Why I Quit Pantsing – The Beginning of A Two Month Plotting Adventure


Welcome to the blog of a chronic pantser, it’s nice to meet you! If you don’t know what a pantser is…here is a little definition that the kind folks of Google let me borrow:

A pantser is someone who, “flies by the seat of their pants,” meaning they don’t plan out anything, or plan very little. 

Oh yeah, that’s me. I jump into a new story idea like the deep end of a swimming pool. There’s nothing wrong with this method of writing a novel, if you manage to actually FINISH writing it. However, I’m just chasing my tail at this point.

For some people pantsing their novel is the best way for them to finish their story, and that is FANTABULOUS. There are Pros and Cons to both methods, as listed beautifully on The Writer Practice. You should write your story how ever you need to get it done. Pantsing just wasn’t working for me.

Here’s a few quick reasons why:

  1. I was overwhelming myself. Like an unplanned trip to Disney World during the busiest time of year, with a goal to ride every single ride. It’s just not going to happen without some intricate planning on your part. You’ll wind up at the park with a sun burn in a two hour long line to ride It’s A Small World, totally and completely overwhelmed.
  2. My plot is intended to be intricate. I have some very necessary plot points that weave a delicate web…this was not going to happen by my jumping in full throttle and trying to write this thing from nothing.
  3. I pull from a lot of Folklore, which requires research. Research that I was haphazardly pulling from weird, inaccurate corners of the internet. Pantsing doesn’t click well with a high fantasy involving a steady foundation like the one I want to include.

Now, don’t get me wrong. These points can all be true for the story you’re writing, and you could pants it beautifully. Here’s the main reason I can’t pants anymore: I’m not a great writer.

Ha! Imagine that.

No, seriously. I can’t pants because I’m not all that skilled of a writer to do so. I’m unpublished and fairly inexperienced. I need to compensate for my lack of words under my belt, lack of life experience, and lack of knowledge of my craft. I need to plan to keep up with the fascinating minds that don’t. Some of you can write a story with a beautifully thought out plot and tie everything together at the end purely because of your patience and attention to detail. I don’t have that. So, I’m going to plot.

Almost like a person who is bad at math needs to go through extra steps to solve a complicated equation. I’m that person. I need to show my work, long division style, to write this novel the way I want.

Here’s my decision: September and October will be two blissful months of research and planning. I am going to read my ass off. I am going to fill a notebook with scratches of notes and challenge my ideas from different angles. Then, on November 1st, I will begin my novel for National Novel Writing Month 2015. 

I know what you’re thinking: “Plot for TWO MONTHS? What? Are you crazy? That’s so excessive. Why would anyone want to do that? What if that huge gap in writing actually makes you overthink, overplot, and terminate your idea? You’re being ridiculous.”

Calm down. I know I’m being ridiculous. But this is the one angle I haven’t tried yet. I have never ever outlined a story. I’ve never done an excessive amount of research, or mapped out first and secondary characters. What if this is the way that works for me? I’ll never know unless I try.

Finally, goals for September:

  1. Read, read, read.
  2. Research European folklore and collect the bits that fit my story together in one place.
  3. Discover the purpose, motives, and structure of my plot.
  4. Discover characters and setting based heavily on what the plot needs to survive.
  5. Make a semi-coherent time line

This is super vague on purpose. I don’t want to lock myself in a cage, or restrict my imagination from going where it wants. These are guidelines to ensure I get stuff done. Outlining will probably be the very last thing I do. For September, I will collect the puzzle pieces, and in October I will place them in a pretty pattern. Sound good?

Let me know if you’re a plotter or a pantser in the comments section. Also feel free to let me know if this blog post was outrageously boring, and if you’d like me to put a stopper on any future similar posts.

You can also catch me on Twitter – @NicoleLautore

Happy Writing! 


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  1. I actually used to pants too. And then the ideas for a new WIP wouldn’t stop coming when I was trying to focus on my current ms, so I accidentally planned out the entire thing. It turned out really well, so I think I’m going to do the same for NaNo and see what happens?

    1. That’s great, Alyssa! Yeah, I was also having a similar issue with too many new ideas. Some of them were really bad ideas, but they would force me to doubt the path I was using for my characters. Hopefully this new planning journey will help!

      Good luck with, Nano! We can support each other 🙂

  2. I usually do a mix of both pantsing and plotting. I start with a session of sheer pantsing glory to get an idea started up and get momentum going. Often I’ll sit down to do a freewrite warm up with no idea in mind what so ever and just start writing with a goal of doing a minimum of one page, with one my Pandora stations playing. Usually a story begins to burst forth and I can’t stop at one page and I stop knowing I have a full story brewing. It’s normally a few pages deep when I start doing some plotting and planning. Every once in awhile I start with plotting & character first answering a few questions about what I want to write about, I especially start that way for NaNoWriMo. When I started really getting into writing at 11 or 12 years old I would excessively plan plot and so on down to the point developing school schedules for major characters deciding all their classes and teachers name writing up a big family tree chart for major characters and more. I realized that method does not really work to well for me it so excessive & out of hand quick. But at the same time I came up with a wealth of plot ideas just looking at those charts. For a bit I tried full on pantsing and that was frankly worse because I’d get a certain point deep and then realize I’d made a massive tangled mess when I realized I’d had the woman’s real love interest cast wrong, that I wanted a different character I’d been writing in the story to be hers. Or some other such big issue. The middle ground is definitely the place for me to be writing I get much more done. I’ve yet to finish a novel but that has more to so with time constraints, life chaos, and a million ongoing projects all the time, cuz in addition to being a writer I’m also an artist, crafter and have online shopkeeping to do. A novel will be finished and I know it’s the mixed approach that works best for me, it’s just a matter of which one ends up done first.

