A Humble, Hesitant Defense of Pantsers

I know I’ve been spewing on this blog since last night, but I have a hundred million emotions, and I haven’t been blogging, so in some ways, these hundred million emotions have been locked up inside me, and I need to get them OUT OUT OUT. I’m a mess, to be honest.

So, lately I’ve been a little (or more) stung when one of my favorite authors has really been slamming the whole “pantsers” process. For those unfamiliar with my terminology here, it’s a term you hear in the writing word: some are plotters (they plot and plan prior to writing a book) and some are “pantsers” (they write by the seat of their pants). I write my first drafts as a pantser. It’s the only way 1) I know how and 2) I can. I’ve tried to plot before, and then I lose all the energy around the project and can’t even start it.

Anyway, this writer I really admire has been really shredding the pantser process, saying that you can’t write a life-changing book that way. In addition, this other blog I follow and really respect said much the same thing. It’s hard not to feel attacked, even though obviously these posts aren’t aimed directly at me– but indirectly, they are!

I want to be indignant and upset and mad and frustrated (and I am … and have even spouted off on Twitter about it a little), but I also want to acknowledge that I’m new to this. Yes, I’ve been writing my whole life, but not professionally. My first book comes out in just over a week, and I’m working on a second one. I’m at the starting line. This would not be the first time that I’ve vocally disagreed with something that I later come to embrace. Which is why I’m being hesitant. I could see myself eating my words in ten years. Because I’m hasty and an amateur.

But GOSH, does it bother me to have people that I respect slam my writing process! It’s so very hard to have an author I admire essentially prescribe the right way to write. Yes, a pantser probably has a lot more rounds of revisions– but I’d hope that the final product masks that. Yet, this author says that a well-thought-out perfect sentence on the front end will always be better than a multiple-times-revised sentence. I just can’t win.

It probably shouldn’t bother me the way it does. But it’s hard to have a hero say, “You’re doing it wrong.”

I’m cranky and tremendously emotional, and I feel snubbed by the profession in more ways than one. Oh, and I forgot to take my OCD meds yesterday, which I’m sure doesn’t help things.

I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again: I thought getting the book deal would be the hardest part of the publication process, but that’s not even close. The revisions were so much harder and the emotions are a BEAST. Sometimes I’m not sure I’ll ever figure out the writing life– or how to toughen up my skin enough to make it in this field I love. I never imagined that a week away from publishing my debut novel I would feel so sad and alone and scared and bedridden.

Sigh. And I need to revise novel #2 today. It’s okay. I chose this life, and I honestly do love it. I can’t imagine not being a writer. It is one of the sweetest joys I’ve ever been allowed– a reason I believe in God!– but oh, is it ever hard.

Thank you for listening. ❤

girl typing on a typewriter

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30 thoughts on “A Humble, Hesitant Defense of Pantsers

  1. Jackie, deep breath here. I don’t know anything about pantsters (I must admit when I first saw the title I imagined it would be about women wearing pant suits), but God gifted you with the mind to write the way He wired it. I believe Gone with the Wind was written in pantster style. Remember Margaret Mitchell never wanted anyone to see the manuscript, she just wrote as a hobby while she was recovering from a broken ankle. She would write a bit, put it away, get it out again. It took 10 years from 1926 to 1936 for her to complete it. When she reluctantly gave out the manuscript to a representative from the publishing house touring the south looking for new material, she called him up in a panic right afterwards asking for it back but he was already on the train back to New York. It had no structure to it, it was pages and pages thrown together into a big package. That sounds like pantsing to me.

    Now ignore those other “experts” because they don’t know you and just like with OCD, the only power they have over you is what you give them. Remember, a thought is just a thought until you expend your energy on it and judge it as something bad or worthy of devoting your time and focus on it. Let it Go! Sing the song from Frozen. I’m looking forward to getting my copy of Truest, and couldn’t care in the slightest if it was written in a pantsy style or not. The general uneducated public such as myself will appreciate it just the way it is, and any snobby authors can go away as far as I am concerned. I don’t care about their opinions, I just care about you and your writing.

  2. This is coming from a stranger who doesn’t know anything really about the process of writing/publishing a book (even though I’m in my junior year of being an English major. Go figure.), but don’t give up! I can’t imagine how difficult it must be, especially hearing such negative comments, but judging from the snippets of Truest you have shared on Twitter or your blog, you seem like a gifted writer to me. I can’t wait to get my copy of your book (it’s going on the birthday list)! Don’t stop doing what you love and believe in! You’re right where God wants you to be, and there couldn’t be a better place than that. I hope the rest of the process goes smoothly, and I’ll be praying for you! Love and God bless from South Carolina 💜

  3. It’s quite possible that all those plotters out there started out as pantsers. Or at least some of them. No worries, you’re figuring this out. And a “better” way does not mean it’s the “only” way. You’re just doing the work in a different order and possibly in a way that takes longer.

    From a very amateur pantser to her far less amateur mentor, you’ve got this, lady!! Eat some chocolate 🙂

  4. That’s so messed up! I hate it when people try to take a creative process and shove it into some linear checklist.

    First drafts are exploratory drafts. If the planning comes too early, it suffocates the creative side of the brain! I wonder if they are confused, thinking that pantsers never revise?

    I read this article once that blew my mind about the creative process. It brought me so much relief when I was in the trenches of a manuscript and at war with myself. I blog about it here: https://writelarawrite.wordpress.com/2014/02/26/ten-steps

    Don’t be afraid to have a healthy distrust of authority! Nobody else is the expert of your own processes.

