Do writing classes and workshops help pantsers?

There’s a lot of courses out there.  I can name at least four sites that offer a range of writing courses for writers, plus a few individual writers who offer a course or two from their own site.

I took my first ones that included the disaster that was Pantser-Friendly Outlining.  Oooh, the pain.  It was like fingernails on chalkboard.  I had the humiliating experience of being the only writer who didn’t get the pantser-friendly outlining at all.  The other writers jumped in and tried to help, but the techniques were not easy to even understand.  It was four weeks, and I thought about quitting each week.  A month later I looked over the material again and wondered how I had managed to actually finish it.

Then there was the $200 one, which was on revising.  The instructor did indicate that the course would be flexible for pantsers.  I battled my way through it, feeling like I was going to pull my hair out.  The techniques were strictly for outliners, and I kept butting my head up against them.  The workshop did show me a major problem in the story that I hadn’t been able to identify.  However, once I exited from the class, I didn’t use a single technique ever again.

Then there was the one with a cool, fun theme, on, well, theme.  That introduced a lot of other techniques to identify what your theme was.  It didn’t say it was pantser-friendly, so I asked the instructor.  I told her I was an extreme pantser.  The course was only $20, but I didn’t want to waste my money, or my time.  She said that it was pantser friendly but that she had never worked with an extreme pantser.  That really should have been a warning sign.    I ended up having so many problems with the course that the instructor had to call me to try to figure out what was going on.  I finally managed to figure out a theme for the story, but about a month later, I tossed it because it had taken me down the wrong path.

It turned out I was an extreme pantser.  I didn’t realize the impact this had on these writing classes because I’d pretty much grown up seeing all the same techniques discussed.  I didn’t realize for a long time that most of them applied specifically to outlining.  So I had to dig deeper and find workshops by pantsers.

I also had to discard thinking that I could take an outlining technique and apply it to pantsing.  While I’ve run into writers who say the techniques are the same, those are middle of the road people who can switch from outline to no outline.  From the perspective on the extreme pantser, as well as running repeatedly into a brick wall, I’ve never been able to convert the outlining techniques into anything I can use.

Signs a workshop might be for outliners and not pantsers:

  • Titles like “Structure for pantsers”: Absolutely no doubt here the instructor is either an outliner or middle of the road and will be teaching outlining techniques.
  • Movie Techniques:  Pretty much anything that’s a three act structurestory beats, or Blake Snyder’s formula from Save the Cat.  There’s been some recent talk about the damage Save the Cat may have done to films.
  • Promises the workshop can’t keep: “We’ll teach outliners and pantsers how to do X.”
  • You’re doing it wrong:  Some outliners think that pantsers don’t know any better and are doing it wrong.  If you see a course like this, just stay away.  It’ll do more damage than good, no matter what the person promises.

I think the biggest thing here was to stop battling my writing process.  That’s so hard to do because so much of the information does imply pantsers are broken and spends too much time trying to fix them.  Trust the process.

8 thoughts on “Do writing classes and workshops help pantsers?

  1. “Pantsers” is a new phrase for me, and it took your link to cue me in.
    That said, I’m in the club … very rarely an outliner, even if I have an overall structure for a work in mind when I set out.
    As a friend quoted one of his fellow filmmakers, “If I knew when I set out just where this was going, I wouldn’t have needed to do it.”
    Or, with my novel “Subway Hitchhikers,” it would have been finished years earlier, without generating four other works along the way. And, let’s been candid, it would have been much more “commercially viable.”
    Am still glad I let the inspiration flow where it did rather than channel it.


  2. And I’m in between. I’ll kill my story if I try outlining, beats, or anything else of that nature, but I’m rarely winging into the deep. I do sometimes, but it’s not my typical modus operandi. My idea of structure is let’s switch viewpoints in this order or let’s do present time and flashbacks alternating or I’ll use a poem with each line as a chapter title so keep to that thematic flow, etc.


  3. Pingback: What the heck is a pantser?! | Linda Maye Adams

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