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How to Pants a Novel

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In school, whenever we were assigned and sort of writing assignment at all, we were always told to start with an outline. Sometimes, we even had to turn in that outline before we could actually start writing out any of the drafts.

I was so bad at outlining at the time, I would typically just start writing whatever the assignment was, and then I would go back after I'd finished and try to pull out an outline.

At the time, there was just something about outlining that felt weird and unnatural to me. It felt like a big waste of time: why should I bother putting together an outline when that wasn't even the main goal? And why did the form of the outline matter at all if it was just a reference point for me to use?

Okay calm down you Pantsers. I know you're sitting here right now pumping your fist in the air while chanting “hell yeah, that's right! Outlines are useless!”

That's not what I'm saying at all… outlines are not useless. While I didn't understand their value back then, I have since come to really love outlines a lot and actually enjoy going through the outlining process with my clients. So, no, this isn't an outline-bashing post nor am I anti-outline at all.

However, if you prefer to take a more intuitive approach to storytelling, then you may be interested in learning how to pants a novel. In this article, I will guide you through the pantsing process step-by-step and provide practical tips to make your experience more successful. Whether you're a beginner or a seasoned writer, I hope this guide will help you embrace your unique writing journey.

Key Takeaways:

  • Pantsing involves writing a novel without any outline or detailed plan.
  • Pantsing allows for creative freedom and exploration, often leading to unexpected plot twists and character developments.
  • Understanding the difference between pantsing and planning can help you decide which method suits your writing style.
  • Practical tips for successful pantsing include developing a strong protagonist and trusting your instincts.
  • Overcoming challenges in pantsing, such as writer's block and plot inconsistencies, can be tackled with specific strategies.

What Does “Pantsing” Mean?

Simply put, pantsing means writing a novel “by the seat of your pants”—that is, without an outline or detailed plan. It's a method that involves embracing spontaneity and allowing the story to unfold organically as you write.

Some writers may prefer a more structured approach, but for those who enjoy the freedom and unpredictability of the pantsing method, it can be a thrilling and rewarding way to write a book.

Of course, this method can seem daunting for those used to having a strict plan in place, but with the right novel pantsing techniques, pantsing a book can be a successful venture. In the next sections, we'll discuss the differences between pantsing and plotting, explore the benefits of pantsing, and provide tips for overcoming common challenges faced by pantsers.

Plotting or Planning?

Let's take a minute real quick and talk about “Planning”—or “Plotting”—or whatever it is you want the opposite of “Pantsing” to be.

Let's take a look at the word “plot”:

Plot (verb): to devise or develop a literary or dramatic plot.

Every author devises and / or develops a literary or dramatic plot.

Yeah, I said it: every author plots.

The only real difference is that Planners choose to research and develop their plots ahead of time, and Pantsers like to discover the plot along the way with as little pre-planning as possible.

For this reason, I prefer using the term “Planner” rather than “Plotter”—but just know that most people use them interchangeably and for the purposes of this article, you can insert Plotter anywhere you see the word Planner and it will still be the same thing.

Pantsing vs Planning: Understanding the Difference

Before diving into the pantsing process, it's important to understand the key differences between pantsing and plotting.

Pantsing, also known as writing by the seat of your pants, involves starting with a basic idea and allowing the story to evolve organically as you write, without a detailed outline or plan.

Planning, on the other hand, involves creating a detailed plan or outline before writing. This approach requires a great deal of planning and organization to ensure all elements are in place before beginning to write the actual manuscript.

It's important to note that there is no right or wrong approach to writing a novel. Some writers prefer the creative freedom and spontaneity of pantsing, while others prefer the structure and organization of plotting.

The P Spectrum

A woman sitting on the floor in front of a pile of books, engrossed in reading "how to pants a novel.

Many writers, authors, and coaches talk about “Pantsing vs Planning” as though you had to choose one over the other.

If you were more creative writing on the fly, you were a Pantser.

