The Value of “Pantsing”

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A Guest Post By Jennifer Blanchard

Since the very beginning of StoryFix, Larry has written about a term he calls “Pantsing,” which is when you write a story by the “seat of your pants.” Doing so, without doing any planning ahead of time, will almost always result in a full-draft rewrite (likely multiple draft rewrites).

But you’ll be a lot closer to knowing what your story is about.

Larry is obviously a huge advocate for story planning—as am I—but I’ve actually received emails from frustrated writers who are upset that Pantsing isn’t taken more seriously.

So I wanted to make a case for Pantsing having a valid place in the storytelling process.

Because that’s the thing about Pantsing. While it might not give you the draft of a story you can use (as will outlining; Larry also stresses that pantsing and outlining have the exact same goals), it will give you clarity on what your story is truly about.

And that, in and of itself, via either method, is gold.

Here are the benefits of Pantsing:

• Story Discovery—when you’re in Pantsing mode, you can go crazy writing whatever comes to you with regard to your story. You can write the details that inspire you most about this story idea; you can write dialogue for an important scene, to see how it could play out; you can write entire paragraphs describing everything from people to locations.

The Story Discovery Phase of writing a story really requires you to dive in and figure out what story wants to be told, who these characters are, and what their story really is.  All of which are absolutely things you need to know if you want the draft to work as well as it possibly can.

It’s likely that by the time you enter the Planning Phase of your story, you won’t even recognize your initial idea seed. And that’s OK.

In his book, On Writing, Stephen King talks about how discovering what your story is really about is kind of like excavating the ground looking for fossils. He says:

“Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible. Sometimes the fossil you uncover is small; a seashell. Sometimes it’s enormous; a Tyrannosaurus Rex with all those gigantic ribs and grinning teeth. Either way, a short story or thousand-page whopper of a novel, the techniques of excavation remain the same.”

• Getting to Know Your Characters—Pantsing is a great way to get to know your cast of characters. And since you’re still in the Story Discovery Phase, you can go crazy writing your characters’ backstories; learning more about who they are and what they want; and digging deep into what their motives are in this story.

• Having A Writing Adventure—writing a novel is an adventure in itself, but Pantsing is truly an adventure, because you have no idea where you’re going. You’re just sitting down and typing whatever comes to your mind. The direction of your story is not yet defined, and anything is possible. This can be a lot of fun, if you let it.

The problem, however, is that too many writers don’t realize Pantsing is just a PHASE in the process of writing a story—but it’s not the only phase.

You really can’t just Pants your novel and expect it to work. That will, in nearly every case, never happen.

The only thing that works is having a plan, knowing your structure, and being able to clearly articulate a beginning, middle and end.

In that context, a “pantsed” story that succeeds in identifying a powerful core story is a plan, the goal having been arrived at using means other than outlining or using yellow sticky notes.

A Balance of Both

Like I said, Pantsing does have its place in the draft-writing process. But it’s only the first phase in the process, if you choose to not begin the story via an outline.

If you want to write a novel that you can publish, you have to push yourself to move past the Pantsing Phase (aka: the Story Development Phase) and into the next two phases: Planning Phase and Doing the Writing Phase.  At that point there is no difference whatsoever between what the pantser is doing and the planner is doing, because when you reach those second and third phases the “core story” has been identified, using either process.

(You can learn more about the 3 Phases of Writing A First Draft here.)

You’ve gotta have a balance of Pantsing and Planning (and Doing the Writing), if you want to end up with a novel that’s worth putting out into the world.

The reason I often spend more time in the Planning Phase than I do in the Story Development or Doing the Writing Phases is because I have no desire to write more than one draft before finding what my story is about. I’ve tried that and it just doesn’t work for me. If I have to write more than one full-draft, I usually scrap the story.

But when I plan everything out ahead of time, and then write the draft, I have a lot of stuff I can actually use when I’m finished. And that allows me to avoid a full-draft rewrite.

Writing a novel that works isn’t science; there’s no specific success formula you can use or replicate. But there are principles in play, and a three-step process that will help you turn out a truly badass first draft.

How does Pantsing play a part in your story-writing process?

About the Author: Jennifer Blanchard is an author and writing coach who helps emerging novelists take their stories from idea to draft, without fear, distractions or disorganization. Her Idea to Draft Story Intensive—where she helps you take your story idea and turn it into a completed first draft—is enrolling right now.

