How To Write By The Seat of Your Pants

If anyone out there outlines (and succeeds by this method), please leave a comment below because I would love to feature a guest post on the plotting method.

There is no one method that works for everyone.  You need to write in whatever way will get the book finished.  Some of us write by the seat of our pants, others need to plot everything out ahead of time, and others fall somewhere in between.  Today, I want to talk about writing by the seat of your pants because I am that type of writer.

Now for the post…

1. It all begins with knowing your genre.

And when I say “an idea”, I mean that is pretty much it.  There is not much more to it than that.  I write romances, so I know a couple of things going into any book.  I know there is a hero and heroine, there will be some obstacle they will have to face, and there will be a happy ending.  I’m sure other genres have their general rules of thumbs as well–some basic elements that must be in the story.  So that’s where you start.  What are the core components in your genre?

2.  Pick a plot.

This is the funnest part of it.  You get to select whatever plot you want to have, and this plot can be boiled to one sentence.  For example, I want to write a story about a hero who rescues a heroine from a stagecoach robbery.

3.  Pick your setting.

This is where your story takes place.  What country does this story happen in?  What year is it?  What month is it?  Etc.

4.  Pick your characters.

This is another fun part.  You get to select what your characters.  Since this is a “seat of your pants” style, characters can change their personalities within the first couple pages of the book, so I would be very broad.  I’d name them, describe their physical attributes, and give them free rein to develop as they will.  You can have an idea of how acts before you go in, but it’s not until they’re being written do you truly get to know them.

5.  Pick your opening scene.

This is where it all begins, and besides this scene, you won’t have much else in mind when you begin writing.  You might have snippets of other scenes that you “hope” get included but they can change or never see the light of day.  What you might also know is the end.  In romance, this is pretty easy.  The hero and heroine are happy.   But as a general rule, I don’t know how the hero and heroine end up happy or what the final scene is like.  I just know they’re happy.  So if all you really have is a vague idea of what the first scene is like, you’re right on track for this method of writing.

6.  Start writing.

Steps 1-5 take all of a couple minutes, but they are usually thought out well in advance, usually while you’re away from the computer and let your mind wander.

This step is where the real work begins.  Most of the time, it all boils down to writing down the first sentence.  I know that sounds like it won’t go anywhere, but I find as soon as I get that first sentence down, the next one flows along and then the next and so on.

7.  The first three chapters.

I consider these to be the most important ones because these are the ones that let me know who my characters are and I start to figure out how the story is going to go.  The characters are pretty much fleshed out (their motives, their personalities, their fears, etc) by the end of chapter three.  The rest of the story is not fleshed out, but there is usually an idea of where it’s headed and what twists and turns might pop up along the way.  However, it’s not uncommon for those plot ideas to change as you keep writing.

8.  The most important thing to do is to keep writing.

There is no sense in looking back to edit.  Light edits (such as changing someone’s hair color or favorite song) are okay to change, but extensive edits or proofing don’t work well until after the book is finished.  Why?  Because there might be a scene coming up in the book that will change something you already wrote.  Character A might decide they aren’t the villain after all, which means you will have to go back and change a couple of things they said or did to make them more sympathetic.  But the problem is, you won’t know what changes will pop up until you’re writing them.

So my advice, make a note on things that change but keep on moving forward with the story.

I will make an exception to this, though.  If the twist that a character throws at you is so big that it changes everything else that comes later in the story, go ahead and do some light revisions, rewriting, or move scenes around.  If you feel that your characters are falling in love way too soon (that there needs to be more build up to that moment), then by all means, go back and write some extra scenes in.  If you figure scene A would be better after scene B, then switch them around.  But I would not do any cleaning up (polishing the content) until after the first draft is done.

9.  Add more than you think you’ll need.

And as a rule of thumb, it’s easier to delete things than to add them later.  So if you find you are repeating yourself or adding things in that might not make the final cut, go ahead and put them all in.  You can always cut them out later.  I’m the kind of write who hates writing additional scenes after I finish the first draft, so I will throw in more stuff than I’ll need later.  I typically throw out about 3,000 or more words during the second draft process.  I rarely ever add word count to my book once the first draft is done.

Also, with repetition, maybe something is stronger to write in at scene D but weak in scene F.  Well, all you have to do is delete that repetitive thing from scene F and your problem is resolved.  So in first draft mode, repeat your little heart out.  You just don’t know how things will work out until the story is all done.