If you were more thoughtful and enjoyed coming up with an outline, you were a Planner.

I think this is all hogwash. Can I say hogwash here?

Well I did, it's all BS.

People like to call writers who fall between Pantsers and Planners “Plantsers” and as cute as that term is, it's not quite accurate either. You're not just hitting the mid-point between the two extremes.

In fact, the two ends of the spectrum may not even be that extreme.

The range between Pantser and Planner is much more like a spectrum than a see-saw. You're never going to approach every book the same way. One book might require a bit more planning than the others. The next book might need the timeline to be developed before you can even start thinking about the plot. And yet for another book you might decide that it's better to start with an outline because of how intricate and detailed parts of the storyline will become.

The more you write, the more you'll find yourself slipping back and forth along this spectrum for each story, planning just as much as you need to for that story.

Pantsing vs Planning: Which Method is Right for You?

The decision to pants or plot ultimately comes down to personal preference and writing style. Some writers find they are more productive and creative when they embrace the pantsing method, while others prefer the structure and guidance provided by plotting.

Consider your personal strengths and weaknesses as a writer. Are you naturally more spontaneous and intuitive, or do you thrive on structure and organization? The answer to this question will help determine which approach aligns best with your creative process.

Additionally, it's important to be open to experimenting with different techniques and approaches. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to the pantsing vs plotting debate, and it may be helpful to try out both approaches before settling on a method that works best for you.

The Benefits of Pantsing

As someone who has been pantsing my way through fiction writing for years, I can attest to the benefits of this unique storytelling method. While some writers may find comfort in outlining and planning every detail of their story, pantsing offers a creative freedom that can lead to unexpected plot twists and character development.

When I sit down to write, I often have only a vague idea of where the story will go. As I type, the characters take on lives of their own, and the plot unfolds organically. This approach can be exhilarating, as it allows me to explore different possibilities and let the story evolve naturally.

Pantsing can also be a great way to combat writer's block. When you're not beholden to a strict outline, you can experiment with different ideas and approaches until something sticks. You might end up with a storyline or character development that you never would have thought of with a traditional planning structure.

Of course, pantsing comes with its own set of challenges. It can be easy to lose track of the story or end up with plot inconsistencies. However, with practice and careful editing, these issues can often be resolved. The key is to embrace the creative freedom of pantsing while also being mindful of the story's overall structure.

Ultimately, whether you choose to pants or plot your novel is a matter of personal preference. However, if you're someone who enjoys exploring new ideas and letting your creativity flow, pantsing may be the perfect fit for you. Give it a try and see where your story takes you!

Tips for Successful Pantsing

As a pantser, there are a few things I've learned along the way that have helped me create successful stories without a rigid outline. Here are some pantsing tips for writers:

  • Start with a strong protagonist: Your main character will be your guide throughout the story, so it's important to have a well-developed protagonist before diving into the writing process.
  • Trust your instincts: Writing without an outline means you'll be making a lot of decisions on the fly. Trust your instincts and let the story unfold naturally.
  • Embrace the unexpected: One of the joys of pantsing is the surprise twists and turns that the story can take. Embrace these unexpected moments and see where they lead.
  • Focus on scenes: Instead of worrying about the overall plot, focus on individual scenes. Think about what needs to happen in each scene to move the story forward.
  • Keep track of details: Without a detailed plan, it's easy to lose track of details like character names, timelines, and settings. Keep a running list of these details to refer back to as needed.

Remember, pantsing is all about creative freedom and exploring the story as you go. These tips can help guide you along the way, but the most important thing is to enjoy the process and let your creativity shine.

Overcoming Challenges in Pantsing

As with any writing process, pantsing a story can come with its own set of challenges. Here are some common obstacles that pantsers might face, along with some strategies to overcome them:

Writer's Block

As a writer, you might find yourself hitting a creative wall at some point during the pantsing process. When this happens, it's important to take a step back and allow yourself some time to recharge. Try taking a break from writing altogether or engaging in a different creative activity, like painting or playing music. The idea is to give your mind a chance to relax and reset, so that you can return to your writing with fresh ideas and energy.