23 Comments

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23 Responses to The Value of “Pantsing”

  1. asraidevin

    I am a pantser, but I also follow story structure. I just cannot plan out my scenes before I write. Sometimes I reverse plan and make my draft fit into the typical structure, adding and deleting as necessary. Sometimes I follow the 3 act structure as I write. Either way I haven’t found that not planning has forced me into multiple rewrites, excepting in cases where I lacked insight into my characters motivations. Jami Gold has taught me a lot about melding my inability to plan with structuring my story.

  2. @asradievin — you bring up a great point. As Jennifer said, both pantsing and planning are two sides of the same coin… very different approaches to reaching an identical goal. Which means the criteria, benchmarks and structures that allow us to reach those goal — either way you go about it — are also identical. It appears you know your stuff, which is why it all works for you.

    Trouble is, a lot of newer writers who don’t “know their stuff” quite as well tend to adopt “pantsing” as their mode of choice, sometimes because their favorite famous author says that’s how they do it (and with that comes a risky implication that you/we should do it, too, because look what happened to them?). In that case, pantsing becomes a time-and-labor intensive way to ‘discover’ a story, versus planning. Both require a handle on story sense and those criteria/benchmarks, for sure, but it’s a less risky investment when one explores and experiments with a story plan, versus a draft. Both modes are minefields for the writer that is feeling their way into the craft, versus feeling their way into the story. A big difference, that.

    Thanks for contributing. Jennifer… your thoughts on this? L.

  3. Robert Jones

    I have to admit that the idea of pantsing a novel through a first draft does sound adventurous. For a short story, or maybe even a novella length story, it might be possible to come out of that process with something I could shape into a story. Possibly–after learning a great deal more than I ever knew about four part story structure here–the same thing might be accomplished with a novel that I had a great deal of insight into the characters and plot beforehand. Otherwise, here’s what happens that makes the “Adventure” fall flat:

    Many writers love getting lost in that creative zone where ideas seem to flow out of the ether. It feels exhilarating, magical…spiritual. You’re connected to the universe where stories live and you just hit the mother load and uncovered that T-Rex sized fossil, baby. You’re running along it’s tail, dusting off the spine, then you trip over the hip bone you didn’t see coming because you’re pouring ahead like the enlightened soul you knew you could be once you sat down to make that connection between mind and the blank page. However, the hip bone…while still a part of the original excavation…is an idea so huge, you’re amazed you didn’t see it coming in such glory sooner. It’s an idea that will literally give the spine of the story you’ve been uncovering its “Legs.”

    But wait a minute…in order to implement this new larger than life piece of the story, half of what you’ve already written (maybe more) will need to be adjusted severely. Maybe entirely–gulp! So you decide to plow forward anyway. You’re not so far into the story yet that this will require a major re-write. You’ll just make whatever adjustments that may be needed from here on and fix the beginning later.

    Things are really picking up as you coast along for a while longer. That last big idea has breathed so many new and amazing possibilities into your story. Then you hit the rib cage. That’s when all those little intricacies and subplots start spinning your story off in a dozen ways to Christmas…and what now?

    This is the conundrum of the writer learning their craft. Soon, you’re story is so constipated it needs an enema, but you no longer can tell which end to deposit it where it’ll do the most good. Or worse, you leave all that unstructured gunk in and tell yourself it’s layers. It not following any formula, it’s very different than most of what’s out there–but that’s good, right? It’s fresh and maybe you’re a genius. Of course, the only way to tell is put it up for sale on Amazon and then…watch out world!

    See, Stephen King may be right in that the excavating process is the same with every sized story. The search usually is in the end. You either find your way, or you don’t. But hand that pantsing process over to a novice and there’s quite a difference between getting a mouse and a tyrannosaurus out of the earth…much less being able to identify them as such without breaking and mangling things irreparably on the way out.

    That takes both an understanding of craft and much practice riding the waves within that creative zone. No one expects a painter to pick up a brush and have perfect control and technique down the first time they come to the canvass. Only in writing do the students feel they can be masterful by doing whatever they feel like without guidance and not make a total mess. I hate to tell you: that’s not arrogance. It’s ego playing most people falsely.

  4. @asraidevin I agree with Larry. It seems you know what you’re doing and have figured out your own unique process, which is awesome. But I deal with a lot of writers who don’t know their stuff (or have never attempted to write a novel before), and it’s those writers who end up writing multiple drafts.

