Switching Teams: Pinch-hitting for the pantsers

I’ve always been a plotter – or perhaps I should say always had been.

In the past in this blog, I’ve written about how I’m left-brained, how I love rules, how I think about my writing constantly, how I try to plan everything, and indeed, how I feel paralysed to start a work of fiction unless I know, at least in a broad sense, how it’s going to end.

That is to say, I’m probably the last person anyone would expect take the proverbial walk to the other side of the field.

And yet, to quote myself in a recent Tweet:

How did it come to this?  By virtue of each of the following:

  1. My novel-in-progress’s outline was created some eight years ago
  2. I took a six-year hiatus from writing
  3. I entered my 30s
  4. I had new life experiences
  5. My beliefs, attitudes, and changed/matured
  6. I was inspired by other people’s works
  7. I was uninspired by other works

I didn’t plan to start pantsing (indeed, to do so seems almost oxymoronic); rather, as the above Tweet suggests, it was a slow insinuation.  By the time I realized just how far I’d veered off course, the idea of continuing to make daily forward progress had grown so much more appealing than that of stopping to fix my outdated outline.

Having been pantsing for over a month now, I’ve learned a number of interesting lessons:

I’m actually still outlining.  The only difference is these writing plans tend to be for events occurring much sooner in the plot (i.e. the next five pages rather than the last five pages)  and I’m not writing any of them down save the occasional scratch note on a Post-It or the back of a bank envelope.

Pantsing requires a lot more thought.  Most of my pre-existing daily thoughts about writing were about how to smoothly connect the dots between my various outlined scenes.  Now, I don’t even have any pre-planned scenes to string together.

My progress – though forward – is choppy.  How much time I have to think about writing each day is directly proportional to how busy I am at work.  Some days are busier than others.  And some scenes require more than just a day or two’s thought before I’m ready to write them.

I can trust my protagonist.  She and I have been together for some time now – long enough that she’s developed a strong self-awareness, and no longer needs me to micro-manage her behaviours, dialogue, and motivations.  She knows where she wants to be and will take us both there some kind of way.

It helps that I outlined first. My original outline isn’t a totally dead document: much of what’s in it is still going to happen, including the ending.  I’m just travelling on uncharted service roads now to each stop along the way rather than tried and reliable highways.

It’s an adventure.  To quote myself from Twitter yet again:

It’s also scary as hell.  I can foresee at least one major plot hole down the road as a result of changes I’ve made in the last month, and as yet have no idea how I’ll avoid it.  As well, there are countless plot points I know are going to occur, but the through line that will link them all together is a mystery to me.  I’m not used to just writing and hoping it will all somehow work out.  I sometimes worry I’ll write myself right off a cliff.


Question: Have you ever tried batting for the other writing team?  How did it turn out?

(Image source)


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11 thoughts on “Switching Teams: Pinch-hitting for the pantsers

  1. Welcome to the dark side!

    By the way, I just had to move a big chunk of text from the beginning of the second act to the beginning of the first act. The dark side is fraught with such perils, I must admit.


  2. Eric (above) stole my line – welcome to the dark side! And if Dianne is here as well then there’s a good chance for us. In addition Stephen King claims that he just ‘flails away at it’.
    I’m attending my first writers’ conference this summer and I’m imagining that it will be full of planners and outliners and I’ll be made to stand in a corner with a dunce’s hat on. Hopefully at least one more will join me there 🙂


    • Thanks, Roy. I’m sure there will be plenty of other pantsers at your conference: I actually tend to encounter more writers that are, rather than plotters. Someone ought to do a study to determine which method (if either) is more prevalent.

      I haven’t been to a writers’ conference yet. I look forward to hearing about your experiences.


  3. I’m a big-time plotter. My current novel-in-progress was so heavily outlined that I was able to write it out of order, which is really nice when you just don’t feel like writing THAT scene next. It is currently resting before I do another revision / rewrite / bloodbath on it.

    In the meantime, I am working on a collaborative short story project with everyone on WordPress. I write some, then I let them vote on what happens next, write some more, then let them vote again. It has really been an adventure because I have no idea what happens next. (Well, I do have SOME idea, but only as a hazy image) So this is me pantsing and freaking out. Check it out and vote if you have time!


    • Hi Tracy, thanks for the comment and the follow. I’ve never tried writing out of sequence, although there have definitely been scenes I don’t feel like writing at the time. I probably could do it – my outline, though messy, is intact enough for that. However, it’s very in keeping with my personality to undergo delayed gratification. I find that by suffering through the difficult scenes, once I finally reach the fun scenes, I enjoy them that much more.

      For sure, I will come check out your collaborative story! Sounds like a fun, modern take on some of the old storytelling games I played with kids when I used to work at a summer camp.


  4. I definitely like to plot and then “join the dots” as you say, however I’m always open to things progressing in new and unforeseen ways. I think it’s important to not plot too hard early on, leaving some breathing space allows you to take advantage of those spur of the moment ideas that often come when writing 🙂

    I like to have about ten major plot points, including the ending, but how I get there is up for grabs, and I’m always open to changing a plot point or two if I think of something better on the fly.

    Thanks for sharing, cool post 🙂

    All the best.



    • Hi Rohan, thanks for the comment. I plotted very hard early on with this WIP, mainly because the whole story was essentially already written in my head and I was afraid I would forget it all if I didn’t. I don’t regret having done so, but I’m seeing much clearer now that just because a certain plot point is the first thing that comes to me, it doesn’t mean that’s what has to happen – that the story and the characters (and the writer!) evolve throughout the process.


  5. Pingback: This feels entirely too much like planning | The "Professional" Blog of J. M. Brink

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