Permission to be a Pantser*

I love outlining.  I really do.  Give me a nice bit of outlining software or a stack of notecards, and I can happily spend hours and hours beautiful and detailed outlines of the stories I want to  work on. 

The problem comes when I actually start writing.  For some reason, as soon as I start putting words on the page, the story immediately veers away from the outline.  Characters I’ve never met before suddenly pop in.  Events that were supposed to unfold stay stubbornly folded.  It’s like I’m staging a play and none of the actors are doing what they are supposed to, the sets are for a different play, and the stagehands keep going on strike. 

I used to make myself miserable trying to get my ideas to behave themselves.  The day I quit was the day I realized that it was better if I didn’t.  That was when I was better if I let the story have a life of its own.  The characters seemed to have more and better ideas about what they wanted for themselves than I did.  My storylines became more fun to write.  And my writing itself just got better. 

In writing, this is what’s known as being a “pantser” (meaning one who writes by the seat of one’s pants), as opposed to a “plotter” (meaning one who carefully plots out ever bit of the story before writing it.) 

In my real life, I am an utter plotter.  I make strict plans, I have lists, I research everything—from the food my dogs eat to the sunscreen my family uses—within an inch of its life before committing to it.  I react very poorly to surprises.  My spontaneous impulses have usually all been carefully thought out ahead of time.  I am all about control. 

So giving myself permission to write as a pantser has been one of the strangest, least-plotty things I have ever done.  And letting go of control has let me to some places in my work I simply never would have gotten to otherwise. 

Now I suppose it might be reasonable to assume that letting go of the control of other aspects of my life might also lead me to places I would never get to otherwise—but  um, well, lets not get too crazy here.  Maybe I can put on my schedule for next week….**

*just to be clear, you don’t have permission to “pants” anyone and I never said you did. 

**I'm lying.  This is not going to happen.  #controlrules!  #planningisjoy!  


  1. A good pantsing never hurt anyone. I'm a huge plotter but my lastest WIP , I'm pantsing. It's quite liberating.

  2. I think this is the best writer post I read about outlining and pantsing, most writers either are agressively advocating this and trashing that and vice versa, so thank you:)
    I'm a plotter in my writing & life too, but some stories just refuse to behave, so I leave them be, and sometimes I end up outlining after I finish, go figure:p

  3. Ha! As with so many things in life, I think a balance of pantsing and plotting is the best way to go. I'm definitely one of those who must plan to pants. :)

  4. I know exactly what you mean. I'm mostly a plotter, but I've learned I have to listen to my characters when they insist my outlines aren't quite right...


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