    I speak from experience on this one, because when I wrote my first novel back in 2008 I knew nothing about how to write a novel, so I ended up pantsing a draft, which ended up being a huge mess (but I was a little closer to finding my story)… but three drafts later I still didn’t have a story that was worth publishing. Once I learned about story structure and architecture it changed everything–and now I’m almost finished with a novel that I plan on publishing (hopefully in December of this year!).

    So I’m all for writers having their own process and doing what works for them, but as Larry always says, you’ve gotta know the rules first before you can break them.

    @Robert Jones I’m all for new writers learning about structure and how to tell a story. Learning your craft goes hand-in-hand with the process of discovering your story, planning and writing the draft.

    For me, the planning and story discovery processes intertwine, but that’s me breaking the rules because I know what the rules are. I am not a pantser at all. In fact, I hate writing stuff I’m not gonna do anything with, so I won’t typically start my draft until I am damn certain of my structure and architecture. Which means sometimes it takes me 8+ months of planning before I do the writing. But when I do the writing, I end up with a first draft that works. It definitely still needs to be tweaked, edited, polished and all that good stuff, but the bones of the story are there.

  5. Robert Jones

    Hi Jennifer–I understood the meaning of your post. So hopefully I didn’t come across sounding as if I thought you were going at writing in a way that would prove problematic for others. I was merely answering the question of how pantsing plays in my writing process, as well as what I’ve seen most people do when they first step up to the page.

    On a side note, I believe it isn’t only the big name writers passing on advice that has set up false assumptions about the process of writing. Movies do as much damage, if not more. A lot of writers write characters who write. And either because they don’t want to bore the audience with technical details, or because they are well enough along in their own knowledge of craft to pants proficiently, they show writing as sort of a linear, mystical path. They show the hero siting at his computer, or antique typewriter, bumbling around, or staring at the blank screen/page and allowing their personal problems to distract them until the final act when the deadline crunch is on. Then they just seem to break free and spill out a winner everyone loves in the sweet nick of time.

    So I think like many things in this life, writing comes with a lot of preconceived notions that will prove useless to many. The sad part of that is that I wonder how many aspiring people sat at their keyboards frustrated until they decided they just didn’t have what it takes to be like other writers.

  6. Jason Waskiewicz

    I think there is a “happy place” between planning and pantsing. I have 9 horrible novels in my basement that were pantsed. (Is that a verb?) It’s not modesty talking. They’re awful. I wrote as the spirit struck me.

    Number 10 is far better. I don’t know if it’s good, but it is far better because I planned. But, the thing is, there was a lot of pantsing involved in the planning. I have a creative side.

    First, I spent a long time pantsing all the background and my ideas. Ms. Blanchard is absolutely right about the benefits of pantsing because this is how I got to know my characters and place. I needed the outline to give my story structure. However, one of the plot points in my outline is, “Ian meets Lucian. Lucian shows him the ships being shelled. Ian leaves in despair. Now he knows the enemy.” I know what has to happen in the scene, but I got to pants the actual words and dialogue. I also worked out the geography of Lucian’s office by pantsing, and added a little bit about Ian thinking that Lucian is going to shove him off the balcony.

    Actually the 9 pantsed novels also served their purpose. They were where I created the universe that Ian and Lucian inhabit, and they gave me a chance to figure out what kind of story I write. Apparently I like some ambiguity, some darkness, and a happy ending with a bit of a downer twist. I’m also not an action writer. Look for me in the drama section.

    I was glad to see that Ms. Blanchard concluded her post by mentioning a balance. For me, writing the story by pantsing doesn’t work. I need a plot. But, I suppose it could be argued that I pantsed the plot. But, the pantsing is what makes the story fun and creative. Like a lot of things, balance is the key.

  7. MikeR

    Here, I think, is a pragmatic compromise:

    * It’s okay to “pants” a SCENE as a way of exploring its possibilities … as long as you determine not to spend more than a half-dozen pages on it. (Sometimes, you really do need to “let your mind wander” with the tape-recorder running . . .)

    * But, don’t try to “pants” an entire story.

    The benefit of “pantsing = brainstorming” is that, if you let your mind run free in a small space, it CAN come up with some really interesting things. Stuff that you might not come up with otherwise. Stuff to add … like the miracle that happened when you grabbed the turmeric when you meant to add basil. (“Hey, keep your mouth shut and take full credit for your genius.”)