    1. Thanks for your comment Christina! I have actually read of many well-known authors who approach writing their novels the same way you do. Often they will just start with the blank page, and do the necessary planning a few pages in as they go. That’s fantastic that you’ve found a method that works best for you! One of my goals for the “planning” months to come is to not “overthink” too much, and just collect the useful tools I need to start my book in November, as to avoid what you mentioned above, the ‘tangled mess’ of too much info. Hopefully this new angle I am approaching will turn out to be my best method!

      Happy Writing, and thanks again for your great comment!

  3. I was a panster most of my life. I don’t think I ever got more than two scenes in before things fell apart and I lost interest. It wasn’t until I heard about outlining, particularly the Snowflake Method, that I got anywhere. I won NaNo in April and that would not have happened if I didn’t have a plan going in.

    I don’t think 2 months is to long for plotting. It sounds just about right to me. There’s a lot out things to think about besides the plot, especially for a fantasy novel. I’ve spent the last 2 days just roughing out maps. I’m hoping to be ready to write in November, too, although I don’t know if I’ll try to do the full 50000 words again.

    1. And that’s totally okay! Maggie Stiefvater (one of my all time favorite authors) thinks 50K in 30 days is just WAY too much. And that’s fine. You do what’s right for you.

      I’ve been looking in to the snowflake method recently during my planning process and I think once I start outlining, this method will have a really big impact on my plot. I’m excited to give it a try!

      See you on Twitter! 😉 I just followed you back…for some reason I thought I already was! <3

  4. Great post! And I love that you have set so many goals for yourself to make it happen. I don’t find planning for two months excessive at all! It’s always a good idea to research, and I’m sure your book will reflect all your hard work when it’s finished. I tend to do a mix myself, but I’m definitely a plotter at heart. I started out in my younger years as a pantser, and the results were never very good. I was lucky to finish a story (unless it was a short one), and the overall quality suffered. But with my current WIP being a series, there is definitely a lot of planning required. I love to organize and give structure to things–one of the many reasons I became an editor–so plotting was an easy fit for me.

    1. Thank you! I’m so glad you don’t think I’m crazy. 😉 And I’m really excited to add structure to my process as well…that’ll be the best part. I am ready to actually have a plan of attack when I get started writing.

      Thank you so much for your comment and for reading my post, it’s always appreciated! Happy writing! xx

  5. Whoa, I’m wishing you so much luck on your plotting adventure, Nicole! It’s great to see you recognizing when something in your process has to change (I’ve recently turned my whole writing process upside-down, and it also involved me planning more and pantsing less). I love you point, too, that sometimes you have to plot things out first in order to compensate for lack of experience; I’ve never actually thought about it that way before, but now that you mention it, it makes total sense!

    Good luck, Nicole! I look forward to seeing how all of this intensive planning works out for you!


    1. Thanks for your comment, Rae! So far everything is working out REALLY well. I was definitely lacking research under my belt. I’ve collected just enough that my plot is kind of surfacing on it’s own!

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting, I’ll see you on Twitter 🙂

        • Mitch
        • February 29, 2016

        This is almost ecxatly how I plot. I use the book, “Book In a Month,” and she goes through the whole concept of the three act structure in nice detail. Instead of eight sequences, she recommends 10 scenes–the big scenes you would describe when telling someone the story of your novel. I usually have 2 scenes in act 1, 5 or 6 in act 2, and 2 or 3 in act 3. My favorite part of this plotting method is that it structures your pacing. Right now, I know my pacing is off a little because my mid point–that reversal in the middle of the book–is actually at about 60 or 65% of the way through instead of around 45-55%. I’m trying to judiciously cut words in the first half and beef up the storytelling and description in the second to balance that out.Um… This is a little long for a comment. I might need to blog about it myself soon.

  6. I think this is a fabulous idea! All the plotting power to you!

    I’m doing the exact same thing. I’ve never won NaNo and this year I’m freaking gonna! I’m hardcore planning and researching these months as well. My major plan is to have a 3×5 card for every day of November with a scene or idea to work on (I also tend to write chronologically) so that I have no excuse not to write on any given day, because the task is already in my hand.

    Woot! Here’s to a grand November!

    1. Wow, I love the 3×5 card idea! You are definitely going to kick some NANO butt in November! I was always told by my mentors that reaching your goals was all about setting yourself up for success, and you are DEFINITELY doing that! Excited for both of us this year!

      Happy writing!

