We had three secrets that would be helpful for the pantser writing a book without an outline, so we have to have 3 things to avoid.
Avoid asking for permission
This is common on writing message boards. Writer comes on, posts a question, and it’s along the lines of “Am I allowed to do this?”
Unfortunately, this is usually asked from writers at the same skill level, and they often don’t know any more than the person asking the question. If the question is about pantsing, invariably, you’re going to get “You have to outline.” On one of the Facebook pages I’m on, one of the writers was shocked that you didn’t have to outline. She’d heard everywhere that it was “required.”
Avoid “fake experts”
There’s a shocking number of fake experts out there. These are people who either no credentials or little credentials but claim expertise on how to write books. Because of NANO, I keep seeing ads for this business, trying to sell me on how to write. Extensive site, but generic writing advice. The About page didn’t tell me if the owner had any writing experience, which means he doesn’t. A writer with experience isn’t going to hide that.
The problem with the fake experts and pantsers is that outlining is easy to teach. They can pound their fists and declare “All pantsers books are a mess!” or “Pantsers need structure!” and make you feel like the way you write isn’t the correct way—and they have no idea what they’re talking about!
Yet, they can sound very credible, so you must learn to watch for them. One of the most telling ways to discover fake experts is from Forbes:
Real experts have no trouble saying: “I don’t know.”
An example of this happened several years ago. A writer posted on Dean Wesley Smith’s blog that he/she was struggling with writing a memoir. Being a fiction writer, Dean admitted he didn’t know.
(For the record, I did provide my experience writing Soldier, Storyteller. The writer’s experience sounded similar to mine.)
Don’t switch to outlining because you run into trouble on the story
Every time I read a writer saying, “I’m a reformed pantser,” I cringe. I wonder if that writer tried the outlining and then gave up writing entirely in frustration, figuring they couldn’t write.
If the story is a mess, or you painted yourself into a corner—assuming it isn’t your head talking and saying the story is garbage—stop.
Start reading back to where the story felt right. Pantsers tend to go down rabbit holes. Sometimes those yield great rewards, and sometimes it isn’t the right direction. It might be that you just need to take out some scenes to get back on track.
By the way, this is also another reason why “writing straight through to the end” isn’t a good idea for pantsers. You have to be able to back out of the rabbit hole and steer away from it. Can’t do that if you go straight through.
But also, if you stop and work out the problem, you’ll learn a lot about how you write and about things that you need to do so your process works.