10.  Don’t sweat the word usage.

Too many adverbs, adjectives, using the same words over and over again, etc?  During the first draft, the goal is to write the story.  So if you say the same word five times in one paragraph, that’s okay.  If everything is “magical” in a chapter, that’s okay, too.  If the hero is always grinning on a page, let him.  Trying to figure out the right word to use or a way to reword a sentence at this stage of the game isn’t necessary.  You can always do this when you’re working on the second draft.  The last thing you want to do in “seat of the pants” writing is to stop writing to figure out the right word for the way the heroine is walking.  In the first draft, she just walks.  In the second draft, she can stroll.

11.  Don’t question the characters.

This is hard but I’ve learned if the characters are changing the plot on me (and most of the time they do), then I need to trust they know what they’re doing and let them lead me along.  Whenever I have fought them on it, I end up getting stuck in the story or the story ends up with serious rewrites.  So when your characters do something unexpected, go with it.  Part of the fun of writing by the seat of your pants is that you get to be surprised.

12.  Highlight and go back to things you question.

While I do my first draft, I don’t search for things I’m not sure about unless I can do it in a minute or so.  If it’s something quick, like “what was South Dakota called before it became a state?”, I’ll take the time to search.  But if it’s taking a couple minutes, I highlight the word I have a question about and go back to it during my second draft where I’ll do the research I need to make sure I’m right.  Once you stop to research something, it hinders the “flow” of your writing.

13.  If you get stuck, jump ahead to a scene you are sure will fit in the story.

Usually, the tricky period in a first draft is somewhere in the middle.  I find the beginning and ending to be the easiest parts of a book to write, but I do get stuck at some point between 20,000 to 35,000 words.  I think it’s because I need to connect the beginning to the ending but want to make sure there’s a point to each scene I put in there.  Every scene must have a purpose.  So when I find myself in the “what the heck comes after this scene?” mode, I jump ahead and work on a scene I know is coming up.  (And by 20,000 words, I do have a couple of scenes I know will be coming.)  So if you know a scene is coming up, and you’re stuck on the place you’re at, go ahead and write that future scene.

14.  If you can, write more than one book at a time.  (Works best for multi-taskers.)

Sometimes when I am stuck and truly don’t know what to write, I work on another book.  I have an easier time when I work on 3-4 books at a time because I can switch to another story if one isn’t progressing as nicely as I’d like.  This method doesn’t work for everyone, but it works great for me.  It’s very common for me to take ten minutes to write in one book then switch to another one for five or ten minutes until I know what I want to write in the first one.  Why this method works for me, I don’t know.  But I am the type of person who can’t sit and do just one thing at a time.  It just drives me crazy.  Usually, I listen to music while I write or do housework because I’m doing two things at once.  So I think writing more than one book at a time works best for people who are multi-taskers.

15.  End the daily writing in the middle of a scene.

Some writers hate this idea, but I love it.  If I stop in the middle of a scene and I already know how it ends, I am in a much better position to pick up writing the next day than I am if I finish the scene.  The reason for this is because when I get back to my story the next day, I already know what I’m going to start off writing.  This helps me move forward so I can get an idea for the next scene because I usually figure out what the next scene will be by the time I end the one I’m currently on.

This doesn’t work for everyone.  It depends on what your style is.  I have a friend who would go crazy leaving a scene hanging.


Final thought

Those are my tips for writing by the seat of your pants.  If you write by the seat of your pants and have a way of writing that I didn’t mention or is different from how I do it, please comment.  We all have our own way of writing, and the best way you should write is the way that works for you.  Don’t let anyone tell you there is only one way to do it or that you need to do it their way.  Whatever gets you to finish the book is how you should do it.


  1. Rana says:

    I go for a pseudo-outline, pseudo-seat of your pants approach. Mine usually start with a reasonably developed character and a separate unique situation. I throw the character into the situation and work through it. I need to have all of it plotted before I write, and sometimes I have to stop writing because the character reacts to the present issue differently than I expect, so I have to replan the rest of it. It takes FOREVER, hence why I haven’t published anything yet… 😦

    1. How long have you been writing?

      The nice thing is that the more you write, the better you get accustomed to what works best for you. The process of figuring out your best approach can be frustrating, especially when other writers tell you their way is the way you must do it. To that I say, hogwash. You should do the method that works for you. I think a pseudo-outline and pseudo-seat of your pants approach could work, and I think the more you do it, the easier it could be.

