Simply, it refers to writers who write by the seat of their pants. Those who make it up as they go along. Sometimes they have a general idea where the plot is going, and where it is supposed to go, but mostly, they’re also waiting to find out as they write.
Really? Writers do that?
Yes, they do. You’d be surprised at how many pantsers there are. There’s something so incredibly joyful about just letting go and let your words take you in directions you didn’t even know existed.
Is it bad?
I wouldn’t know. I’ve never done anything else. I tried plotting once, but when I put pen to paper, the whole plot fell apart, and I was writing something that had nothing to do with the outline I made.
So, why am I a pantser?
Again, I’ve absolutely no idea. I mean, I’m a person who needs structure and routine as much as I need air, if not more. I don’t do things spontaneously. If I go on a trip, I have a checklist. I budget my expenses, keep track of them. I know in advance what I’m going to cook the next day. I panic when things spiral out of control, when life feels unsettled. Even an unplanned trip can freak me out. My brain freezes if I’m in a situation like that.
But when I write, I love not being in control, I love letting go, to jump off that cliff in the hope that I’ll fly.
Pantsing sounds cool
Oh, it is! There’s never a boring moment. Since I’ve no idea where my plot is going or what my characters are going to do, I’m as eager, as excited or nervous or scared, and as surprised as they. And I can always hope that my reader will be just as surprised, eager and excited.
To me, the best thing about pantsing is finding out what happens next, what my characters are going to do. Are they going to do the right thing or do they decide it’s too much work? Why are they like this? Everything is discovered as I write.
So, what’s the problem?
The problem is, when you write without any idea of what happens next, sometimes the plot takes you in unexpected directions. Now, as I said before, it can be cool, but it can also be crazy as well as needing a ton of research sometimes.
As an example, one of my works in progress is about a vampire. But after the first chapter, my vampire decided that he doesn’t want to be the traditional vampire. He won’t be an undead or anything related to humans. He’s part of a humanoid race with magic, a separate species, but he still drinks blood. So, I am in a position where I have to do a ton of research on every animal on the planet that drinks blood in order to come up with a biological reason why this species needs to drink blood.
And don’t even get me started on the dragons.
Ah, well, I started writing this story, and it was shaping to be a love triangle, then took a twist and I realised that it was probably going to be a journey of self discovery and personal growth for all three of its main characters and I was super excited till boom! A dragon decided to land in the story, or rather, to take off in front of one of the characters. And now I have five kinds of dragons, a whole new mythology and no idea where my plot is going and my main characters? Looks like they’re going to be secondary characters.
Of course, it’s still better than the aliens.
Again, this was a sci fi series I was writing and the first two books were already finished and I started on the third which I was hoping would round things off, but instead, from the beginning, the plot started twisting till suddenly the galaxy I was writing about is facing an alien invasion, which really throws me off because there are no aliens or references to aliens in the first two books which means I am going to have to fix my already finished books. Fun, right?
Does this mean pantsing is bad?
Oh no! It’s confusing, it’s frustrating, but for me, there’s no other way to write. I’ve a great deal of respect for plotters; I’m in awe of them, because what they’re doing is utterly impossible for me. But I love the way I write, and I can manage a few dragons and vampires and aliens as long as I get to occasionally soar when I jump off that cliff.