Writing a Novel to the End: Writing by the Seat of Your Pants
The number of articles I’ve written on plotting might give the impression I’m against organic writing, or as it is more popularly termed, pantsing. However, nothing could be further from the truth. The hybrid writing process that I most often use, described in How to Write a Novel by the Numbers, benefits from both methods.
I’m not a stickler for any one system, not even my own. I am currently pantsing the third book of my epic fantasy series, Tales of Faeraven, and also writing a proposal for an intricately-plotted mystery novel. I consider myself uniquely positioned to advise writers who plot and also those who don’t.
Why do I teach so much on plotting? Because, whatever writing process you claim, it’s important to understand story structure. The sage advice that you need to know the rules before you break them is never more true than when you are writing a novel.
Pantsing can’t be taught, but it can be guided. I’ve noticed certain commonalities among those who write by the seat of the pants and can offer the following tips.
- Quiet your inner editor. Without stopping to edit, you’ll complete your manuscript more quickly. Speed is important because you’ll be carrying a lot of details in your head. The longer it takes you to write the story, the harder it will be to remember them all.
- Write in marathons. Rather than writing at a steady pace, clearing as much uniterrupted time as possible facilitates your writing the first draft quickly. This prevents the disruption to your focus that even a small interruption can bring.
- Don’t let the story go cold. Sometimes you can’t avoid being called away to work on other projects, but afterwards it can be very difficult to pick up the story thread.
- Try to have at least some research done in advance. You probably won’t know everything you’ll need to research at this point, but the need to stop and research can throw off a writing sprint. Guarding against that happening as much as possible is a good idea.
- Don’t stop for research that won’t determine the plot direction. Only stop to research vital information. Bold print passages you need to check and do the research on the second pass.
- When you get stuck, skip to the next scene, if possible. Mark the uncompleted scene or passage to fix in your second pass.
- Jot things to fix on a notepad or on the first page of the manuscript. Write a quick reminders of what needs fixing while you’re immersed in the creative process and you’ll thank yourself during the editing process.
Writing by the seat of the pants can be a rewarding adventure or a dismal flop. If you’ve started a lot of stories with enthusiasm only to reach a place where you just couldn’t go on, you’ll know what I mean. Unless you weave stories as prolificly as spiders spin webs, attempting seat-of-the-pants writing without understanding how to plot a novel in three acts could lead to stalls and frustration. Pantsing, when successful, can let you create a story closely resembling the spark that ignited it.
- Whether you plot or pants, it’s important to understand story structure. Click to Tweet
- Pantsing can’t be taught, but it can be guided. Click to Tweet
- Pantsing, when successful, lets you create a story closely resembling the spark that ignited it. Click to Tweet
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