      My characters are always throwing me off guard. I used to fight them, but now I just let them have free rein and see what happens. Somehow everything ends up working out, though it’s scary when you don’t know how it’ll work.

  2. As a pantser, I do a lot of what you’re talking about.(Although, I’m having to do a little plotting on my current WIP.) But the one thing I usually can’t do is stop in the middle of a scene. I like things wrapped up with a bow on top. LOL. If I stop in the middle of a scene, it’s probably going to be because I’m too tired to write one more word. 🙂

    I SO agree that you should let your characters do what they need to do. If you don’t let them, they’ll clam up.

    1. I had to plot out the thriller I wrote because I had to make sure all of my plot points connected and I didn’t want to contradict myself. I had so many threads running through that book it was hard to keep everything straight. 😀 There are books that require more planning than others. Romance is a lot easier for me, as you know, so I don’t plot those out.

      I know some people who also have to finish the scene. I understand why. I end up contradicting myself in mid-scene so you know where I stopped writing. LOL But if I finish a scene, I just have a horrible time picking up and writing the next day, unless I know exactly where I’m going. Then I can do it. 😀

  3. Jill James says:

    I’m very much a plotter. I do do seat-of-your-pants for my novellas but I do much better plotting. I use a white board, like for a science fair project and multi-colored post-its. But I have a 4 book series coming up and I’ll be doing major plotting to have crossover between the four books.

    1. Hi Jill! I’m glad I got a chance to see you at the RT Booklovers Convention. It was very quick (not sure if you remember me), but I was thrilled to see you at the Expo because I recognized your name and beautiful covers. I’m a sucker for good covers. 😀

      I’ve heard of the idea of a white board with post-it notes. I can see the benefit of that when you’re crossing over with a series. That is a smart move and one that can even be good for people who don’t plot. I don’t know how much time I waste in going to a past book to find out something that I could have put on a board. I’ll have to try this method in the future.

      1. Jill James says:

        I do a copy of it in Excel. A square for each chapter (lots of squares) so I have in on my computer for on the go writing.

        1. I like the idea of putting it on the computer. That way you can refer to it whenever you’re writing.

  4. I plot extensively. I couldn’t pants a book if my life depended on it, but like you said, everyone approaches writing differently.

    As an example, my last book was plotted over a 6 week period. Characters defined, setting sorted (with a bit of research on the Everglades, a key place in the story) and all points of the plot firmed. When I sat down to write, it took a little over a month to hammer out 95k words. I prefer this way because the concept of writer’s block doesn’t exist. I know what needs to be written next, and if I’m not in the mood for a fight scene, I write the next scene and come back to the fight scene after a particularly hard day at the office.

    More power to you if you can pants. It would take *me* three or four times as long to write a book if I tried that.

    1. I think this is an excellent way to avoid writer’s block and to get the book written faster. The reason I have to write more than one book at a time is because I get stuck at certain points where I don’t know what comes next. This, of course, leads to slowing my writing speed. I’ve tried plotting early on with a couple of books and couldn’t pull it off. I like the organized approach because there is no slow down in progress and no worries that the conflict is not going to be able to adequately resolved. I can see the benefits to being a plotter. 😀

  5. amberskyef says:

    I go for complete outlines because it prevents writer’s block and makes it so that I can prevent possible plot holes that I won’t have to wrangle in the next draft. It makes me a much stronger self-editor. But, even though I have an outline, sometimes things to take a life of their own that weren’t mentioned in the outline. However, my book still follows the direction of the outline (I just might add in a scene or a character might be different from how I planned said character).

    And, of course, outlines keep me from de-railing the plot. I had to learn the hard way that it was necessary for me to have an outline.

    1. Yep, I can definitely see that it prevents writer’s block, something I do struggle with, which makes writing impossible on some days. Those plot holes can be tricky, and i have caught a couple in the second draft. So plotting out does have its advantages. I’m guessing you’re also able to better figure out the purpose for every scene you’re writing. When I’m writing, I write some scenes and have no idea if they’ll fit with what happens later or not. Most of the time, it does but there have been times when I’ve had to go back and remove them.

      1. amberskyef says:

        Outlining definitely does help me figure out the purpose for every scene I’m writing. I couldn’t believe how much of a difference outlining made to my writing overall. I had the writing itself down, but I needed the storytelling skills to go along with it, and outlines have done that for me.

