The Pros and Cons of the Pantsing Writing Process: What It Is and the Pros and Cons
Writers plan their stories in one of three ways, plotting, “pantsing,” or plantsing. As you probably guessed, the last one is a combination of the two. I normally use the pantsing method of writing because I find that I end up doing it anyway even when I intend to plan. If you want to start writing or you’re already a writer and you’re considering something new, this post will give you an idea of what to expect with pantsing.
What is The Pantsing Writing Process
Pantsing is writing with little to no pre-planning. Many writers make outlines and plan scenes and character arcs and more with great detail before ever starting their first draft. A pantser takes more of a diving in approach, following their inspiration and subconscious.
The amount I know ahead of time about a story varies depending on the story, and, in keeping with the whole concept of pantsing, what I feel I need to know about the story before I can begin. It’s all about the story I’m telling, what that story requires, and my goals for it.
Sometimes I know how my story will begin and end, several key scenes in between, and who most of the characters will be. Sometimes the planning even includes a first or last line, but often not.
Sometimes I know only what feeling or thought I want to explore and who my MC is with a first or key scene to work with.
There is also free-writing, which is no planning at all. You put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and write whatever comes into your head without editing or critiquing. You can edit it later, but first you want to get the feelings or thoughts out.
Free-writing is great for raw poetry, sparking ideas, getting creative juices flowing, coming up with great lines, emotional exploration, and maybe even making a first draft on a short story.
Story ideas can occur when you’re “away from” your writing. All throughout the day you may be coming up with new scene ideas or new bits of dialogue. When you get ready to write again, you might have as much as the next four scenes varying degrees of planned. Or when you get ready to write again you might have absolutely no idea what you’ll write next and the ideas will come to you as you sit there. It varies a lot, and that’s okay as long as you keep writing and enjoy what you write.
The Cons of the Pantsing Writing Process
Let’s start with the cons.
#1. You may get lost.
If I’m writing something long or very complicated, it doesn’t surprise me to realize that I need to be tracking certain things. It’s often dates. Am I accurately saying what day this should be or how much time has passed? Or I may make a little outline of my scenes to make sure the details I included in them are consistent or that I planted the clues in a mystery the way I’d like. You could reread what you’ve written so you can fix it as you go or you may save it for editing. I usually stop and reread if I feel this way.
#2. You may be unprepared.
There may be times when you gear yourself up for a writing session, sit down, put your fingers to the keyboard, and discover you have no idea what you’re writing next. This can be a little scary or frustrating, because you are motivated but you aren’t prepared.
The good news is that most of the time, sitting there, being “in the moment,” the creative juices will start flowing and you’ll be thinking about the scene, where you just were in your story and this immediacy will fuel you. Sometimes you’ll amaze yourself with the things you’ll come up with because you can’t imagine that you ever would have planned them. Sometimes your mood or happenings that day will serve as inspiration.
Sometimes when I’m thinking about my stories, I can only think of what I’m going to write next when I’m away from my laptop and doing other things. Having the document in front of me or forcing it at that moment just isn’t going to happen. And sometimes I can only come up with an idea when I have the immediacy.
Flow and Emotional Arcs
I am not listing this as a con because I don’t feel that it is one, but I am mentioning it because it is natural that people may consider this aspect. I’ve certainly thought about it a few times.
People talk about planning their timing and flow and the emotional impact of their scenes. And I appreciate the benefit of planning this. But I personally feel like I can naturally create this with pantsing because I’m feeling the story as I go. I get to a point along with the characters and I am experiencing the story in real time like a reader would be encountering it for the first time, so if I feel something or need something at that moment, it’s probably what the story needs.
That being said, sometimes I’ll realize that I could add something in. I’ll be writing one scene and think, “I really should add a feeling like this at so and so point,” and I’ll go right away or make a note to go do that. Or I’ll notice when I’m editing that something needs more oomph. But I hardly ever feel the need to do that.
The Pros of the Pantsing Writing Process
#1. It may be less daunting to beginners or to people writing something that makes them nervous.
It depends on the individual. Some people may feel just the opposite. But if you want to dig right in because all that thinking about your work ahead of time will make you self-conscious or you are the type of person who kind of has to dare themselves to do something, jumping right into writing can get you in there, feeling what it’s like, getting invested, knowing you can begin because you’re already doing it.
#2. An excellent tool for exploring.
If you want to delve into your feelings to figure out what all is going on in your head or if you have a concept you want to figure out if it would work or what you really think about it, you can start your story with very little information, even as little as a question and an MC, and just go.
#3. Unexpected, mind-blowing ideas.
I’m not saying this couldn’t happen with planning. Your subconscious could influence your planning process or it might spark something in you while you’re writing and supersede what you planned.
But the immediacy I mentioned earlier, the lack of expectation, the mindset of feeling your way rather than rationalizing your way, not trying to fit your story into a box lends more room for your mind to surprise you. Symbolism, connections, continuity, character arcs, magical scenes, all kinds of amazing things can spring up that you’ll fall in love with and make the story more evocative, more real, or connected in sublime ways.
To Use it or Not
Pantsing is not for everyone or for every story. I’m doing some serious planning for my medieval fantasy right now. You might want to use it when you’re nervous about writing, experiencing writers block, want to work on a more exploratory project than a carefully planned one, or it just suits you better.