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.

9 thoughts on “Pantsing 101: 3 Secrets that make pantsing easier

  1. Good advice on revision. I changed characters in a scene once and never fixed the earlier part that mentioned the characters who were removed… And rereading a story once, I realized that I had introduced a dog who was never seen again. (I hate it when writers do that.) So I added him here and there throughout the story–an easy fix.


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  4. Peggy

    There’s something about this sentence that bugs me: “Don’t tweak sentences to make them sound better.”

    Sometimes, our initial intuitive words aren’t quite RIGHT, and as a result, the impression created for the reader is incorrect. (The most extreme example of this is a story by a professional writer who introduced a male and female character. The male was significantly older than the female, and the words she chose implied a potential romantic relationship, where she meant for the male character to be more of a mentor/father figure. Talk about confusing the reader…)

    I think changing that kind of thing, whenever we figure out we’ve done it, is good. (Sometimes, on re-read after a break from that part of the story, we might figure it out ourselves; sometimes, a beta reader might catch it.)


    1. That’s different than what I was referring to. Sometimes things don’t come out right, and those will get fixed as the story evolves. What I was talking about was revising sentences to make them perfect. That brings in the inner critic in a big way. I used to work with a cowriter, and he suffered such bad fear of finishing that he constantly fiddled with the first chapter. He could not keep his hands off changing it one more time. And the changes were superficial at best.


      1. Peggy

        I understand that, and agree. But some people take it to the extreme of don’t change ANYTHING, and I that I have to disagree with.


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