Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Secret Life of Pantsers

Yesterday at the Dallas Area Romance Authors meeting (my first time), Kathleen Baldwin gave this great presentation on the secret life of a pantser. A pantser for those of you, who don’t know, is a writer who creates by the seat of their pants. They don’t plot, they don’t draw up outlines, they sit down at the computer or with their pen and paper and they create.

Letting the Genie Out of the Bottle

As a pantser, outlining a story is one of the worst things I can do to myself. A couple of years ago, I got excited by an action-adventure story. I really wanted to write it. I wrote an outline for the whole epic from beginning to end, I highlighted the goals, the motivation, and conflict and the dark moment that would happen before the book’s climax. I wrote how the characters would overcome and I even wrote who would live and who would die.

The outline was about darn perfect, I knew every single thing that would happen. I knew where the story was going. It was an ideal roadmap or blueprint. I was very pleased with myself. I printed it out, set it in a folder on my desk to begin work on it the next day. That’s where it rests today: in that same folder under a stack of other folders on my desk, because I never wrote anything more on it.

In my own way, I let the genie out of the bottle. I knew everything that was going to happen so there was no excitement left for me to discover. Writing from an outline when I’m putting together a white paper or a non-fiction article is one thing, it organizes my thoughts and keeps it clear. When I’m creating fiction, I want the genie in the bottle until the words hit the page.

Tools and Tricks

Kathleen Baldwin offered some great tools and tricks for pantsers to use, particularly in the editing process. My favorite was the scene and sequel. In scene and sequel, I can dissect a scene after I wrote it, particularly if my instincts are telling me something is amiss. So while I may write by the seat of my pants, I have the right tools to edit the completed work afterwards.

If that means re-writing whole sections – okay.

Are you a pantser? A plotter? Or a plotster (somewhere in the middle)?


  1. I'm lost in the middle somewhere. My first book was totally by the seat of my pants but I had the time to spend at the computer just tappity tapping away. Now I don't have the time (kids) so I have to make the most of it and I outline a little.

  2. Do you think the outlining is hurting or helping your process? Kathleen talked about some great tips -- like writing at the same time every day (which can be hard to juggle with two little ones), but also to limit yourself to only writing when the ideas are flowing, get up, move around and generate some theta so you don't get stymied.

  3. I'm such a I get through the first draft. During revision I plot. I think most writers are like that. Then again I could be wrong.:-)

  4. Actually, plotters and pantsers use the same tools, they just use them differently. Kathleen had a great presentation on the subject including the fact that we're wired differently in the brain. So you may write a scene and on the edit completely re-write it, but if you tried to plot it out ahead of time, you may not write it all,

    Am I making sense?