        1. That’s awesome. 😀 I love hearing how it’s benefited you!

  6. I definitely just started with a vague idea of how I wanted the book to end. I’m 35,000 words in, and basically just wingin’ it, but for me that’s more fun, because I don’t have an outline I need to stick to.

    1. Like you, I do find it fun to see what happens and often have those “I had no idea the characters were going to do X” or “I didn’t see that twist coming” moments, which makes each book a new adventure. Sometimes it makes me nervous because I don’t know if the characters can really pull off a satisfying ending, but in the end, they do and I really don’t know how they do it. LOL

  7. lornafaith says:

    I have tried writing in the ‘panster’ style of writing and it works great for the 1st 3 chapters or so,but as I get to the middle of the book, I find the plot starts getting weird for some reason(probably too many bunny trails;( So for my last book, I did pantster then on the 2nd draft I did a outline for each chapter and it helped to keep me more focused. I’m going to try what you do Ruth, and start writing two books at once. I do find I get bored sometimes with the one story and maybe that would help. I’m a multi-tasker in other things…so maybe this would get more of the creative juices flowing 🙂 I like your last idea, to end the writing day in the middle of a scene…I’ve found that this works better for me too. Then when I return to it, for some reason I can find a better flow. Awesome post again Ruth…thanks!

    1. For me, I could outline chapters 1-3, but then the characters take over and throw out all of my ideas. 😀 Isn’t it funny how we all work? I do plot the last couple 3-4 chapters if I need help resolving any plot points I know needs to be addressed, but I don’t do that with every book. I like the idea of outlining a chapter when I get to it. It doesn’t even have to be a full outline, but having a sentence that describes the scene or scenes in the chapter might help, esp. if I can do it the day before I start it. Then I could let my mind think over what I might put in the chapter. So that’s a great idea and could help shorten the writer’s block moments I have.

      I’m a big multi-tasker. I was that for as long as I could remember. I can’t just sit and watch TV. I have to be answering emails or making covers, too. 😀 I have a friend who is the opposite. She can only do one thing at a time. I think for her, two stories at once wouldn’t work. But for people like us, I do think this is a doable thing.

      I’m glad you also find it helpful to stop in the middle of a scene because I can’t think of a time when someone else told me they’re that way, too. Now I feel less alone. LOL

      1. lornafaith says:

        I like your idea of writing a sentence that describes the scene or scenes and to do that the day before I start the chapter. I often brainstorm on the day I’m writing the chapter(s) …but I’m sure it would work much better to do that the day before…thanks for the tip!

        1. Tonight I’m going to try writing it down before I go to bed. I haven’t done a very brief outline of the whole chapter before, so this will be new. I hope it works for both of us. 😀

  8. I’ve done outlines for both of my novels, which are currently going through the editing phases. I’d be happy to do a guest post for you.

    1. Awesome! Email me at ruth (at) ruthannnordin (dot) com. I’d love to hear your method and post it. 😀

      1. I’ll get on it immediately.

        1. I got it. Thanks! I’ll look it over tomorrow and email you.

  9. All of this is right on point for me, Ruth Ann. I’m a pantster through and through. I, too, like to stop writing in the middle of a scene. #11 definitely gets me every time. I love how characters take matters into their own hands. While waiting on my sister the other day, I started to handwrite (scribble) the first chapter of a new book. I certainly didn’t expect the dead body that showed up right away. I expected to lay more groundwork first. I couldn’t begin to outline this book because I have no idea where it’s going. The characters seem to have more control than I do at times. 🙂

    1. Oh good! Someone else who also likes to stop in the middle of a scene. 😀 it’s nice to hear other authors do that, too.

      LOL on the dead body that popped up unexpectedly. I love it! Those are the moments where the story really comes alive, isn’t it? I love those kinds of surprises when writing. 😀

  10. laurieboris says:

    I love this! I’m a total pantser and love to let the characters tell me their stories. The times I’ve gotten into trouble were when I tried to manipulate the characters into something they organically weren’t.

    1. I hear you. Manipulating characters causes so many problems down the road. It was a hard lesson for me to learn, but after rewriting a couple of books because I didn’t listen to them, I let them take control, even if I’m often wringing my hands and wondering if they know what they’re doing. 😀

  11. laurieboris says:

    Reblogged this on Laurie Boris, Freelance Writer and commented:
    My outliner writing friends wonder how I can be a “pantser.” This article I found today is pretty much how I do it. Your actual mileage may vary.