    But the downside of it, is that it’s an inefficient process. Sure, you might come out at Sir Lancelot’s Castle if you go wandering into a forest without a map, but the odds are frankly much greater that you’ll be eaten by a slathering grue.

    So, sure. “Plan” to set-up a few “what-if” situations, then go ahead and “pants” (brainstorm …) your way out of them and see what happens. But, well, “you’re NOT Stephen King.™ You HAVEN’T been doing this for decades … yet. Maybe, when you’ve got enough novels under your belt, novel-writing will become second nature to you, too. But, if you “plan” to get a novel done right-now, that approach “isn’t a very respectable Business plan . . .”

    You’re new at this. Steve isn’t. Plan. Accordingly.

  8. Robert Jones

    @MikeR–Well said. We do need to find ways to give our imagination room to explore, but under certain parameters so we don’t get lost. Plus King had a degree and taught English before he was published. And though we all know a degree doesn’t always help most folks, it sure doesn’t hurt everyone.

    I think the hidden message in “On Writing” is that the biography portion that went into SK’s recipe of life is what made him the writer he is. We are all made up of different recipes. Some ingredients are very similar to the person sitting ext to us on the bus, other ingredients are totally unique to us. And from it all is formed our perceptions and certain bents we are drawn to–or even have an affinity for. Life is the great missing ingredient in most books on writing. It might be difficult to teach…or it might be as simple as understanding that we are what we consume and we write from who we are. We become our stories by adding shavings from our lives. A writer might emulate certain aspects of another author’s style. SK has had many immitators. But they’ll never get the voice exactly right because they aren’t made up of the same experiences.

  9. Michael

    Okay, I don’t want to start a flame war, or offend a local demi-god, or anything, but I have questions. I realize these questions will be inflammatory to some, and I apologize ahead of time. Background: when I wrote my first novel, I believed all the pantser hype — and it took me four rewrites using Larry’s method to get it hammered into something recognizable as a story. Steven King’s stories are okay, if you’re into the whole paranormal/horror/God vs. The Devil thing, which I’m not, but people, The title of the Book everyone quotes is “On Writing – A Memoir Of The Craft.” Not “On Writing – A Step-by-Step Guide On Writing The Next Big Blockbuster.” It’s a memoir, so it’s neither an autobiography, nor is it a how-to book. That strikes me as about as effective as reading Winston Churchill’s memoir to learn military strategy.

    So, why does everyone continue to lift out-of-context quotes from a memoir as examples of how to write? In this neither-nor book, doesn’t Mr. King clearly mention working a day-job with Carrie stuffed in a desk drawer for 18 years? Does anyone here have 18 years to noodle around waiting to be discovered? Is the feel of a keyboard so stimulating that anyone would choose to rewrite something five, ten, or fifteen times, “for the adventure?”

    Okay, Mr. King made it big, but aren’t there more authors right now making a living than ever before? Your colleagues are moving on, and here’s a point to consider: if you write one book a year, your fans will forget your name and you will starve. Listen to Larry, people. He has your back.

  10. When I pantsed my first mystery novel, it came out pretty good. Being a natural storyteller from a long line of ’em, I had no idea that others would try to write “A Day in the Life of a Man” and think it was a story.

    When I started reading storyfix, I knew instantly I’d found a shortcut to better storytelling. It just took me a long time to even look for it, because I thought I was doing pretty good.

    The guy cutting trees with a butter knife knows he needs a chainsaw. The guy with a crosscut saw might never consider it.

    This message will never percolate into those who claim that Pantsing is their only possible method; who think they’re special cases, incapable of planning in any form.

    But all those poor folks using a crosscut saw will sit up and take notice when they see the chainsaw of Story Engineering in action.

  11. Oh, look; it’s me again.

    As to your title, Jennifer: thank you. Pantsing does indeed have value, used correctly. For those of us who have story structure in our DNA, a first draft is going to look a lot like a story. Those who’ve traversed the jungle before can trust their gut a bit more on subsequent journeys.

    Those who’ve never been, or who have no sense of direction or story, need to listen to what you’re saying: pants around a bit, see the sights, discover what is, and what isn’t.

    And then get out a compass and a map and head for an actual destination, ’cause pointless meandering a story does not make.

  12. To pants or not to pants? Please don’t resolve the tension of that question.

    For me and my house, hopefully, the final and last answer will not be identified. Why?

