Writing by the Seat of my Pants

nano-pantserWriting has always been a passion of mine.  I clearly remember the first story I wrote as an elementary student. It was a high drama romance with a hero, heroine and bad guy that had kissing, kidnapping and a happy ending.  It was three pages long and featured some popular kids from my school.

Years later my writing would morph into a spiral bound notebook that was passed between friends.  We were the characters and we lived a life in a way we could only dream of.  As angsty bored teenagers, our writing gave us excitement, adventure, and, duh- romance! They were titled things like Sassiness Anyone? and Two Bumbling Idiots.  Writing these stories are some of my best high-school memories.

Much later, when I decided I wanted to write a novel, I just started writing. I didn’t plan out meticulously what would happen, there was no plot charting or story mountain. I didn’t give each of my characters intensive Myers-Briggs tests so I could know their inner most thoughts. I just wrote by the seat of my pants.  I wrote from instinct and intuition. I wrote without always knowing what would happen next.  It was just how I wrote. I learned this was called Pantsing. It is the Oscar to Felix’s meticulous planning.

When I was goaded into doing my first NaNoWriMo in 2011 I had no choice but to be a panster-even if I wanted to plan I wouldn’t have been able to. This was due to the fact that my friend convinced me to participate on November 1st and told me I had to come up with something completely new. So I tossed my few thousand words of Lodestone aside and began writing Second Chance Key.

Each and every day I had zero idea what I was going to write. I was lucky in that I had a job that afforded me the opportunity to spend hours doing mindless work (photo editing) so my brain was free to think about the action of the day.  I discovered writing by novel days-planning each day of action in the book, helped me to move my story forward.  When I started my story I had a vague beginning and I knew the end was going to be happy, but I had no idea about anything in between.  Breaking it down into days helped me not get overwhelmed.  So each day while at work I would ask myself what would be happening to my characters that day. Sometimes it would come from one of my children, like when they said, “we want Uncle Russ to be in the story” or “I think there should be a dog that lives under a rock.”  Other times I’d run across something odd in the news and find a way to incorporate it.  Regardless of the techniques I used, I got to my 50,000 and ended up writing an interesting story about motherhood, adventure, depression and forgiveness. If I can write a book from nothing, so can you.

If you are new to NaNo and feel overwhelmed at the idea of planning out a novel, here are some tips to help you succeed as a Pantser.

  1. Start with a beginning, middle, setting and end.  Know where your story starts, at least one character, one or two things you think should/could happen in the book and then a general understanding on how you want to end the story.  Then use those as anchors.  Simply write your way to each event/major action.  Sometimes you may not know how to get to your next action, that’s ok.  I’ve been known to skip forward in my timeline to write a scene that I couldn’t get out of my head, then go back and continue writing in my normal timeline.  I also have found myself unsure how to end one scene and begin the next, thinking I needed some major action-this isn’t always true. Sometimes just ending the scene and starting the next chapter actually flows better.  So trying not to overthink things can really help move you foward.
  2. Get to know your main character. If you don’t plan anything else, just spend some time interviewing your character, knowing how they act, what they like, their strengths and weaknesses and what drives them.  This will help you in your writing process because well thought out characters can often carry the story along without you doing very much. It’s odd, I know, but it happens.  Your characters really do take on a life of their own.
  3. If you get stuck, do a quick side writing about how your characters feel about each other.  This will help give the other characters in the story more depth and may trigger a thought to help you move forward.
  4. Use Story Cubes and writing prompts then do whatever it says to do.  You may be surprised, or you may hate it. Regardless, you will get words down and you can always cut the scene in December after NaNo is over.
  5. Finally, understand it is okay to chase the rabbit down the rabbit hole.  Even if something completely crazy, like your entire cast actually turns into rabbits on their second day of action, just go with it.  Again, you can cut the scene in December if you decide you don’t like it.  If you discover you completely hate it- remember, those words still count. Don’t delete them.  Instead highlight them and make a note to cut in December, then try again.  Because, in November, ALL the words count.

If you have some great advice on how to Pants your way through a novel, please leave it here in the comments.

If the idea of Pantsing make you want to throw up in your mouth, here is a buttload of resources to help you start working on your story.  Below you’ll also find a few posts I’m linking to to help you plan out your novel.

Character/Story Development File -lots of good stuff here. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, sketches, word lists and so on.

Blog post about prepping for NaNo-for those in betweeners who want to plan a little bit.

25 ways to plot by Chuck Wendig

If these resources can’t help you plot-maybe you should give up and just throw caution into the wind and pants along with me 🙂

Happy Planning, or, if you’re Pantsing, oooh, shiny!

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