  12. This is excellent! This is very similar to how I “pants it” as well, but I never organized my thoughts around that process quite like this. Good advice 🙂

    1. I got the idea for this post because it came up in a search engine and hadn’t been written yet on this blog (at least I don’t think it was). I wish all posts were as easy to write as this one was. Usually it takes me a few days to write a blog post, but I wrote all of this one in a half hour. (I also wish all writing was that easy. :D)

  13. Reblogged this on …and then there was Sarah and commented:
    If you’re a “pantser” type writer, this article is for you!

  14. indiansinpakistanbook says:

    Reblogged this on Indians in Pakistan – An Exciting Novel.

  15. Barb says:

    Isn’t it interesting how creativity comes at us from different ways? I’ve written both pantster and planner. I now use planner because I find I can turn out a book faster. For me, the middle has less chance of sagging; I know what comes next; and it requires fewer rewrites because the bones of the story are somewhat fleshed before I started.

    I use colored notes taped across the wall (different colors for different character’s storylines), so it’s not a static outline. I can move scenes/ideas around or even set them aside. I’m a visual person…so it’s like seeing how a characters’ threads weave through the whole pattern of the story.

    But as you say…whatever works.

    1. That’s really interesting about the different colored notes and being able to move them around. Someone mentioned a similar method at a convention I just went to, and she did both panster and plotting methods (she said it depended on the story). There are some stories where I plot the last few chapters or make notes halfway in, so I don’t think it has to be all panster all the time or all plotter all the time. It’s pretty much what works at the moment, and it can probably even change over time. I find I don’t write the same way I did five years ago. Back then I was doing one story at a time but I did have a tendency to add a couple extra scenes which probably did drag the story to a point. I’ve noticed my stories are getting shorter but I’m not adding scenes like I used to. I can see how having the colored notes would help determine if a scene is necessary or not, and that could be even after finishing the book.

  16. Bastet says:

    Reblogged this on Bastet and Sekhmet and commented:
    Interesting considerations…some helpful hints and great ideas.

    1. Thanks! I’m glad you found this post helpful.

  17. MoreThanACat says:

    Still not sure whether I’m a pantser or a “1960s hippy” of a writer.You know the kind: goes with the flow and see where it takes me? I Shall ponder further

    1. LOL I love your comment! There’s nothing wrong with the 1960s hippy writer. 😀

  18. M T McGuire says:

    Number 14, I can and do write more than one book at a time… although it’s tailed off a bit at the moment because I’m writing a trilogy and close to the end… which I wrote way back when I was working on book 1.

    Number 15, great idea! I spend a lot of time ‘getting into it’ at the beginning of each session. If I have a scene in my head or even just some dialogue to start me off, the ‘getting in’ process happens much more quickly. So yeh, half a scene, I’ll remember that!

    If I had a wall, I’d definitely use Barb’s technique and I tend to find that once I get to a certain point I do write the last bit of a book by numbers, so to speak, IE with a plan.



    1. I usually drop other writing projects to focus on a book as I’m coming to the end of it. I often feel that’s when I get a sudden burst of focused energy into the story and can’t write anything else. I like it because it’s satisfying to see another book done. I used to be sad when I finished a book, but after doing several series and weaving the characters in other series, I realized that I’ll see them again. It’s weird how characters become so real we miss them.

      I hate starting a scene from scratch. I feel it’s like pulling teeth to start it. I don’t know how stopping in the middle of a scene started (probably because a kid or my husband interrupted me and I had to stop writing for the day), but once I realized how much better it was to stop mid-scene I try to get at least a sentence or two to star the next one before I stop for the day. It’s amazing how much that helps.

      I like the colored notes idea a lot. There are some great tips in these comments.

  19. As a flash fiction writer who is starting to develop longer works I am most defo a panster.

    I put no thought at all into it and just write as it comes, usually at 500 words a time. Obviously as it grows I check it out but that’s it.

    With seven WIP’s currently I can honestly say it works well for me…x

    1. Flash fiction is a talent. I’ve tried it but don’t do it well enough to show anyone my poor attempts. LOL I’m impressed when people can pack a story in few words.

