What is “plantsing”?
A word made up of “pantsing” and “planning”, it refers to writers who both do discovery writing and outlining (usually in the same work), instead of – predominantly – only planning or outlining.
I’m a plantser
I’m definitely a plantser when it comes to writing. While I do outline stories, especially the longer ones, I can start writing the first draft with nothing more than a picture or a word for inspiration.
The Knowledge Stones, a novel-length work of the Ruon Chronicles, was supposed to be a flash piece which I pantsed – and then it got out of hand. Oh my word, did it get out of hand. What was supposed to be 1 000 words is now about 60 000 words and is still about 6 000 words from the end. Oops. And only about half of that was planned.
The story also only got real structure once I had started planning out what was going to happen and linking it with my plans for the “proper” Ruon Chronicles series.
That’s part of the problem with only pantsing a story – you never know where the story will head off to. This can lead you to never finish the story because it keeps going down a rabbit hole.
How to be a plantser
It’s not such a stretch for a strict discovery writer to become a plantser, simply because it doesn’t mean leaving all your discovery writing behind.
Now, if you haven’t discovered Writing Excuses yet, it’s about time you start listening – because the podcast is beyond awesome. Covering just about any and every angle of writing, you have thirteen full seasons to catch up on.
What I find easiest to do when outlining is to write a summary of the story as I have it at that moment. It could be a few sentences or a few pages, but the point is to get everything down that you already know is going to happen.
Next, instead of just sitting down and starting to write, fill in all the blanks that you’ve left. (If I’m writing in a notebook I usually write only on the right-hand side, leaving the left side for extra notes. In this way, everything doesn’t just become a jumble of Post-it Notes as I try to fit everything.
By this time you usually need to refill your tea or coffee, so go ahead and do that while you keep plotting in your head. I find it works very well to step away even if it’s just for five minutes.
Keep going, building on the outline you’re busy with, filling in more of the blank spots. But don’t feel forced to fill in every last detail – that’s where the pantsing comes in.
Once you’ve written down an outline of the whole – or most of – the story, start writing!
Books that are great for learning outlining*
Outlining Your Novel Box Set: How to Write Your Best Book (Helping Writers Become Authors) by K.M. Weiland (I prefer the box set)
Structuring Your Novel Box Set: How to Write Solid Stories That Sell (Helping Writers Become Authors) by K.M. Weiland (I prefer the box set)