On pantsing

Yep, you’ve seen this before…but I figured I’d give it a permanent and appropriate home. Enjoy the re-read!

From the day I began writing Asrian Skies (that would be June 6, 2016, for those keeping track), I pantsed. For non-writers, that means I had no outline, no planning, no character list, and no idea of where the story would go. An ending? Pfft. That came…at the end, once I’d backed my main character into a corner and there was only one way out for her.

I had no idea that writing this way is The Worst Thing Ever for an aspiring author.

I should have seen it coming…friends made comments like “How do you not know how your story ends? Every author outlines and knows the ending before they begin.” But the truth it, I didn’t see it coming until I was done with my first draft and went researching how to write a novel (Yes. I do quite a few things backwards).

And oh, the things I read.

Pantsers are lazy. Pantsers don’t understand story structure. Pantsers never finish a novel. Pantsers just want to take shortcuts.

Every single blog entry I read was dedicated to turning pantsers into plotters…never the other way around.


And I sat and I thought about it for a long time.

I finally decided all those people are wrong.

Here’s the thing. Our brains are all different. I like to say my characters tell me how the story should go, but really it’s my subconscious…or intuition. I realize most writers want to write out story beats and plot points and that’s great—but when you think about it, people have been telling stories for thousands of years. We all know something needs to happen about a quarter of the way through. We all know something else needs to happen about halfway through. Etc.

And amazingly enough, when I went and plotted those points to my finished first draft, they all existed, and they all existed in the correct places. No plotting or beat sheet required. It just happened.

Intuitively. And that’s a completely valid way to think and write.

That’s not to say this works for everyone. Clearly, if a writer needs to plot, then they need to plot. If they need to write a 200 page outline, who am I to judge? You need a 50 page story bible with 57 characters’ life stories in it before you start chapter 1? Great!

I only wish pantsers would get the same respect.

– Anne

Note: I had an early beta reader who thought my main character came off as too naive because “everything surprised her.” I will admit this was a consequence of the author being surprised by everything that happened. I corrected that issue throughout the entire novel in less than one hour, and I don’t believe it’s a valid reason to claim pantsing is a poor technique.


5 thoughts on “On pantsing

  1. I’m with you on this one. I’ve studied creative writing as an undergraduate and have tried both plotting and pantsing. Neither is better than the other, every writer needs to do what works for them to get the story out.

    Frankly, a pantsed first draft could be described as a very detailed outline, complete with most of the dialogue!


    1. Yep. Although I’d caution that the first draft being a detailed outline is an argument that some plotters use to invalidate the pantsing process (“See! They still outline!”).


      1. That would only really be valid if we then comprehensively rewrote at the second draft stage.

        I’ve cut lots at that stage, novel 1 lost over 20k words, and I also wrote a few additional scenes to presage things I’d used later. But still wouldn’t count as an extended outline….


  2. I’m a little of both. I originally wrote Broken Tomorrows during NaNoWriMo and it was totally pantsed. However, with my trilogy I am using the outline, character list, and etc for this process. We’ll see how it all works out. By planning, it seems to take longer to get to the actual writing process, and I hate that.


  3. Sometimes I feel that some of the writing community need each other to uphold a belief that ‘their way is the right way’. Sigh. There is an anxiety behind all this haughtiness which says more than they will ever let on. It’s sad that we can’t all embrace the different writing styles- everyone is different. Whats with the holy judgements pronounced upon you? What are they afraid of? And…really?


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