      Nice on doing seven WIPs at once. I wish I could. Too many ideas, too little time. 😀

  20. Reblogged this on and commented:
    Panster here for sure..x

  21. staceywilk says:

    I agree with Ruth-Ann. Every writer has to find their own way to a finished novel. And not every novel that author writes will be written the same way. I tend to be a loose outliner. I start with an idea. Something that gives me a little electric jolt. When I started Welcome to Kata-Tartaroo, my son told me about his bad dream and I said, “that would make a great book!” I took the idea, developed it, created characters, and created an outline. I knew how I wanted the book to end, but I wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to get there. As you get to know your characters, the plot can change based on the obstacles you throw at them. Every character reacts to pressure differently.

    But, alas, I’m too Type A to write by the seat of my pants. I wish I could!

    1. I think a mix works very well. I’m guessing that with most writers, it’s not all panster or plotter. There are probably some elements that slip in from both sides. One ends up being dominant, but there are definite benefits to including techniques from the other side. Someone mentioned above that they use colored notes and sort them out in order that events happen and another person outlines a chapter when she gets to it. I think those could be some great ways to avoid writer’s block (something that I do run up against quite a bit). it sounds like you have found a great balance, something I want to work on when it comes to my work.

      I love how you took an bad dream your son had and wrote a book inspired by it! That’s so cool. 😀

  22. sknicholls says:

    I wrote my first novel by accident, so I am surely a panster, but I would like to write more. Since I knew nothing much about what I was doing, I need better cover art, a new book blurb (short description), a new long description and a new author bio. It is more a romantic tragedy than a romance in that the hero and heroine could not live happily ever after (it was also based on a true story), but it does have a most satisfying ending in other ways. I am not a multi-tasker to the degree that I could work on more than one book at a time. I have never tried it, but I would think I would get confused. You have given me lots to think about. I will surely read more articles.

    1. There are many ways to write books, and some stories can even require different ways of writing it. I think the more we write, the better we figure out what works best for us. I know there are some people who will say there is only one way to write a book, but I think there are many ways to do it. Sometimes I like to mix up a few methods and see what works best. I’ve found that over time, I naturally develop my own method and continue to fine tune it. I don’t think we ever stop growing as writers. 😀

      That’s interesting that your book ends that way, but I like the approach you used. It sounds like something that hasn’t been done a lot, which would help you stand out from the crowd.

  23. the diarist says:

    I’m a plotter. Was a pantser for years. then took a swing at writing screenplays. (I lived in LA. You pretty much have to write a screenplay when you live there or they kick you out.) I plotted them out carefully because readers in LA are renowned for going to certain page numbers to make sure you’re hitting exactly what you should, when you should. If you can’t do that (and have lots of white space on the page) then they’ll toss you to the reject pile without reading a word. In general. Or so says common knowledge and a couple of friends of friends who are readers.

    So I plotted out my two scripts and was amazed by how much easier a write it was for me.

    I’ve been writing forever, but am just now getting serious about publishing. All because self-publishing has become so very viable an option. And actually a really good one. At the moment I’m working on a 3 book series.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience! I have no knowledge about LA and screenplays. That is fascinating how they check out certain page numbers. It sounds like they established an effective method for sorting through screenplays. Now I’m thinking of what you said about screenplays and what I’ve heard about publishers when they look at queries and synopses to compare and contrast their methods for picking what they want. 😀

      If someone can master plotting, I can see how it’d make the whole process easier and faster. I can see the pros side to being a plotter.

      Good luck with your series! I love writing series. If you can get people to care about the characters, they want to read the others books because they’ll get to see the characters again. 😀

      1. the diarist says:

        Thank you! This is a series that’s definitely in the plot stage, but it’s definitely fun.

  24. Elisabeth says:

    Last summer I wrote a 122,000-word novel in two months of dervish of inspiration. I’ve had to cut it down to 105k and there’s still some chopping to do, so yes, more is better. =)

