Panster Authors: Embracing Creativity Beyond Structure
Writing is a deeply personal and creative endeavor, and authors approach it in different ways. I have friends who meticulously plan their stories, outlining every plot point and character arc. I, on the other hand, thrive in the realm of uncertainty and spontaneity. Writers like me are often referred to as “panster authors,” and in this article I will delve into the pantser writing style and explore the process of writing by the seat of one’s pants.
The Panster Approach
The term “panster” is derived from “flying by the seat of one’s pants,” which aptly describes my approach to writing. We pantsers are individuals who write with little to no formal planning, relying on intuition and inspiration to guide the stories. There’s no one-size-fits-all definition but most panster authors share some of these characteristics:
- Minimal to No Outlining: We typically start writing with a vague idea, concept, or a strong character in mind, without extensive plot outlines or detailed story structures.
- Embracing Uncertainty: We are comfortable with the uncertainty that comes with not knowing precisely where the story will lead. We allow the narrative to evolve naturally.
- Character-Driven: Pansters often focus on the development of their characters and let the characters’ decisions and interactions shape the plot.
- Exploration and Discovery: Writing is a journey of exploration and discovery for pantsers like me. I discover surprising plot twists or character revelations in every book I write.
- Revision and Editing: Pansters understand that revision and editing are crucial in transforming our raw first drafts into polished works. We embrace (but don’t enjoy) the rewriting process to refine our stories. For me, as well as most pantsers, the editing process is more difficult due to the lack of structure in the beginning. It’s the price we pay for our method.
The Tools of the Pantser
While pansters may work with minimal planning, there are a few skills needed to navigate the creative unknowns we encounter:
- Intuition: We rely heavily on our intuition to guide the story. We trust our inner voice (mine comes from a tiny man with a mustache who screams at me in Italian to give him snacks) and let it lead us through the story.
- Flow State: We can enter a flow state where time seems to disappear as we become immersed in what we are writing.
- Editing Skills: We understand the importance of editing and are required to spend more time refining and shaping our initial drafts.
- Adaptability: We are adaptable and open to change. If the story takes an unexpected turn, we embrace it rather than resist it.
Challenges and Rewards
The panster approach to writing is not without its challenges:
- Writer’s Block: Some pantsers encounter writer’s block when we reach a point where we’re unsure of the story’s direction. I don’t personally experience writer’s block because I force myself to get something/anything down on paper. (If it sucks, I can fix it later.) That’s my method for busting through any uncertainty about my storyline.
- Revision Intensity: Extensive revision and rewriting can be time-consuming.
- Inconsistencies: Lack of planning will probably lead to inconsistencies in the initial story that must be corrected during the editing process. Usually any plot holes or continuity issues can be fixed in the edit. (On a side note, this is why writers must enlist the aid of a few beta readers and a good editor.)
However, we panster authors also enjoy:
- Surprise and Authenticity: The uncertainty of the panster approach often leads to genuinely surprising and authentic storytelling, which can captivate readers.
- Creative Freedom: We enjoy a high degree of creative freedom, allowing our imagination to flourish without the constraints of a predetermined structure.
- Character-Driven Narratives: Pansters often excel in character development, creating engaging, relatable, and multi-dimensional characters.
- Personal Fulfillment: The act of writing without a detailed plan is personally fulfilling, and provides a sense of discovery and adventure for me.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to writing. Some authors, like me, are natural pansters, while others prefer meticulous planning. Many writers find a middle ground, striking a balance between structure and spontaneity that works best for them.
Ultimately, the panster approach is a testament to the diverse and flexible nature of the creative process. Whether studiously planned or born out of spontaneous creativity, every story is a unique journey, shaped by the author’s creative vision and the approach they choose to embrace.
As a pantser, I embrace the uncertainty. Every day while writing, I am reminded of the boundless possibilities in the story. I know it’s just a matter of time until the characters reveal exactly what they want to do when the time is right… they always do.