    • Kelly Smith
    • September 22, 2015

    Great Information! By all means please don’t stop posting, blogging, and sharing. The information is very important and helpful. Thank you for sharing! ☺☺☺☺

    1. Thank you, I’m so glad you enjoyed it and found it helpful! 🙂

  7. Get out of my HEAD! No, seriously.

    Of course, every time I sit down to plot… I end up with serious brain fog. Fog that I cannot cut through to find the story that fairly drips from my pen when I sit down and free write.

    I like the idea of a time line rather than a plot for the beginning stages.

    1. Ha! Sorry, sorry. I’ll see myself out!

      Seriously though, if free writing is what works for you, that’s totally 100% fine. OR you can do what I do, and write out a few “brain dumps.” (Basically where I just write whatever the heck is in my head and see where it takes me.) I free write as part of the planning process and it helps get the creative juices flowing and keep the fog at bay. It’s not cheating if you don’t include it in your final word count/draft during November.

      Happy Writing, and I hope you’ll join me for NaNoWriMo! 🙂

        • Laura
        • September 25, 2015

        I love my free writing. I think I dislike planning so much because A) I’ve no formal training in writing so some of it doesn’t make sense to me and 2) it tends to take some of the ‘fun’ out of writing.

        But, with close to 100,000 words written and nothing to show for it… Writing itself isn’t as much fun any longer. I need something that works. Like you, I’ve found that the old does not.

        So, I move on to the new. I hope to have a decent plan in hand by 31 October because I am determined to finish an idea this year. Determined.

        1. Yes! I like your attitude.

          Don’t give up on free writing though just because you’re planning! I still free write as much as possible. For example: I am outlining my idea right now, and when an idea hits me really hard and I’m super inspired, I free write the idea in my notebook. That idea won’t make it into my Nano novel exactly the way it is (that would be cheating), but it helps keep my creative juices flowing and keep the writing process fun!

          Happy writing, and I know you are going to finish this year! 🙂 You can do it!

    • Betty Hutjens Thaldorf
    • September 24, 2015

    I write mainly fan fiction but have written two western novels. I outline everything except very short stories. My outlines are rather freeform, but I have the hook and the beginning, the characters, the plots and subplots, the crisis and climax of the story as well as the resolution worked out before I start writing. The scenes and dialogue seem to flow much more easily once those things are decided. I completed my NaNo novels in less than two weeks each of the last two years because of the outlines. Without them, I doubt I would ever have finished. I have never understood how a writer can write without knowing where they are going. I alter my outline as I go frequently but I always have an ending in mind as my goal for my characters and my plot. Many writers have commented on some sites about how they have to edit out huge chunks of their novel after they finish, and the only reason that I can ever imagine for that is that they didn’t plan well so they wrote something that never belonged in their story. I wouldn’t want to waste my time like that.

    1. I agree completely. I think the true key to success is the “free form” outline. So that it is easy to alter as you go along, but you still have something guiding you through the writing process.

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

      PS. YOU ARE A BOSS for finishing in only two weeks. I am envious!

    • Tiffany
    • September 24, 2015

    I have been considering the exact same thing this week. I clearly don’t do the pantsing thing well as I have only finished one NanoWriMo novel all the way through and it still needs editing and some revisions. Great blog post! 🙂

    1. You should definitely give it a try if you haven’t yet! That was my motivation for starting the planning process…I’ve never actually tried it. Thank you for reading and commenting! 🙂 Good luck on Nano!

  8. Nice article. I too quit pantsing when I started writing historical mysteries because I realized that there was no way I could write a compelling and suspenseful mystery story without knowing how it was all going to play out. There were just too many story elements (clues, red herrings, suspects, etc). I’ve read bad mystery stories where the writer clearly was pantsing it because the mystery story stalled for 3/4 of the book, repetitious interviewing of suspects always with the same result, and then suddenly rushed forward in pace for the last quarter of the book as if the writer suddenly figured out how to solve the crime. To me, that’s just not a mystery story that I want to read. I need the pace to keep moving forward.


    1. Exactly! You understand my point perfectly. 🙂 In order to write a smooth, accurate historical mystery you most definitely need a certain level of planning, no matter what your skill level.

      Happy writing!

  9. I am both. I am outlining and plotting my second novel while still pantsing my way through my first novel. I’m wondering what resources or outlining/plotting methods you use? There are so many I feel like I don’t know which one to start with. Let me know! Rhianne

    1. Basically the first thing I start with is brainstorming. I go out and get a new notebook to jot down all my ideas in. I don’t worry about structure or anything at this point. Then I research pieces that I know I’ll need while writing. After I feel I’ve built up enough knowledge of my topic (for instance, this NaNo it is a race of faeries called the Tuatha De Danaan) I start my outline. Everything gets built on top of each other piece by piece.

      You may want to look into trying to snowflake method of outlining. I’ve read a TON of published authors taking this route. I keep everything really simple. but there is no wrong way. Some level of pantsing is necessary to enjoy yourself during NaNo 🙂

      If you wanna talk about it some more you can direct message me on Twitter: @NicoleLautore Thanks for commenting!

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