    1. Wow. That is amazing! How did you manage to get all those words out so quickly? I’m impressed.

  25. The Real Cie says:

    Reblogged this on The Cheese Whines and commented:
    Outlines are the bane–yea, the BANE of my authorly existence. (And we all know how utterly AUTHORLY I am.) I have loved to write since I could first make letters. But in the sixth grade, I had this teacher who came straight from the first level of hell. I think this man hated children, at any rate, he certainly acted like it.
    I was very proud of my ability to write, always well ahead of my grade level on assessments. Despite this, I got very poor grades from this man on my work. The reason? I couldn’t adhere to the damn outline! But if I adhered too closely (translate: it was evident that I wrote the story first) I received a failing grade for cheating.
    I was often in tears during my sixth grade year. I started playing sneaky little pranks on this chode disguised as a teacher. One time I locked his filing cabinet and dropped the key behind it. He was in a red-faced, spitting rage. He demanded to know who did it. Nobody suspected me because I was always so quiet. Hey, it’s always the quiet ones, right?
    Fast forward to the eleventh grade. I had this wonderful mass media teacher. One of the assignments was to create a script. He asked to see the outline first. The look of horror on my face was unmistakable, and I muttered “oh no,” while trying to keep the tears from coming.
    Mr. F was puzzled and asked me what was wrong. When I told him of my trauma from the sixth grade, he shook his head, then chuckled.
    “That man was an idiot,” he said. “An outline is only to get your basic idea down on paper. I don’t care if you deviate completely from it. I just want to see where you think you’re headed at this time.”
    I gladly complied with the assignment. But I still hate outlines. I make notes while I’m writing something, but I very much doubt I will ever use the outline method for creating a story.

    1. LOL It is the quiet ones. Those are the ones you got to watch. 😉

      I’m glad you had that teacher in the eleventh grade. Teachers have so much impact, and what they do with their influence can be a blessing or a curse. Writing is so subjective. I don’t understand how you can be so rigid with it. Thankfully, that eleventh grade teacher understood that.

      I’ve tried outlines but the characters never followed them. Now notes, those are perfect. 😀 You get the idea down without having to flesh anything out.

  26. When I become un glued I write the ending and go backwards, joining it up in the middle.

    1. That’s actually a pretty good idea. I got stuck in one of my stories recently. I think I’ll try it since I know exactly how it ends.

  27. This is one of the things I love best about self-publishing! For all of my traditionally-published books, I had to write a proposal, including a synopsis. The finished novels seldom bore any resemblance to those proposals. (The 77-page synopsis for my first book was a real pain to write–especially since it was in the pre-home computer days when we still used typewriters and correction fluid!)

    1. I hated the proposal and synopsis. I didn’t ever sign on with a publisher, but I’ve done those and submitted them. I am so glad we don’t have to use typewriters anymore. Life is so much easier with the delete key and cut and paste. 😀

      I can’t imagine typing out 77 pages. Ick!

  28. Rohan 7 Things says:

    Great tips Ruth! It’s interesting for me, as someone who plots heavily, to read what it’s like from the perspective of a seat-of-the-pants writer.

    Usually I spend a long time letting the story and characters develop passively before I put pen to paper. When you plot heavily you can write a scene just about anywhere in the book. With that said it’s always a good idea to remain flexible and move with the characters, go with what feels right and natural regardless of the plotting!

    Thanks for sharing 🙂


    1. I’m inspired to try some plotting for my next book after hearing how the plotters are doing it. I already sat down and plotted ideas (rough plotting) for chapters I’m about to work on. But I think I’ll see what I can do with outlining (being willing to let the story change and revise the outline as I go). It might turn out that there will be a mix between the two that will work best for me. One problem with not having an outline is that I get stuck at some point and have to take a break until I come up with other ideas. At the moment, I’m also juggling some scenes around in a book (due to lack of organized thought).

  29. For my first two books, I was an absolute adherent of the “seats of your pants” approach. I had a basic idea of how the plot was going to play out, who the characters were and some key scenes and plot points that had to occur. Then I just wrote scenes at random and sort of slotted them back together. It worked quite well as a way to get a first draft done, but I did find it required a lot of editing afterwards. Still, that’s not so bad. It’s much easier to edit than it is to stare at a blank page waiting for perfection.

    For the third book in my series however, a)the plot gets more complicated and b) I needed to wrap everything up, so I forced myself to produce a really detailed outline. It took a lot of discipline to actually do it, but I’ve found it helps. I’ve been able to write much faster and although I can’t say for sure, as I’m still at the drafting stage, I suspect it will require less editing. The interesting thing though is that I’ve still diverged from my outline on several occasions, whether it’s taking a scene in a different direction or even writing a scene that was never meant to be there. Characters still take on a life of their own.

    So I think both methods can work pretty well. The important thing is to get some writing done, and I suspect that for first time authors, it may be better to jump straight in at an exciting scene that’s been bubbling away in your head than to not write a word until you have a perfect plan.

