Catching Fireflies

finding magic along the way

To Pants or Not to Pants?

If you have never attempted National Novel Writing Month, you may not know that “pantsing” is actually a verb, as in to write by the seat of your pants as opposed to planning out every aspect of your story.

In a recent blogpost on the NaNoWriMo blog at the Office of Letters and Light, poster Grant Faulkner explained that perhaps people who are more comfortable with clutter in their lives make better pantsers. They are not usually afraid of a little mess. He went on to sate that approaching an entire novel, particularly one you will be writing in only a month, with a pantser attitude may not be the answer. Unstructured planning is better than none at all.

Older posts on the same blog revealed that some people felt that outlines were the death of creativity while others took a more anal retentive approach to the task.  I have always fallen somewhere in the middle of the great outline debate.  I will not fill a page with perfectly labeled entries for every character and chapter summary.  This feels too constricting, like an itchy wool scarf around my neck.  But, there must be some kind of plan with notes. 

I have won NaNo all four times I attempted it.  I have had detailed timelines and I have had no clue where I was going.  I found it much easier to write at top speed when I was following a well-laid path.  The blank page is scary enough without hearing the minutes of November tick on by. I found that the stories that had just the barest hint of a plan were impossible to write in a linear beginning-to-end fashion, and they are also the ones that need the most rearranging and editing when they are done.

Other bloggers on the Office of Letters and Light blog admitted that they plan more as justification to get their hands on all the pens and notebooks they can find.  As a previously admitted office-supply addict, I can relate.  I always have a NaNo notebook with me from mid-October through December 1.  I fill it with things I may need to know for my novel, character ideas, rough plot outline, possible names, possible titles and the like. 

So tell me, are you a pantser or a planner? How much do you plan?  Some people swear by Scrivener or timeline software; others like the old-fashioned notebook.  Do you have tools you rely on both before and during NaNo?


  1. I have slowly evolved from a panster into an extremely lightweight planner. I think it has to do with a lack of time. When I first started writing a novel in my teenage years, school and college were my only two time-fillers, and they had massive holidays. At university, other work had to happen as well, and now I’m setting up my freelance copywriting business, I don’t have the time to plough 30,000 words into a novel unprepared, then realise the plot should go in a completely different direction and start all over again.

    I don’t think NaNoWriMo works very well with a pantsing attitude, because the whole point is that the challenge is restricted anyway. I only have a synopsis of my project that runs to about 5 pages and that’s it. I’ll never be one of those planners who has character sheets with their favourite colour/food/music on them because I hate that and think it’s a complete waste of time, but knowing the main story (even just having a blurb) helps me to move in the right direction, whilst leaving me plenty of freedom. I’ve also found that with short stories, if I don’t know how it ends before I start writing, I’ll never finish it.

    • Excellent advice on being a lightweight planner! I like that. The planners that have been posting on the NaNo forums all month about their detailed character synopsis, and outlines, and how they hate this character, and don’t want to kill that one. It seems they are too involved in the story already. I don’t get that involved until I start to write it. And even then, I like to leave myself open to a few surprises in the middle. 🙂

  2. I’m habitually a pantser, but I’m hoping to be a planner for this NaNo. We’ll see!

    • Still haven’t really planned much for NaNo… I get nervous every time I see the countdown to November on their home screen! 🙂

  3. Jennifer Szescula Flanagan

    In the “real” world, I am a type A psychotic planner. So for November I love being a type Z pantser. I’ve only planned one (last year when I rebeled) and I did not the enjoy the experience as much. This year I have a few more ideas and turning points that I had in the past but I love having the story tell me where it is going next rather than be telling it. It is so nice not to Type A myself to death for one month of the year.

    • three days left and well… still not a whole lot of planning going on here. sketchy ideas, yes, but I am not even writing them down. guess my muse wants me to try to pants it this year! going to take your advice and allow myself to be type z where my writing is concerned instead of always trying to be a type a… 🙂

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