Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Dangers of Pantsing

Not that kind of pantsing, though I'm sure it has its own inherent dangers.  I'm talking about the dangers of writing without an outline.

I've never been able to work with an outline.  I love having the freedom to go where my characters take me.  For some reason that I'm sure has a strange psychological basis, I find that outlining drains the creativity right out of a project.  During first drafts, if I know what's going to happen next, I find myself bored.

I also believe that I'm a pantser because I can't see more than a couple of chapters ahead of where I'm at.  I don't know what's going to happen in chapter 30 until around chapter 26!  Any time that I try to think farther ahead than that, something inevitably happens that renders my ideas unusable.

Pansting is exhilarating.  It's like running off on a roadtrip without a map, letting the wind carry you where it will.  When I'm pantsing a first draft, I spend so much time just lost in thoughts, mentally writing scenes and getting to know my characters.

The downside is that sometimes I get lost.  I end up in the middle of nowhere with a car full o f hitchhikers and no way to get home.  Usually, the best I can do is plow forward and hope I don't run out of gas.

I'm in that situation right now.  I'm 50k into a story and I'm about 3/4 done.  I've set up all these story lines and now I have to somehow figure out a way to bring them together.  Some of them, I'm not sure will make it past the second draft.  In fact, I'm sure some of them won't.  That's the danger of being a pantser.

Sometimes I wish I could outline, but the truth is, sometimes getting lost is the best thing you can do.


  1. See, but how do you even know you're 3/4 done?

    1. That is actually a really good question. The truth is that I just sort of know. Whenever I start a book, I usually know three things: 1. How it begins (which often changes) 2. How it ends (which rarely changes) 3. How long it will be. I don't know if it's an instinct of a self-fulfilling prophecy, but I generally come within 5-7k words of what I thought I'd come in at.

      BTW: Happy freaking birthday!

    2. Thanks man! I don't always come back same day, but I always try to come back later. And I kind of hear you.

      I've written a book from a very thin outline (just ten plot related bullet points), and then I have one planned that has a 10,000 word brainstorm/outline/character sheet atlas (but it's a secondary fantasy world, so there's that), but usually I'm somewhere in between.

      Of course there's no right or wrong way. It's just fun to talk about.


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