    1. I’m curious about something. Do you think the plotting method shortened the entire time you wrote the book (starting from the time you plotted it out) to finishing the first draft? Or do you think it took about the same amount of time as when you did it by the seat of your pants? I’m liking the idea of trying an outline. Like you, I can see that I’d have the story change on me (it always ends up differently than what I intended), but if I stop at the point of change and revise the outline, maybe the system would be doable.

      I agree. The blank page is the worst thing that can happen to a writer. You can’t do anything with it. 😀

      1. Hmmm, I think it’s probably faster on balance. Although all my books so far are part of the same series, so it’s a bit quicker to write the third one anyway as all the characters are well developed.

        I didn’t find it took me long to write the full outline at all – three days at most. Again though, the “third book factor” helped because I already knew what the basic plot was meant to be, it was just a case of filling in the details.

        If I’d tried to outline the first book, I can imagine having spent weeks working on it, not quite being able to understand in my head how the characters should interact.

        That said, once Ivory Terrors (The Cavaliers: Book Three) is completed and published and the series is complete, I’m starting a new series, called The Separation of Powers, and I think I’ll try to do a proper outline for that one too, although I bet I won’t be able to resist cheating and writing a few scenes beforehand.

        1. I can see that working on a series (and being at the third book in) would help with the pace of writing the book. It’s easier for me when I already know the characters too.

          I’m interested in trying the plotting method. I’m glad you mentioned writing a couple scenes ahead of time. I think that would help me figure out the book better. I just can’t figure out the characters and what they’re like until I’m writing them. On paper in an outline, they might seem one way, but as soon as they come “on stage” (so to speak), they take on a life of their own. From there it’s easier for me to see the story coming through. That could be a great way of doing it and one I’ll look into. Thanks for answering my question.

  30. Brian Bixby says:

    Thanks to faulty hearing, I thought the two styles were “panzers” and “plodders.” Which actually isn’t a bad way to describe the two modes.

    I usually start in panzer mode, then have to resort to being a plodder when a) the story gets too complex, b) I don’t know what comes next, or c) I feel the need to figure out just what I’m doing with the story. (Went into a longer discussion over four consecutive posts on my own blog, with reference to a specific story, starting at , but what I’ve written is an adequate summary.)

    1. My hearing isn’t great either. Fortunately, I saw the words first, but if I hadn’t, I would have thought the same as you. God knows I’ve messed up a lot of words that end up being spelled differently than what I thought they’d be. Now I ask my children what the word is to make sure I got it right. 😀

      I think those are excellent times to start plotting things out. Sometimes I’ll do that, too, especially when I’m not sure what comes next. Doing it when things get complicated and to organize the story are excellent reasons, too. I love the tips. And thanks for the link!

      1. Brian Bixby says:

        You’re welcome. And I must thank you in turn for your advice. Doing more than one book at a time . . . ah, I thought I was violating a major rule! Nice to know someone else, you, had the courage to say so in electronic print!

        1. I hadn’t heard of anyone working on more than one book at a time until recently. I thought I was the only one doing it. LOL It’s nice to know I’m not alone.

  31. Thanks for sharing these tips. You covered the basics. Wonderful for any writers, whether they’re flying or structuring. Thanks for sharing. I’m going to re-blog. Great post.

    1. Thanks, Wanda! I’ve already tried some plotting tips and got two paragraphs in before things went off course. LOL I think plotting is harder than writing by the seat of your pants, but since others would probably say the opposite, it just proves how different we all are. 😀

  32. Linda Adams says:

    I’m a pantser. Tried outlines, but absolutely cannot connect my creativity to one. I have to say that I don’t agree with not editing as you go. That’s advice that’s caused huge issues for me because it takes out a step in the creative process. I don’t always get ideas in the right order, and sometimes — a lot of times really — I have to move back and forth in what I’m creating while I’m figuring it out. If I blow through without doing this, then I leave a lot out, and it’s a lot harder to revise it in. The story can double or quadruple in revision time because of what I left out.

    1. Every writer is different. You have to do what works best for you. 😀 I can’t go and edit while I’m writing because if I do that, then I end up losing all of my creativity and have a terrible time getting back into the writing process. Once I go into edit mode, I stay there, which is why I try to finish up two books at the same time. I lose a lot of writing days when I edit.

      I have a friend who doesn’t plot but she does edit and polish every chapter once she finishes it. Then she moves on. She can’t go forward until she has a polished product behind her.

      I think if you go with the way that fits you, then you’ll cut out a lot of work down the road. There is no “one-size fits all” method for writers.

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