    1. The debate and at times heated battle, has produced better insight into Story, what it is and how it works. Craft.

    2. The conversation, heated or otherwise, has drawn many minds to the subject. Results. We get better books on writing Story. Books that offer multiple perspectives and varied ways of expressing insight which taken together multiplies the opportunity for understanding.

    3. Thought and reflection over time refines and develops any subject. Story and it’s craft are no different. A writer who hopes to learn the craft of storytelling has more tools at her disposal today than ever before.

    To pants or not to pants? That is the question. Keep the quest for the final and resolving answer alive. But, please, do me a favor. Don’t find it. The best Story has yet to be told.

    P.S. I have a hunch, what ticks most of us off, is the scalding moment we discover we can’t scrawl our love across 250 pages anyway we want to and be handed the presumed satisfaction and fulliment that went with that dream. Mine was the Pulitzer. LOL

  13. I’m a convert. A self-professed pantser who found the light. Learning to outline and structure my wild bouts of creative genius sped up and enhanced my writing and storytelling tremendously. I tend to ramble, so having an outline is like getting that look from husband when I’ve said too much. I stop. And the story is all the better for it. When I look at my outline I realize I only have so much word count, I make my chapters more concise and clear. Without one I run rampant off on tangents and can get so lost in my own story it would never , make sense to a reader. Yep, I’m a convert.

  14. Robert Jones

    I want to touch on this statement from Michael’s post above: Your colleagues are moving on, and here’s a point to consider: if you write one book a year, your fans will forget your name and you will starve.

    Okay, I’ve got too much time on my hands today, but I believe a good part of the debate that is currently going on between pantsers and planners stems from time constraints. And this is due to the business model set up by self-publication. It has certainly come down to writing a novel every few months for those who wish to succeed in this venue. But is it a matter of getting lost in the crowd of the millions who have self published over the past few years? A constant production mentality required to get noticed by keeping one’s work constantly in the public eye? Yes, that’s part of it. Although the best of the E-pubbers will also admit it is due to the fact that they’ve acquired a certain knowledge of craft and that instill a certain degree of quality that rises to the surface of that particular pond.

    Let’s take a step back and examine this notion further. Because few people writing a minimum of four novels per year can maintain any real sort of quality. So out of the percentage making money in the current climate, how many are not emulating a Hollywood action blockbuster? In spite of genre, with–or without–structure, most of these stories rely on the same type of Hollywood steamroller that pastes together one action scene after another with very little in between. Guns, martial arts, warfare, explosions. Horror, mystery, sword and sorcery are all blended into a composite with the genre of action. Is it really because the attention span of people is shrinking? Or are we just dumbing down the audience with too much visual stimulus under the guise of suspense?

    I don’t want to offend anyone. Or maybe I do. And certainly those making money at this can defend themselves by the fact they have a growing bank account. Bottom line, there’s nothing wrong with it if that’s your bent. Such things have a dedicated audience. But does it muddy the waters like so many other booms in business?

    Again, the answer for people making money now is that they don’t care. Just be prepared to write that minimal four novels per years, or shut up about it.

    The unfortunate fact is that booms never last. And having worked in my own small corner of the entertainment world longer than the most popular e-writers have been in business, I can tell you the outcome. Prepare to totally reinvent yourself and if you haven’t made enough money to survive on during the reinvention period, or just don’t have the craft skills to adapt–the bells of the future tolls for thee, my friend.

    The best of the lot will adapt and survive. Most will not. It’s a bandwagon I hesitate to climb aboard. Other after effects can be radical burnout. Once you stop to reinvent, you wonder how you ever kept such a pace. Been there and done that–UGH! The joy just abandoned me for a while because speed kills when you hit that wall. Again, some people are just machines that can go one forever. So this will not effect all. It will effect most who have to keep a grueling pace without rest for several years, however. A part of it comes down to whether you love craft, or just love making money. And that’s something the individual has to ask themselves.

    And then we come down to the choices of a little planning and a whole lot of pantsing–and how does that effect the medium, the industry standards, even the particular audience such endeavors are aimed? How many blows, bullets, bombs can they witness before it all becomes the same and they begin to burn out? Or start looking elsewhere? I go to the movies less and less these days because of the lack of variety and substance. There are a lot of statistics. Mostly from a business standpoint once you start reading up on such things. I believe the bottom line comes down to a simple question: what happens to writing when it becomes a production job to meet the criteria of a business model that exists to trump craft? The answer is written on the wall. Like any other business model, it works until it doesn’t, then it gets scrapped for then next hot property. Which comes with a new (or revised) set of rules. They’ll be preached as hard and fast regulations for all to follow, but they’re as mercurial as the frosting on any cake. Once the heat get’s turned up, it melts away.

