Confessions of a (Somewhat) Rehabilitated Pantser *

*Pantser — someone who writes by the seat of his her pants, without an outline or any freaking plan at all.

My name is Amy and I’m a pantser.

Ok, I’ll be more specific. My name is Amy and I’m a pantser with a couple of problems.

First, I must fix what I write before I move on, at least in the first thirty to fifty pages. At least with this new first draft which I think is different from the last first draft I mentioned here.  I had the idea for a story and it was really organic and easy to write.  Until the damn characters started making some decisions of their own, revealing things I hadn’t known about them before that impacted the story.  That would be — things that need to be in the beginning of the story or it will make no sense later.

I may be a pantser but I want to make sense, even (and maybe most importantly at this stage) to myself.

So I go back to the beginning and I sprinkle in the details that will come into play later.  Things that aren’t important right away but will be.  I could make notes to add those things, and I do.  I mastermind scenes for later in the book in prose without much punctuation in the sidebar of my Scrivener file.  I type out names and what they mean at that moment.  I do math on my dashboard calculator to figure out ages.  Those are my notes.  But my actual first draft? It continues to be refined.

So then – is it really a first draft?  Or, since I’ve rewritten the first twenty-eight pages five times — is it a fifth draft?

Second, and here’s the confession, I’m a pantser who wants desperately wants to plot.  And I’m working on just that in two fabulous online workshops.  I’m currently taking a StoryWonk workshop with Lani Diane Rich and a Savvy Authors workshop with Karen Docter.  They’re both leading me in a direction that allows me to plot without silencing my muse.  Lani’s workshop nourishes the writer’s spirit and the creative process.  Karen’s workshop taps into what we know about our novels and helps us get it down “on paper” leaving a trail to follow as we still make our own way in our new stories.  I now have goals and objectives for my main characters.  I have plot points and turning points and low points and high points.

Who knew I could do that?? Apparently, Lani and Karen.

So perhaps I’m a plotting pantser — or a pantser who plots a little.  There’s still a learning curve…and I don’t want an outline or a spreadsheet or lists or to know everything about my story before my characters are ready to tell me.  Because I love being surprised by what they say and do.

Is that a problem?

How do you write what you write?  Plot? Pants? Revise as you go? Get it all out?  Do any of you Nano? Do tell!!! 

21 thoughts on “Confessions of a (Somewhat) Rehabilitated Pantser *

    • Hi Sylvia! The links are above, embedded in the orange StoryWonk and Savvy Authors. I’m currently taking the StoryWonk Magic class and will enroll in the Discover class in October. At Savvy Authors I’m enrolled in the W Plotting Workshop. Both sites offer different workshops at different times — but I recommend these wholeheartedly!!

      I understand about the passel of rewrites. Just finished the last big one for my agent and after final tweaks we go back out on submission.

      I do prefer rewriting to waiting!!! 🙂



  1. Panster, with plotter-envy 😀

    All my novels have been written by the seat o my pants, discovering what happens along the way. However, I also do extensive re-writes – I read and go through my novels countless times. I think I’m better at this than I used to be – trying to see threads running through or themes that I’ve accidentally written in, but who knows . . . as I’ve said before, everything is sucked up by the black hole and it’s a wonder I can write a novel at all!

    When this latest novel is finished and sent to my editor, I’m going to think about writing in a different way – I’m curious if I can. We’ll see.


  2. Good Morning Amy,
    I’ve completed two books, rewritten them many times. I’m trying to learn from my “pantsing” mistakes, but my inspiration is always organic and at times resistant to organizational techniches of any kind… well except that part where my fingers type the thoughts out into a computer. Reading Donald Maas as you suggested a few weeks ago was a lightbulb going off and then a forest fire of rewriting that’s still in the works. waiting, in my opinion, is the hardest part of writing… and I’m not a patient person by nature.


