Pantsing 101: 3 Secrets that make pantsing easier
No one talks about it, but there are a lot of secrets that make pantsing a novel easier. In fact, some of the secrets are dismissed by outliners (go figure)
Turn off spell check
That wavy red line identifying when you’ve spelled a word wrong or one it doesn’t recognize is quite disruptive. In a business writing class, the instructor said it was like a bell going off, telling you to do something. It triggers the need to stop and fix the spelling error—and interrupts the creative flow. Turn it and the grammar checker off, and then run it after you’re done writing your scenes. Or run it when you’re don’t feel much like writing. We’ve had up and down weather changes and my sinuses have not been happy. Good time to run spell check.
Don’t make more work for yourself.
Get the grammar and the punctuation reasonably right and fix the typos when you run the spell check.
Being sloppy means that you are making more work for yourself.
But especially, never ever utter the words, “I’ll leave that to the revision.” Because a pantser’s story evolves out of what’s already been done in the story, that decision can affect everything after that point. I said “I’ll leave that to the revision” on a thriller I was working on. That single decision caused multiple things that needed to be fixed to bring everything in line. Once I did that, those changes created more things that needed to fixed, and those in turn required more things to be fixed.
If you’re stuck, stop and figure out why and what you need to do while you’re still in the first draft, while you’re still creating. Much easier taking care of it in creative mode than trying to fix a completed story.
Move around in the story
A lot of writers approach the first draft as something distasteful that needs to be knocked out of the way in the most expedient process (also how “I’ll leave it to the revision” ends up creating problems). The result is a piece of advice that is not good for pantsers: Write straight through to the end and don’t touch anything.
But as a pantser, the story is evolving as you discover new things about it. You may have to go back to Chapter 2 and add a sentence or a paragraph for something later in the story. All of that builds up subconsciously in your head, so that missing something might knock the story out of alignment.
This is NOT revision. Don’t tweak sentences to make them sound better. Resist the urge!
Instead, fix story related issues that result from the way you’re pantsing and the way the story evolved. There might be a character you introduced and thought he was going to be more important and then he never showed up again. Or maybe you said here that this event happened 25 years ago, and later, it’s 20 years ago. Get those things settled so they can be settled in your head by the time you wrap up the story. It does make a big difference!
I generally do a lot of moving around early on, but mostly catching typos and adding more setting and five senses, since I tend to write thin. But as I get near the end—I’m at about 8K from the end on The Crying Planet—I have to move through the entire novel. It’s looking for continuity errors, things that I put in that sounded like a good idea at the time but didn’t pan out, characterization changes, and anything that’s unclear or inconsistent. I don’t change any of the sentences unless it’s unclear, and I do run into some where I’m scratching my head and wondered what I meant to say.
An outliner might say this is a waste of time, but it isn’t. Taking a little time here can help you also reconnect with parts of the story that you forgot about. I’ve been having trouble figuring out how to end the story, and moving back to review everything reminded me that I had three scenes early in the book that I had to connect to the ending. All of it helps your creativity as a pantser.
There’s a lot of advice out there that says “don’t do.” Trust your instincts as to what works for you. It’s not wrong just because someone else says it is.