    There will always be room for writers who can think on their feet, meet certain deadlines–those who are adaptable to the changing climate. So again, all of this will not effect everyone. On the other hand there are really only a few who can change and flow and never lose a beat. There are a handful in every pack. But for most, it will come down to how well they understand craft because things like story structure are universal to the best of the pantsers and planners alike. Not just the fact that you can string together a series of action sequences with a payoff and call it a story.

    Incidentally, that’s one reason most self published success stories depend on writing a series. The writer doesn’t have to waste time creating a new set of characters every few months. And it also gives them the luxury of fleshing out those characters over a span of a year or more. So it’s still a search for story. And for many, it just becomes a rambling mansion where the search never quite comes together.

    Maybe I’m reaching for the outer limits of this subject here. But I suspect (hope) there are some who would like to hop on the writing train for the long haul and not just the studio tour.

  15. Tzalaran

    the only thing that i pants while drafting are some scenes that i just have an end goal for, but no other structure. Most of my scenes are already outlined in some form or another, but i find there is significant room to just go where the scene takes me while reaching that end goal. Some of my favorite lines have come out in this fashion, of course those are always the parts that get cut during my editing process, but c’est la vie.

    i need to have an end goal that i’m writing towards otherwise the blank page stays blank. Pantsing just doesn’t work for me…

  16. Robert Jones

    This thread died in a hurry. I hope we didn’t scare Jennifer off. We have strong convictions on this subject that manifest into strong opinions.

  17. Jason Waskiewicz

    @Robert Jones

    I wanted to thank you for my post about the time involved in writing. I know for me, writing is slow. I need time to think. Writing the first draft of my novel took only a few months when I was working from an outline. However, a lot more time was spent in the brainstorming and creating the outline ahead of time, and I’m finding the editing and subsequent drafts quite a lot more time consuming.

    For me, I’m free because I don’t want to support myself by writing. I love teaching, and would live a happy life if my writing went no further than my notebooks and, now, my computer. If I publish my writing, it has my name on it. I want my best to be released with my name on it. I want to take the time to write well, improve my plot, and so on.

    The outline was absolutely wonderful for writing. I was free to focus on the working and the dialogue. When I used to pants my novels, the writing was painful. But, other than the actual writing, I don’t think the outline speeds me up.

    Even if I end up getting this novel published, I know it will never be great literature. But, I want to take the time to make my vision of the shipbreaking world inside the novel into the best it can be. I’d rather take the time to do that well. And, I’ll admit that I’m lucky to be free to do that: my teaching career means that I don’t need writing to pay my way. I don’t want to give up that freedom.

  18. Jason Waskiewicz

    @ Robert Jones

    Awkward: I should have edited my post better. I meant to thank you for YOUR post about the time involved in writing, not “my post.”

  19. Robert Jones

    Thanks Jason…and you’re welcome 🙂

    I believe one must have a good working sense of business and craft. Craft expertise can make a world of difference and it does take time to learn. On the other hand, good business knowledge can help a great deal too. Experts in business sell a lot. In fact, big business can take total crap and sell it like gold. But it doesn’t pay to confuse the two in the long run.

    Craft knowledge is steadfast. It can be added to by folks who study it closely, mixed up, shaken, or stirred in a variety of recipes–pantsing and planning combinations abound in that mix. Much the same can be said about business knowledge and skills. However, business will water down the craft of anything, cheapen it while raising the price and call it a success story as long as they get paid. When one success story ends, most of the babies will get thrown out with the bath water as the next wave is crested. Business and arts never mix well because business exists to trump quality of craft because it isn’t seen as being cost effective. And a lot of potentially great creators and careers get ruined when that other shoe drops.

    A good working knowledge of craft and business before riding the wave behooves everyone. It doesn’t grant you any special privileges, but it can sure help if you hold a good hand of cards for each in both of your paws. And try to create your own wave with a balance of each, knowing what they are and what they aren’t in relation to one another and to yourself. Because you’re writing for yourself as a person, and marketing your work to other people. Demographics have their place, but an understanding of human emotion is the true trump card. Why do you think romance always gets it share–even if it’s the same corny formula over and over again?

