The Pros and Cons of Pantsing

Pantsing is pretty much the act of winging it, or in writing terms, it’s when you just write and have no plan guiding you in one direction. With pantsing, so many possibilities are possible. You could make your character do this, or you could make it do a headstand. It all depends on where your mind decides to take you without much thinking involved.

There are both pros and cons to writing like this. Some people hate it and think it’s not a great idea, and some people don’t mind it or maybe even like it. Personally, I don’t mind pantsing.

There’s this great metaphor for two different types of writers – the architects and the gardeners. The architects are the non-pantsers, the ones who sit down and plan the entire book out really thoroughly, the ones who have a very clear idea as to where their book is heading, and know every little twist and turn and detail about their novel. They have to plan where every pole is going, where every wall should be placed because without that strict structure, the whole thing could fall down. People writing crime/murder novels may want to be architects so they can figure out who the murderer is and who they are going to blame before the real criminal is discovered. The gardeners might do a little bit of planning beforehand, but it’s really only a very basic structure – really only where they would like for a flower to go but it doesn’t necessarily have to be in that place, because there are multiple places that the flower can go as well – and then the rest of it is written without much further thought.

Pantsing can be hard sometimes because it can lead you on these wild adventures and can leave you wondering where you are. It’s like going for a walk in a forest – you can walk and walk through the forest without a final destination in mind, just content to take the scenery in, but eventually each tree will look the same and so will every mushroom. Eventually, you’re lost and you’re unsure which way to turn, which way is the correct way to go. There are so many possibilities playing in your head that it’s hard to choose which is the right possibility.

Sometimes this can be a problem and could lead to very lengthy scenes that really don’t need to be that long. But you’re just writing without thinking, you’re not thinking where this scene could leave you in the end. And sometimes that can lead you to getting stuck and unsure of where to go next because you’ve wandered into a completely new section of the forest which you’ve never been before. And then, the writing blocks begin and you sit there thinking, trying to get yourself out of the situation or trying to figure out what meaning that paragraph has to the rest of the story.

But pantsing can also be good in that you can put yourself in the passenger seat rather than the driver’s seat. But while in the passenger’s seat, you can have one finger touching the steering wheel. You can watch the scenery go past just like if you were the reader. You can watch the story unfold before you, watch the action play out, learn new things about each character just as the reader does. But the one finger on the steering wheel can also help guide you if you choose that you no longer like what you’re writing, and you can turn the wheel slightly and guide the story in a new direction where you can start viewing the possibilities once more through the reader’s eyes.

Personally, that’s what I love about pantsing. I like how I can be the reader for my own story. I can find out brand new things for the first time as I’m going along, and as I’m writing I can see where this could lead and I have the choice of whether I want to follow that vision or whether I want to see what else this scene could do and whether it would be better. It’s like an adventure in your own head as your reading and writing, like one of those ‘choose your own adventure’ books that is coming to life.

It creates an endless amount of possibilities and that’s the exciting part – choosing while also not completely knowing.


What are your thoughts on pantsing? Are you a pantser or a planner? A gardener or an architect? Share your thoughts in the comments below and feel free to discuss. 


7 thoughts on “The Pros and Cons of Pantsing

  1. I think you perfectly described pantsing here – it really is like watching the story unfold before you, except with the added terror of needing to make the whole thing coherent. I’m usually a ‘hybrid’ – I like to think of myself as a gardener with pots, because I like knowing where my story is going – but not exactly how it will unfold.

    With the sequel to Bureau of Time, I’ve been forced to pants the whole thing, and it’s scary – but if it works (which I hope it will) – I can save myself a lot of headache and stress of plotting.

    This was a really good post – thanks for sharing!


  2. You know, I don’t quite understand why gardening is considered analogous to pantsing. There are a lot of planning things involved, a lot of structure; it’s more than figuring out where to plant something, it’s foguring out when, when and how much to water it, how much sunlight it needs, and what will overgrow what, how long it will take to grow, etc. Your analogy of driving or ambling through the woods is, I think, much stronger.

    I used to be such a pantser, but I got stuck all the time. I would stop a piece because I didn’t know what to do with it; I know now that the issue was often a lack of overarching conflict, a lack of direction for the story overall. Since, I’ve begun plotting very intensely, with a fair bit of detail, and my first drafts have become much stronger. Now, the only pantsing I do is in the details of the scenes themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: What is the Rowling Outline? – Brett Michael Orr

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s