  3. Hey Amy!

    I write almost exactly the way you do now. I start with a handful of plot points and write toward each of them, like stepping stones across a lake. (I do wish I could outline a bit more, but it doesn’t seem to work for me. Maybe the next book.)


  4. Hi Amy, great post! I’m a pantser with plotter-envy, as well. I also go back through, just like you do, as refine as I go. I’ve given up counting how many drafts I’ve written for just that reason. 😉


  5. I’m a plotter whose pants also get a lot of use. Hmmmm, that sounds wrong. But then, so do most of my thoughts. 🙂


    I tend to create a premise, and brainstorm my story up to its climactic conflict, but then I stop plotting. I figure that once I’ve written my way to that point, I’ll know what my characters would do when faced with that climactic conflict. So far that approach has worked for me. But I do need to feel like I have a viable story arc BEFORE I start the writing.


  6. Great post! I think of myself as a “pantsalyzer”. I write by the seat of my pants, but when I’m not actually at the keyboard, typing in my wordcount, I’m brainstorming and analyzing and thinking about where the story is going. It seems to keep me from taking too many detours where I have to backtrack (or, gasp, delete!), but it also lets the characters show me the most scenic route to get to our destination.


  7. I, like you, Amy, am a Pantster with Plot envy. I’ve bought software, scoured the internet, listened to every hairbrained idea for plotting that would work for me. I feel like a 39.5 year old, trying to get pregnant!

    I’m going now to check out the two you recommended. Maybe THIS time. . . .


  8. I plot in advance and, until recently, revised as I wrote but never ever pants-ed. However, I recently had an ephiphany of sorts and started writing WITHOUT revising as I go. And it helped me finish a first draft of something I’ve been working on for a long time. Then a funny thing happened as I wrote: the story came out fast and furious so I became a “get it all out!!” And then I became a plotter who pants-es! I have to say, my favorite is now getting it all out without the revising as I go…so basically I guess I’m figuring it out as I go.


  9. Interesting post … I’ve been mostly a pantser, but have written myself into a corner so many times I’m trying very hard to learn about plotting. I’m currently reading “story engineering” by Larry Brooks and learning a lot. Trying to reform my evil panther ways 😉


  10. I’m definitely a pantser, which could be why it has taken years to write my current WIP. (Having two small children had something to do with this as well.) The good news is that when my “rough” draft is done, it is really draft 504, so it is ready for critique partners to see without further revision.


  11. Count me among the pantsers with plot envy. Like Liz, I have a handful of scene ideas before I start writing and use those as a guide. But like you, Amy, my characters frequently surprise me and let me know I’m so not in charge. I’m going to give Scrivener a shot for book #3, but based upon what you’ve said here, it may not be the salvation I’m hoping for.


  12. Here’s the thing about pants – they’re never long enough.

    But to answer your questions, I once was a panster and it was exhilarating. But then again, I’d sit and write non-stop. My first three manuscripts’ first drafts were finished, on the average, in under eight months. I’d put the draft of my first manuscript on the back burner for five weeks, and within that time I began a new story; and so it went. Three manuscripts under my belt; one publishing contract (albeit said publisher went bust before print – cest le vie).

    And then the eye explosion hit, which stopped me cold for a very long time. It has slowed down my writing, and then life explosions slowed it further. I am no longer a pantster because I always forget where I left of (because if I let more than three days go without looking at my WIP I suffer amnesia).

    I miss pantsting. Pantsing? Do pants sing? Or do they sting? 🙂


  13. Boy, Amy, I am so glad I’m not alone in this! I must admit to be a being a bit schizophrenic when it comes to this subject. At certain stages I’m a plotter, then a pantser. I tend to be a pantser right out of the gate and try to keep that pace as long as I can–then I’ll pull back and plot for a few chapters–then pants it.

    I would like to think I’m honing my writing style with every book but I’m not entirely sure…


  14. Pingback: Inspired Links – Sept 27, 2011 | Inspired by Real Life

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