Plot Inconsistencies

One of the potential downsides of pantsing is that you may end up with plot inconsistencies or gaps, since you're not working from a detailed outline. The key here is to trust your instincts and listen to your gut. If something doesn't feel right as you're writing, take a moment to reflect on why that might be. Perhaps there's a character motive that needs to be adjusted, or maybe you need to introduce a new plot point to tie things together. Don't be afraid to experiment and make changes as you go along.

Lack of Direction

Without a detailed plan to follow, you might find yourself feeling lost or unsure of where to take your story next. In this case, it can be helpful to set some loose goals or milestones for yourself. For instance, you might decide to write a certain number of pages or chapters each day, or to reach a specific plot point by a certain deadline. Having these mini-goals can give you a sense of direction and purpose, even if you're not working from a formal outline.

By recognizing and implementing strategies to tackle these challenges, you can successfully navigate the pantsing process and write a story that's uniquely your own.

Pantsing Your Way Through a Novel: A Step-by-Step Guide

So, you've decided to embrace the pantsing approach for your novel. Here's a step-by-step guide to help you successfully navigate the process:

  1. Develop your initial idea. Start by jotting down your initial idea in a notebook or on a computer document. This can be a character, a setting, a theme, or even just a vague concept. Use this idea as a starting point and see where your imagination takes you.
  2. Create your protagonist. Your protagonist will be the driving force behind your story. Spend some time developing their personality, backstory, and motivations. This will provide a foundation for your plot.
  3. Start writing. Let the words flow freely. Don't worry about structure or pacing at this point. Focus on getting your ideas down on paper.
  4. Trust your intuition. If a character takes your story in an unexpected direction, let them. If a plot twist pops into your head, go with it. The beauty of pantsing is embracing spontaneity.
  5. Refine your story. Once you reach the end of your manuscript, take a step back and assess your story. Look for areas where the pacing may be off, where dialogue could be improved, or where plot holes may exist.
  6. Revise and edit. Polish your manuscript by revising and editing. This will help refine your story's structure and eliminate inconsistencies.
  7. Seek feedback. Share your manuscript with beta readers or writing groups. Their feedback can help identify areas for improvement and give you fresh ideas for how to refine your story.
  8. Embrace the editing phase. Once you've received feedback, embrace the editing phase. This is where you can fine-tune your story and take it to the next level.

Remember, the pantsing approach allows for creative freedom and exploration. Embrace the twists and turns that come with this approach and enjoy the journey of discovering your story as you write.

Embracing the Editing Phase

As a pantser, editing your novel may seem daunting. After all, you've written your story without a detailed plan or outline. However, the editing phase is an essential part of the writing process and can help you refine your manuscript into a polished final product.

The first step in editing a pantsed novel is to take a step back. Put your manuscript away for a few days or even weeks to gain some distance from your story. When you return to it with fresh eyes, you'll be able to identify areas for improvement more clearly.

One of the benefits of pantsing is that it allows for unexpected plot twists and turns. However, it can also lead to inconsistencies and pacing issues. As you edit your novel, look for these inconsistencies and develop a plan to address them. Keep in mind that not every idea or plot point may work, so be prepared to cut what is not serving the story.

As you refine your manuscript, pay attention to character development and dialogue. Are your characters well-rounded and believable? Does their dialogue sound natural and further the plot? These are important elements to consider in the editing phase.

Finally, don't be afraid to seek feedback. Share your manuscript with beta readers or writing groups to gain perspective on your story and identify areas for improvement. Remember, editing is a collaborative process, and feedback can help you create a stronger, more cohesive novel.

By embracing the editing phase, you can take your pantsed manuscript to the next level and create a story that is both spontaneous and polished.

