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Three Ways To Avoid Pantser Pitfalls


I've talked in the past about my pantsing tendencies.  No matter how hard I try to outline or be a plotter, I always end up sliding back into my deviant ways.  So I've learned to accept it (mostly) at this point and try to work around the weaknesses of this method.


Here are three things that have helped me avoid some of the pitfalls:


Don't hit delete even when you HATE the scene.

Sometimes, the only way for me to move forward is to try a scene a few different ways to see where it goes.  That means I end up with a lot of words I can't use.  I used to just discard the version I didn't end up going with.  But that was NOT bright.  Oftentimes, I realized later that parts of the other version would've worked better or could've been used somewhere else.  And you know how words are, it's almost impossible to recapture them the exact way you had them the first time.


So now, I don't delete anything--even if I'm only going to play around with a scene to see if an element can be shifted, I cut and paste the original in my "cuts" file in case I decide I want to go back to it.  My cut file for this current WIP is 23,000 words.  Ugh.  I know.  But I'm glad I have that file.  This week it helped me out.  I had one scene that I thought I hated and never thought I would use, but then it ended up being just what i need in another part of the book.  I was so happy I had saved it.


Anticipate unscheduled vacation time for your muse.

Goals are great.  500/1000/whatever words a day.  Terrific.  BUT be careful about the goals of, I will have this book finished by said date.  Don't cut it so close that you haven't planned for road blocks.  Everyone hits blocks, but I think pantsers are even more at risk for it because we really don't know what's going to happen next so we lean very heavily on our muse.  And sometimes, that muse goes on a bender to Cabo.  So make sure you give yourself some cushion so that you can take a few days off here and there to let your mind rest and your creativity return.



Make notes (and remember where you put them).

Plotters tend to know their plot threads before they start.  They make these beautiful charts, usually color-coded, with each of the different plot lines and subplots and characters.  They mark where they need to drop in each respective thread within a chapter.  *turns green with envy*  I, on the other hand, come up with terrific ideas for new plot threads fifteen chapters in.  Therefore, I end up having a number of threads, clues, logic details that I need to add into the earlier chapters after I finish drafting the book.


All these little things can add up and are easy to forget.  So have ONE place (a word document, specific notebook, post-it notes to put on a paper manuscript) where you keep all of those reminders, so that when you start revisions, you know what you need to add in and fix.

So those are three simple things that I've learned the hard way.  Do you have any other tips that help you work around your weaknesses?  And if you're a plotter, what are some of the pitfalls of that method?  What are some of your tricks?

**Today's Theme Song**
"Once Bitten, Twice Shy" - Great White
(player in sidebar, take a listen)


Reader Comments (26)

Great tips! I'm not a plotter, and I admit this sometimes leads to "writer's block" but often, I just let my characters lead and shave off the text that takes them off course. I used to delete as well, but now I just do a lot of copy and pasting.

July 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDawn

I never considered planning a vacation for my Muse! I'll have to implement this one for sure:)

July 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTamika:

Great tip! I'm definitely a panster. I have so many little pieces of paper around my desk with my notes for different stories. And my muse definitely takes a vacation from time to time (like now)!

July 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNicole Zoltack

With my last book, I didn't hit the delete key and put tons of notes about changing things. I enjoy being a pantser but I do think it's more work on the editing side of things.

July 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPatti

These are great tips for plotters, too. (Of which I am one!)

July 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSierra Godfrey

Oooh, I love this post today. As a pantser, I can totally agree with what you've said. Especially about unplanned muse vacations. LoL. I often take a few days to do "nothing" when the muse leaves me. Nothing of course being reading or critiquing others. Still writing related but it doesn't further my current WIP. The muse always comes back... eventually.

July 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKatie S

I'm the same as you-- I've tried to be a plotter, and five chapters later, my wip has taken a detour to somewhere my outline had never predicted. I've learned to just go with it. A lot of times, once I'm done with a draft, that's when I'll actually take an outline and structure/add/delete my scenes so they actually follow a nice plot arc.

I have a cut scenes file as well, and boy, it comes in handy!

Thanks for the post. :)

July 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterShallee

I agree with Shallee - keep all your cut scenes in their own file in case you want to bring them back in all their glory.
One weakness with plotting is plotting it to death: what if I ___ or how about ___, then there's always ___. Sometimes I have to stop with the plotting and research and just write already!
Have a great day. :)

July 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMT

My name is Eric, and I am a Pantser.

Cutting scenes: I save as a new MS Word document and ~then~ delete. Sometimes I go back several revisions and continue from that point.

Notes: I keep an Excel spreadsheet at first, and then never look at it again. I'll jot out chapter headings at the end of the doc as they come to me, and I keep a list of characters at the very end of each piece. For reference. Then I change all their names and do things that violate every line in the Excel spreadsheet. You can't fix stupid.

Frustration: I avoid frustration deletes -- DON'T DELETE ANGRY! Save as a new file, start over, and come back to it later.

Plotting: Don't do it. Don't don't don't. I try this every time I start a book -- and I'm on my fifth book, you'd think I'd of learnt by now -- but I can only write something ONCE. My muses hate reruns. Have a rough idea of what's going on, and then go there.

Raping the Muse: Don't do it. That's a harsh way of putting it, but that's how I feel about forcing myself to write, as well as the daily word goals. I do NOT force the muse to speak. Writing must be consensual. Nor do I force them to hit a word count. We write 700wd one day, 3500 the next. Some mornings we try a different position, like on the couch or at Starbucks or at work, when the boss isn't looking.

Know Where You're Going: While it is okay to pants-write, it is NOT okay to ramble. All your scenes must have intent and purpose.

