I Am Not A Panster

If you ask my wife she would tell you that I am not a detailed person. Most of my friends would say the same. My boss would say I am color blind, but let’s not talk about all my faults at once, okay? I’d like to think I can be detail oriented, but it eludes me. I am a hard worker, tenacious at times, even going without sleep if necessary to complete a task or project. But alas, I have no fine tooth comb. If I ever did, I lost it. Forever.

Panster. When I first heard the term I was confused. Panster, what the? For those of you who have not hear the term it simply means sitting down and writing by the seat of your pants. No plotting or planning, just take a blank page and fill it and move on to the next one. And, though possibly to the ridicule of some, I’d like to say being a panster is not for the serious writer.

Blank pageLiterary giants, and even little ole me, agree that there is a firm rule that there are no rules to the craft. This is true, however, only for the process of getting the book down on the page. You do not follow rules A,B, and C and voila, Dante’s Inferno or the Grapes of Wrath. But I’d like to argue that you also do not sit down with a clear head and there you have the next great American novel or wildly successful YA series. It just cannot happen.

I think it is clear that the two works mentioned above along with most books have a plan, from the beginning. Formulaic or not, the author knows where they are going for the most part. This plan may change and by happenstance or eucatastrophe a beautiful part of the story surprises the author, but only because the other puzzle pieces are laid down. The author knows what size and shape the missing pieces must be in order to make the story work.

Details are not my forte. If you find forming plans too constraining to your free spirit artist, I understand. But keep in mind there must be some form of trajectory. Perhaps not the first draft, so the story is not snuffed out when it is a wee amber, but at some point it will have to be molded into a story. Planning will give your story more of a chance and save you a lot of grief in the editing process.

If you only want barebones guideposts, I suggest you write down the following for each chapter in your book:

Chapter (title)

–          Name of place (or places) this part of your story occurs

–          What the weather is like

–          What characters are involed

–          What would you like to happen. (Write three sentences of your plot)

Do this for each subsequent chapter.

Planning is for the professional, pansting is for practice.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic below.

Find some time to write today!



11 thoughts on “I Am Not A Panster

  1. I know people from both camps. I pantser wrote Paint Chips. I wrote notes and notes and notes and notes for My Mother’s Chamomile. Let’s just say, there’s a big difference between freshmen and sophomores.

    For this novel I’m working on now, I’ve got a whole notebook full of ideas and what needs to happen. I’m still figuring out the order of all the events as I go.

    A lot of writing is all about figuring it out as we go. No matter who meticulous we are in our outlines.

    1. A lot of writing is all about figuring it out as we go. No matter who meticulous we are in our outlines. – Great advice. If you’ve done both, once for Paint Chips and the other for My Mother’s Chamomile, which seemed to “fit”? I know there is no tried and true method, but if you have a moment to share your experience with both, it’d be nice to hear, maybe even in a blog post???

      Thanks for the comment Susie. I always gain insight and encouragement from your thoughtful words.

      On Thu, Feb 20, 2014 at 8:59 AM, Part-Time Novel wrote:


      1. You know, Paint Chips was my learning novel. I learned as much about what NOT to do as what TO do. One of those was to write without direction. For me, it’s helpful to have a good grasp on where I’m going, if only a general idea. I like to leave room for the characters to do their thing.

  2. danielfbowman

    Nice tips on the barebones outline.
    For me, I have to outline (especially for historical fiction) because I need to know the end.
    Do you find that as you write, the story develops more than when you try to plan it?

    1. Daniel, good question. Yes, a story develops way more than I expected. It depends on the project, but for my most recent novel, I outlined around my story, not around the characters. So, there are times the story goes one way and the characters just have to deal with it. For example, I had one character that was an extraneous detail. Through three drafts they were a side bar. Then, all of a sudden, they are one of stars of the show for this book and the next. I love how writing can surprise you like that.

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