Pantser’s Guide to Writing: You Are Not Broken!

Cover for Panters Guide to Writing You are Not Broken

For writers who don’t outline—called pantsers—it’s hard finding anything on how to write that doesn’t involve outlining.

Author Linda Maye Adams, a pantser writer, cuts through some of the myths and may save you wasted time looking for solutions.

In this guide, Linda Maye Adams addresses the issues that derail pantsers and also provides tips to make the writing process easier.

Available on from your favorite booksellers for $3.99, including Amazon and Smashwords.


How I edit as I write without an outline

Land ho!  I just blew past my book’s halfway point.  Now I’m on the side where the story has the potential to suddenly start moving very fast (writing-wise).  Sometimes that gets it’s own momentum.  With luck, three more weeks, maybe less.

I’m constantly moving around in the story, making changes.   Everyone tends to say, “Don’t edit/revise as you write,” but really, it’s the most natural thing for me to do because it’s part of the creation process.  It’s part of how I discover the story as I write, since I don’t know where everything is going.

And yeah, I did follow the “Don’t edit/revise as you write” for a while because it’s one of those pieces of advice that makes sense, which is what made it bad — the common sense feeling of it is why I did it.  It’s actually unnatural for me to write straight through to the end of the story, because I end up with a messed up book.

Now I do have some ground rules for the changes:

  1. No happy to glad. I’m not tweaking words to make them perfect.  I used to work with a writer who worried about whether women readers would read the book or put it down because of a particular word choice.  I don’t worry about that kind of stuff.
  2. No moving around if I’m stuck. One of the things that became an issue was if I got stuck, I’d go back and make tweeks instead of trying to fix the problem.  The tweeks were often happy to glad, rather than useful, so if I get stuck, I have to focus on moving forward.
  3. Changing anything has to have really legitimate reasons. It can’t be because I’m stuck, or a vague “something is wrong.”  Left brain is always going to scream, “Ack! Ack!  The story is broken!  Fix!  Fix!” even when it really isn’t.

More typical of what I move back to is taking care of a section that needed more research, or that I’d discovered some research that shows me a better way of what I was trying to do.  Nearly most of this involves setting, because that’s a huge chunk of the character’s perception of the world around him.

It’s kind of like I’m just making sure all the parts are connected together.

And I also check for typos.  I always find those. 😦

All of this sound simple, but in some respects it is, and in other respects it isn’t.  It’s just what my process is.  The first rule is really to always trust the process, and that often gets forgotten with other rules.

The way things are supposed to be and the way they are

If you’re even a little bit different, if you don’t quite fit in with what’s normal, you end up in this weird sort of between. You have to find a way for things to work as they are and the way they’re supposed to be, and yet, people will still insist you’re doing it wrong.

I’m a visual spatial and kinesthetic learner.

Visual Spatial means I see in pictures. Where other people might read a word by sounding it out, I have to get a picture.

Kinesthetic means that I learn hands on.

A teacher in a business class I attended said this was a tough combination. They’re constantly at war with each other. Truthfully, that doesn’t even include the conflicts with the rest of the world.


I’m a writer and I’m not a great speller. It’s because I have trouble connecting to the picture of the words. When other people read, they sound out the word. I get a picture. The whole process happens so fast that I hop over words as i read, absorbing them in an instant and then moving on.

It creates havoc on the spelling side. There are some words I can’t associate with a picture because they’re too abstract. Other words have abstract spelling. So I’ll be working on a story and stall at a word while I search for a picture to get the spelling of the word. Sometimes all I can do is type in something that’s a close approximation to get close enough for the spell checker to pick up the right word.

But try getting words wrong in any environment. You’re labeled sloppy, careless, or not trying hard enough.


The world has gone to the land of online classes. You don’t have to show up at a specific time; you can just tune into your computer and listen to a lecture. Most of the ones I end up having to take as work requirements have a module where there are lots of flashy pictures while a narrator drones on.

The Visual Spatial me hates the pictures. They’re often those generic pictures with people sitting at desks, smiling at the camera. They look nice, but they don’t mean anything in learning the material.

The Kinesthetic me hates the narrator droning. I’m just supposed to sit there and listen? There’s nothing actually to do? It’s not even letting me simply read it. Unfortunately, this is the fault of the people who want to “check the box.” It’s to prevent them from clicking through the material without actually looking at it.

The result is that I’m not getting much out of the training because no one’s really thinking about my learning type. It’s not that hard. If you’re going to spend the time on the pictures, pick ones that contribute to the learning, not just look pretty.