- Eric

July 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEric W. Trant

I'm basically in between, but I lean slightly toward planner/plotter. The biggest problem that creates for me is word count. I have the hardest time consolidating all those ideas into a concise tale and end up having to cut. A lot.

July 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Rush

Pantser all the way. In fact, if I try to push the story in a different direction than the characters want, I slam into a blank wall. So I've learned to trust my characters, just as they trust me to transcribe their story.

I do keep a note file as ideas occur to me, and have a 'deleted scenes' folder as well as a 'version' folder.

And Eric, I love your analogies, i.e. 'consensual', 'different positions', etc. Yeah, it's kinda like that. :)

July 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRoh Morgon

This is great advice! Sometimes I'll copy paste a scene into another document if it doesn't work. That way I still have it if I change my mind later on. :)

July 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAubrie

The first one's going to be REALLY hard to follow-there are a few scenes right now that I'm just itching to get rid of. But I suppose I could exercise some self control...

As for the notes thing, well, only time will tell whether I'll be able to do that or not.

July 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterOddyoddyo13

I'm a pantser, too.

I started filling out chapter forms and putting them in a three ring binder. I also keep gloassaries, etc ... I'll slap post-its on a chapter that needs revision later, saying what I need to do. Seems to work ... when I fill them out.

July 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterM Pax

Pants pants pants all the way.

(with a brief unsuccessful stint as a plotter in between)

I just did a post on this, too! ; )

The 'no deleting' is definately a great tip...I think I have about 20 versions of some things on my computer. I save them by date, so I'll know what I'm doing. In theory, that is.

July 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTessa Conte

I'm still laughing at Eric's post (and agreeing with it 100%).

I'm a Pantser all the way and very happy to know that I'm in good company. That said, when I reached about 20,000 words (my first ms) I found that I HAD to start writing stuff down. Like: who is who, eye and hair colors, birth years. I even jotted down a brief synopsis (one sentence each) of the chapters so I know where what was.

Around 25,000 words I had to start a deleted scenes Word doc. And I just started a 'ideas' Word doc.

Yesterday a.m. after a two week vacation my Muse rolled back in to town all tanned and rested and cracking that whip at me, new info in hand. So I sat down and followed directions. I thought.

This morning, when I realized I'd followed MY directions, not hers (moi?) I was happy to find that I hadn't saved last night's edit to the file copy on my desktop. Phew.

So, yeah, I hear ya. NO. I hear all y'all! Thanks.

~" rel="nofollow">Olivia

July 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterOlivia J. Herrell

Thanks for all the comments, guys. Sounds like there are a lot of pantsers out there. :)

And Eric, you had me snort laughing over that muse analogy. You could make your own blog post out of that, lol.

July 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRoni @ FictionGroupie

Great thoughts here! I am trying to be a plotter but it's hard to break away from the pantsing tendencies. Thanks!

July 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLydia Kang

I'm a total in-betweener. Generally, I have an outline that is something like:

I. [Chapter Title]
....A. Event 1
....B. Event 2

And so on down the list of chapters. It's not very detailed and it's extremely fluid, allowing for my pantser ways to take over.

The pitfalls to my method are that I then tend to go over and over and re-do my outline multiple times to adjust for what I've written in that wasn't originally there.

And I can get so caught up in that it makes me stall in my writing. So I tend to write up the new section of outline, but then tuck it away so it's only in my head. It keeps the outline fluid enough to allow my pantser side loose, but it keeps me structured enough that my other half can really just relax.

Great post. I'll have to keep these in mind for future use.

July 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie McGee

I've got a sort of plotter-pantster hyrbid thing going on. I plot out the bigger parts in advance, but I make up other parts as I go along. There are times when I'm only thinking two or three scenes ahead if that. One of my tricks is to always make notes of what I have to come, often in all caps at the end of what I've already written. That way I don't forget things.

I like your tip about the cut file. It would definitely be useful to have a written record of the things I cut and/or changed.

July 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDominique

Hi Roni, I guess I'm a partial plotter. I have the outline worked out with the main plot lines, but it evolves as I go. I find that if I'm a slave to my plot, I cut out the possibility of something more exciting coming from my imagination.

I have what I call graveyards for my cuts and every major edit is a new file.

If you're interested, you can read ch 1 of my YA fantasy novel, 'Lethal Inheritance’ at
I’d love to know what you think of it.

July 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTahlia

These are great tips! I've often landed myself in the situation where I deleted a scene I thought I hated, but turned out to be exactly what I needed later on. It always sends a little tear to my eye. lol.

And I actually just did my FIRST OUTLINE yesterday. I thought it was time I tried it seeing as I'm always going back and adding threads that I'd thought of halfway into the book! lol.

July 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNoelle

Since my muse just went on a bender to Cabo (grin), I appreciated this post so much. I'm writing a historical thriller and even though I "kinda" know where I'm headed, I don't have a detailed plot and, like you, have lots of cool plot threads that I've developed much later in the book. Glad to know I'm not the only one! :-) (But boy, I WISH I could do the color-coded chart thing!)

July 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa Marsh

Great tips! I keep a deleted scenes file. Great for when you change your mind and want the original scene back.

July 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterWendy Marcus

Great tips, Roni. I'm a panster, too, and I have found cut files invaluable. (They also help a lot when I write poetry. Usually, they're bigger than the poem file.)

You're revision notes suggestion is definitely something I need to work on. I can and do keep enormous amounts of info on all my projects in my head, but sometimes you forget that incredible idea you had in bed last Tuesday, and nothing on Earth or Middle Earth can dig it out of your unorganized brain.

July 17, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteratsiko

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