  5. Jackie! You are about to have your first novel published! Oh my goodness, who even cares what process you used. You are a success and your dreams are coming true! Relish these moments… so many never even come close to seeing their dreams become a reality. Be blessed! (and take your meds 🙂 )

  6. There’s nothing wrong with pantsing a story, and it certainly has nothing to do with whether or not you end up with a meaningful book. It’s taken me a while to accept I’m much more of a pantser than a plotter, thinking it means I’m somehow less responsible of a writer. But when I try to plot before I write, well, I end up either not following what I plotted or going around in circles in my head about said plot until I’m too anxious to write a word for fear it will be the wrong one. If I want to finish a story, and keep from being a blob of angst, I have to pants it. Do I have to do a lot of revision work because of that? Sure. But revisions are part of writing and becoming a better writer, nothing to be ashamed of. Everyone writes in a different way. No way of writing is wrong so long as you end up with a good novel at the end of it. Speaking of, I’m super excited for your novel! Can’t wait to read it!

  7. Echoing the above comments. Pants-ing is a valid method, or it wouldn’t have a name, now would it. 🙂 You are an expert in your own process, one which will be continually revised and refined over your lifetime of writing. There are plenty of famous/successful/excellent writers who are pants-ers as well, so please take your admired author’s comments with a grain of salt. She knows what she’s talking about only for her. Not for you.

    I feel indignant for you (and with you, as a fellow pants-er) and I hope you’re able to shake it off (ooh! another song you should sing along to) and enjoy the coming weeks. As all have said – we’re proud of you. You have written a freaking book! And it’s being published! Good for you!! Woot!!!

    Blessings and hugs.

  8. It’s always easy to slam a writing process that doesn’t work for you. As a pantser, I could say that plotting a novel means that you stick yourself to a rigid ladder of events or thoughts that ties your hands and doesn’t leave any room for improvement throughout the course of writing the novel. But I know that for some people, they really need to know where the novel is going before they can even start, and then they fly from there. And that framework may not be as rigid as I assume. I’m a pantser because it works for me, not because my process is inherently better. I also love how you leave room for the possibility of being a planner someday; you never know where the writing journey will take you.

    Love this post. And you, obviously.

  9. I love writing and I have to write. It’s how I respond to the Holy Spirit’s voice in my heart and life. I homeschool four children and write as a hobby only though, so I can’t comment on the professional business.

    But I always, always start with a stirring of the heart, and a few ideas. I honestly believe God does the rest. You are a Christian and everything you do comes from who you are in Him–your writing included. Doesn’t he give us only the information we need for the day (like daily bread)? When you think of it that way, it makes sense that you’re a pantser.

    Write for the glory of God, as you do everything else, and let go of the method. He works the story through you. We are just instruments.

    I read your blog to pick up any information I can to help my 13-year-old son, who has scrupulosity, but I also happen to love writing, so that keeps me reading too.

    I have three children with dyslexia so I read the Dyslexic Advantage blog, which helps me understand that dyslexia is as much a list of strengths, as it is challenges. A great many professional and famous authors have dyslexia; they have narrative as one of their strengths, as well as seeing possibilities others don’t see. I’m wiling to bet dyslexic writers are pantsers!

  10. I think I’m definitely a “Pantser” when I write too. I usually find it hard to pre-plan things and write out plots. I feel when I do plan out things, it takes out some of the life that comes from just letting words flow. In the novel I’m working on, when I start a chapter, I have a basic plot idea in my head and then I let characters take the story where it wants to go (if that makes sense?) I’ve been wondering if it’s to do with my ADHD or Asperger’s but maybe not.
    Thanks for defending us “pantsers”! 🙂

  11. I’m a pantser too, Jackie, and I know how annoying it is when people knock it. Imagine being in an MFA degree and having an incredible writer tell you that you should never write a word of your novel until you’ve planned the whole thing and let it stew for at least a year! (true story)

    The more I listen to author interviews and meet people who write for a living, the more I realize there is no one right way. There is only what works for YOU. So, as the kids say, you do you, girl. Keep at it.

  12. I’m actually really envious of pantsers, because I can’t get past chapter two without at least some plotting, and I really hate plotting, ha! The writing process is definitely different for everyone. And if you can pants your way through the first draft to get words on the page and figure out what your story might be before you dig into revisions where the real magic happens, then that’s awesome! And a totally viable way to write, in my opinion.

  13. I’m a total panster and always have been since I discovered my love of writing as a child!

    I’m new to the world of blogging. I discovered yours while doing some research for my second blog entry and was (and still am) intrigued. I like your style.

    I can see how you would feel hurt by the terminology regardless of how it wasn’t directed at you. I feel paranoid about admitting I’m a panster (who knew there was such a term!)

    I’ve tried the plotting thing too and it just doesn’t work for me. I tried it while I was trying to be a writer, or at least what I thought the world considered to be a valid writer. I went to workshops, got a subscription to Writer’s Digest, took a course. But it sucked the pleasure out of writing. It was no longer organic. There were rules to follow, other writers to compare myself to.

    I may be completely naive but I say embrace the panster approach! And it really doesn’t even apply when you consider all the editing you speak of! Shouldn’t us writers be a community who supports and encourages one another? That’s what I’m hoping to experience as I continue exploring the world of blogging. 🙂

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