I’ve played this game before.
Even though I had a thorough outline, I pantsed my way through a significant portion of my WIP’s first draft.
Now that I am some five drafts deep into revision, I find myself pinch-hitting for Team Pantser once again.
With the help of my critique partners, I discovered I had rushed through the first part of my book’s second act, telling too many events in summary rather than showing them in real time. Because of this, I hadn’t taken the time to flesh out the characters, having made them pawns to the plot instead of the drivers of it.
The moment all of this was pointed out to me, it was like the clouds parted and the glow of one thousand suns of enlightenment beamed down upon me.
“I can fix this!” I exclaimed. “I will rewrite and expand this entire section.” Expand two chapters into five at a minimum.
In that instant, I also decided to pants my way through this rewrite. It would be faster, I rationalized. My critique group accepts and reads chapters on a weekly basis, and I didn’t want to halt my submissions any longer than I had to.
As much as I love outlining, working my way through every twist and turn and callback and reveal in a plot ahead of time, at least for me, feels like it takes half of forever.
And thus armed with my over-brimming enthusiasm, an overly summarized version of events from the original draft of the chapters (sort of like an outline), and a vague idea for a new direction to take, I got to work.
Just writing whatever came to me in the moment.
But unlike the previous time that I did this, this time I hated almost every minute of it.
That feeling when you’re reading a great book and have no idea what’s going to happen next and it’s all so exciting, except you’re writing that same book and have no idea what’s going to happen next and it’s all so AHHH! #amwriting #pantsing
— Janna G. Noelle (@jgnoelle) June 1, 2018
To be clear, I don’t hate pantsers themselves. Indeed, I’m kind of in awe of them. Notwithstanding my foray with it during my first draft, it’s not my normal method of writing—at all.
Discovery writing, the more euphemistic name for pantsing, sounds lovely and romantic in theory, but in practice for this reformed plotter, it’s been the bane of my writing existence, for the following reasons:
1) Pantsers love the literal act of writing more than I do
Because that’s all that this rewrite has been about.
Writing something different to take the story in a different direction.
Deleting that too.
Writing some more.
Over and over again. Because even though the endpoint of what I’m writing is very clear in my mind, with no set plan for how to get there, I end up trying everything—a multiverse of possibilities, one after another—until I stumble upon an option that seems to work.
I’ve written before about how I treat writing like improv whenever I get stuck, saying yes to every idea to give it its due rather than reject it out of hand.
Pantsing for me has been like writing and improv’s evil love child. Say yes to everything? Haha nothing works! (Until it finally—finally—does.)
2) Pantsers are more courageous than I am
I’m the biggest coward when it comes to writing.
I’ve said before that writing is an act of extreme egoism, especially for an unpublished writer, to believe that anyone cares about what you have to say.
Pantsing takes that egoism one step further, to believe you can actually finish an entire novel before you’ve even tried—in real time, making it up and fitting all the pieces together as you go.
For me, a detailed outline is the ultimate security blanket—an assurance that there is an arc and possible ending that works, even if actually writing the novel takes me far afield of these.
At the very least, I need to know it can be done. I need a fallback that’s more reliable than my distractible, getting-older-every-day excuse for a brain.
3) Pantsers are less lazy than I am
This relates to all the writing and rewriting lamented in point #1. That’s a damn lot of work, this act of literally discovering the story as I write. So much more so than outlining before writing.
This isn’t to say that plotters don’t throw away words as well. I am currently on my fifth revision, so I’m no stranger to the slashing and burning of scenes.
But how many more drafts would it take me if I’d pantsed the entire novel? And how much longer to write the thing in general?
Outlining only requires, at most, committing to a few lines of explanation for what’s going to happen, not whole scenes fully written and ultimately scrapped.
Plus it’s so much easier to predict what might and mightn’t work when the whole plot is laid out before me. It can stop a lot of problems—and their attendant writing and rewriting—before they develop.
Writing may be like prayer in that it’s never wasted, but that doesn’t mean I want to keep retreading the same ground over and over again, at least not in the first draft.
I love, as the famous quote goes, having written. But the act of writing itself, and so very much of it at that, I could really do without.
And yet, pantsing is not so very terrible.
As miserable as I’ve often been during this rewrite of my second act, at the end of the day, pantsing is getting the job done.
I could see myself doing it again. Next time, I’ll explain why.
Have you ever pinch-hit for the opposite writing team?