  20. MikeR

    What’s the very last line in “The Lord of the Rings?”

    SAM: “Well, I’m back.”

    And if you were to take that line strictly on its own devices, as any good how-to-be-a-writer text (save two …) would shamelessly do, then you’d write it as: “Hey, it was no big deal, and anyhow, ‘I Made It.™'”

    Of course, none of the (dead) humans, orcs, elves, and hobbits would be able to say the same, but, “hey … he who ‘finishes last’ … FINISHED. So there.™”

    Yes, there’s definitely a place for “pantsing,” when you call it “brainstorming.”

    “Creativity,” after all, “is not ‘deterministic.'” Part of the reason why you hitch a ride with a good writer is that you don’t know where you’re going … but you’re confident that the writer in question, even if (s)he is also “somewhat exploring,” does have the EXPERIENCE to land the airplane.

    However: Y-O-U don’t have experience. “Yet.™” Therefore, it behooves you to stick close to the airfield, and to study the charts thoroughly before you take off. Even if, twenty or thirty years later, you admit that you “didn’t go far, that first flight,” you’re still there to talk about it. 🙂

  21. I’m a pantser. I don’t know how to be anything else when I first start a writing project. My 1st attempt at the story becomes my guide in planning — what to leave in, what to take out, what to elaborate on and what to shorten. Of course, there will be serveral rewrites involved too to make it as perfect as I can in my own eyes.

  22. Robert Jones

    @Glynis–Do you start with a basic idea and just sit down and write? Or do you take some notes, plan a few scenes ahead? I’ve read that Russell Blake jots down a line or two for 10-15 scenes, then figures out the next 10-15 while writing the first. My best early success in pantsing was jotting down a line or two for each scene for the entire book. It was vague, but I knew I needed something better to go on after my first attempt at pantsing. I kept a notebook in my studio and just tried to visualize what happened next in my story and at least link the scenes together before my second attempt. When I finished my little plan…even without a complete knowledge of structure, I knew it was the moment I would stop pantsing without a plan of some kind. Looking at my haphazard list of scenes, I immediately saw some that needed cutting and other scenes that needed to be rearranged to get a better flow of suspense. I thought, “Whoa, this just save me months of rewriting.”

    Afterwards, I wrote the first draft without pause or hesitation. It still needed work because a lot of my scenes were vague, or just bridged a gap between two other scenes to get the hero to some place he needed to be, but the basic story was there. I hadn’t discovered the key to structuring scenes yet.

    Later, I discovered better ways to plan that didn’t take away the thrill of discovering my story. Pantsing seemed like a grand adventure for me at first. I came at writing with the same notions most people have: sit down at my computer and let my imagination roam. However, the more I discovered about the building of scenes, the more I realized I was working with partial scenes at best. Which is why parts of my story flow and other areas seemed to stumble.

    Writing is not always as defined a science as some art forms. But the more you learn, the less it seems like rules. And the discovery factor can be fun on almost any level of the process. It just depends on how deep you want to take it. I’m very technical minded. And pantsing for me, over time, became a less fun, more general way of story discovery. It took longer and painted my story canvas in huge sweeping strokes that defined little in some scenes, maybe a lot in others–and by the time my real story was discovered, I was faced with either throwing a lot of my best writing out, or forcing the rest of the story around it in order to keep it. Always a temptation. Rarely wise. Frequently painful. Like surgery. One needed to be brave and slaughter those darlings.

    I was thrilled to be able to slaughter scenes that weren’t necessary before writing them as my planning took shape. I was not only saving time, but it was easier because I didn’t have that creative attachment, the emotional ties that come while writing something that moves us on a more personal level. And understanding that a scene is working on it’s own merits, that the emotional key is there before writing it, the discovery of how it plays is still there. It just has a destination in mind, or a is flavored with the particular emotion you’ve given it before diving in. Because if you go with the emotions, you’ll always have more power, more payoff, and a bigger thrill to write than just seeing what develops between the characters.

    Anyway, that’s the basics story of my own transition.

  23. Septembre

    Well, there’s this thing called Writer’s Block that I get sometimes which I now understand as signal to switch tracks and start planning. I welcome it now, because it means phase one is complete. I’ve pantsed my brains out, and now it’s time to use that 30 some-odd pages as reference material for the actual planning.

    I truly believe that if you encounter writer’s block, odds are high that you were caught pantsing. It can be a huge blessing to an open mind.