing for a writer.

Yeah, I’m kind of at the agonized and confidence-shattered part. But it never lasts long. Soon I’ll be wrapping up my next book and sending my it off to my editor…so she can find more even more stuff to fix that I didn’t even realize was broken. Yet.

Glamorous life of a writer, que no?

The scary thing is that probably some of your fave authors write exactly the same way. The creative process is an uniquely individual thing. Each author has to find their own method and develop their own system that works for them.

Then…  *cracks her whip*  …just go with it and learn to master the beast.  


4 responses to “The Perils of Pantsing”

  1. Panster here, too! LOL (that breaks in the middle with a sob!)

  2. Cara Bristol says:

    I can so relate. Trying to plot short-circuits the creative process for me. It’s like you said, my brain becomes catatonic.

    I KNOW my best, most creative “plot points” would never have arisen if I had attempted to come up with them before I sat down to write the book.

    That said, I KNOW I could finish a book faster if I knew what I was going to say when I sat down to write.

    It’s a double-edged sword, but ultimately, writing a good story matters more than how fast a story is written.

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