Finding Your Writing Style: Pantsing, Planning, or a Hybrid Approach

A woman sitting on the floor surrounded by sticky notes, organizing her desk for the blog post "how to pants a novel".

After exploring the world of novel writing and the pantsing approach, it's important to consider your own writing style. Pantsing may not be the best fit for every writer, and that's okay. There are other approaches to writing a novel, such as plotting and a hybrid approach that combines both methods.

Plotting involves creating a detailed outline of your story before you begin writing. This can be helpful for writers who prefer a more structured approach or who struggle with staying on track without a clear plan. However, some writers may find that plotting stifles their creativity or feel restricted by a rigid outline.

A hybrid approach involves starting with a loose outline or general idea of your story, and allowing for flexibility and spontaneity as you write. This can be a great option for writers who want some structure but also value the freedom to explore the story as it develops.

The key is to find the writing style that works best for you. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to writing, and what works for one writer may not work for another. Don't be afraid to experiment and try different methods until you find your own unique style.

In the end, whether you choose to pants, plot, or go for a hybrid approach, what matters most is that you write. Embrace your writing journey and trust your instincts. Happy writing!

Final Thoughts on How to Pants a Novel

Writing a novel is a unique and personal journey, and the pantsing method can be a liberating and exhilarating approach to storytelling. By embracing spontaneity and creativity, you can craft a narrative that surprises even yourself. Remember, there's no one-size-fits-all solution to novel writing. Finding your own writing style is crucial to your success as a writer.

As we've explored in this guide, pantsing a novel requires a willingness to take risks and trust your instincts. It allows for organic storytelling and can lead to unexpected and exciting plot twists.

However, it's important to keep in mind that the editing phase is just as important as the writing phase. Revising and polishing your manuscript can make all the difference in creating a compelling and cohesive story.

Ultimately, whether you choose to pants your novel, plot it thoroughly, or a hybrid approach, finding what works for you is key. By following the tips and techniques outlined in this guide, you'll be well on your way to creating a successful and engaging novel.


How do I pants a novel?

Pantsing a novel involves writing without an outline or detailed plan. It's all about allowing the story to unfold organically as you write, embracing spontaneity and creative freedom.

What does “pantsing” mean?

“Pantsing” refers to writing a novel without an outline or detailed plan. It's a more intuitive approach, where the writer allows the story to develop organically through the writing process.

What's the difference between pantsing and planning?

Pantsing involves writing without an outline, while plotting involves creating a detailed roadmap for your story beforehand. Pantsing is more spontaneous and allows for creative exploration, while plotting provides structure and a clear direction.

What are the benefits of pantsing?

Pantsing allows for creative freedom and exploration, often leading to unexpected plot twists and character developments. It can be exhilarating and rewarding for writers who enjoy surprises in their storytelling process.

Any tips for successful pantsing?

Some tips for successful pantsing include developing a strong protagonist, trusting your instincts, and embracing the unexpected. It's also important to keep an open mind and be willing to revise and edit your manuscript afterwards.

What challenges might I face in pantsing?

Common challenges in pantsing include writer's block, plot inconsistencies, and pacing issues. It's important to be flexible and willing to revise and adjust your story as you go along to overcome these obstacles.

How do I pants my way through a novel?

Pantsing your way through a novel involves starting with an initial idea and allowing the story to unfold naturally. You'll learn how to navigate the novel-writing journey without a rigid outline, trusting your creativity and intuition.

What should I do during the editing phase of a pantsed novel?

During the editing phase, it's important to revise and polish your manuscript. Address any inconsistencies or pacing issues that may have emerged during the pantsing process. Editing is an essential part of refining your story.

How do I find my writing style – pantsing, planning, or a hybrid approach?

Finding your writing style involves understanding your preferences and strengths. Experiment with both pantsing and plotting techniques to see which one resonates with you. You can also consider a hybrid approach that combines elements of both methods.

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