Then there’s writing. I’m guessing the way I write is a result of the blend of visual spatial and kinesthetic. I don’t use an outline, and moreover, I can’t. It destroys something in the creative process for me that only the actual writing gives me.

The people who need outlines don’t get this. At all.

I wouldn’t have a problem with this because I don’t get how someone can outline a story out without having the story. But I understand from both being a visual spatial learner and a kinesthetic learner that everyone processes things differently. That’s reasonable.

A common saying is “Whatever works.”

Yet, the minute outliners find out a writer doesn’t outline, there’s a recurring theme:

  • Organic writers are broken.
  • Their stories are always a mess.
  • It’s wrong to go off on tangents or rabbit trails.
  • It’s wrong to need revision.
  • Organic writers need to learn how to outline and write the correct way.


What happened to “Whatever works”?

It’s a challenge for those are of us who don’t fit in the standard. The world wants to push us to the standard, and yet, the between is where the true creativity is born.

This is from a prompt over at The Daily Post on “Between.”  I’m a writer, so I wanted to paint a picture with words rather than a photograph.

Theme and Scenes

I’ve been hard at work on two projects using the How to Think Sideways and How to Revise Your Novel Workshops.  I would say it’s not a good idea to try taking the two together–at times I feel like I’ll never get all of it done–but in some respects they’re both helping me understand some areas that I’ve had a lot of trouble with.

One is a new project, started from scratch, and the other is an existing project, which an agent told me I overplotted.  Here’s where I’m at:

New project: Masks (working title)

Conflict has been one of those things that was difficult for me to understand on the revision side.  With some of the work I’ve done through the course on the creation side, I’m starting to see how to work the conflict.  Mind you, I’m still in the planning stage; I haven’t begun actual words to page.  One of the things I had to flag to myself was to avoid the word “discover” because it represents weak and uninteresting conflict.

Poor conflict:  Protagonist decodes the book and discovers the truth about the curse.

Better conflict: Protagonist decodes the book–what she thinks she knows about the curse is all a lie.

And discover is awfully easy to fall back on.  I had to work a bit to create the second sentence without using the word ‘discover.’

Next up is to do an outline of the scenes.  It’s not a typical outline where you plan everything out in excruciating detail, plus it’s also not the first step (I’m on step 8).  Still, I’m trying hard not to running screaming from the room!

Revision: Cascadian’s Blight (title will change)

This had the tougher task of dealing with the theme.  My experience with theme was in school with teachers pointing to a book and saying, “The theme is X.”  And I’m reading the book and not seeing “X” (Southern California schools).  Plus, the concept of it is rather vague.  I went out and got a writing book that was supposed to deal with themes.  At least one would think so since Theme was in the title, but it was a chapter near the end.  This was about as specific as I was able to find:

Themes are often a declaration of the human condition. Or a truth that explains human behavior.

I’m still not all that clear on it, though it looks like I’ll hit on it again in Lesson 10.  So we shall see …

What Did You Learn About Writing in 2010?

The new year always offers moment of reflection on the past year and what’s coming.  One of the biggest revelations for me came in December, and it was on why outlines haven’t worked me.

I’ve always just started writing.  No outlines. And I’ve had people pressure me to use an outline over the years, always with whatever their format was.

Novel writing presented special challenges, because I’ve had a lot of trouble with running too short and with subplots.  So I tried different types of outlines and participated in an outline workshop.  What I found was that the outline always crashed and burned at about Chapter 3.

The only one that was a little different was the workshop.  That provided a clue that eventually led me to discover why outlines haven’t worked.  The workshop came in four sessions.  The last two I had a hard with–I didn’t understand them, but I tried to fake my through, figuring I might get an understanding by doing. I have to learn by doing, but it’s hard when you don’t understand what you’re doing.  The instructor kept telling me I needed to do more character development in the outline.  I was having trouble with the story and I was sure about the characters, so I was letting them go.  She kept pressuring me to do character development, so I finally tried to get something in.  It was very difficult, and frustrating.  A month after the workshop, I looked at the troublesome lessons again and still didn’t understand them at all.

I started How to Think Sideways in December.  That’s Holly Lisle’s workshop on how to create a book from the beginning.  In Lesson 5, she shows a very different approach to outlining.  I realized that a traditional outline requires me to juggle all the elements i.e., protagonist, antagonist, conflict, story, etc. at the same time, so I was dropping balls.  In some cases, like in the outline workshop, I dropped elements I knew would be easy, but I’ve also dropped balls on hard elements.  I do better when these elements are in buckets, separate of each other, so I only need to focus on one.

What did you learn about your writing in 2010?