If You’re Pantsing Without Planning You’re Wasting Time

If you start writing before you know how your novel ends you are wasting time.

Unless you know the ending, once you arrive you won’t have built in foreshadowing. Your characters will have unrealistic inconsistencies. Scenes will make the wrong points. Your theme won’t be emphasized.

You’ll have to go back and rewrite the whole thing to have any hope of making it right.

“Writing is re-writing!” you shout with glee.

And I say, that’s ridiculous.

photo http://www.sxc.hu/photo/770264 by Shuné Pottier http://www.sxc.hu/profile/Shune

Why are writers so proud of doing their work wrong repeatedly? I’ve heard folks brag of their 14 rewrites before it came together.

If your mechanic said that, you’d fire him. Okay, that’s not art. What would you think of a painter who finished their painting, knowing it was substandard, and then threw it on the fire and started over?


Can you imagine da Vinci starting a painting without sketches? Or Mozart just writing notes and seeing where they went? Or Twyla Tharp saying “Hey, y’all, just jump around, and when I see what I like, we’ll do that!” Even jazz improvisations have a structure.

Picture another scene: you have somewhere to go, and you just get in your car and drive. You know you’re going to Wally’s Minimart, a clear destination.

But you have no idea where it is.

Is that an efficient way to reach a goal? Is it even rational?

Your writing has a goal which is just as concrete as the south wall at Wally’s Minimart. Thing is, if you just start writing without knowing where it is it makes no more sense than driving to Wally’s without at least getting the address.

You will, guaranteed, spend a whole lotta time going around in circles, backing out of dead ends, taking wrong turns, and stopping to figure out where you are and where to turn next.

I know it’s common to just start writing and let the Muse lead. I know confirmed anti-organizers decry the straitjacket of advance planning. But unless you’re trying to emulate Jackson Pollack’s abstract painting version of Ornette Coleman’s free jazz, you’re either going to plan ahead, or do far more work than you have to.

Read Larry Brooks Story Engineering and see how you can get the best of both worlds: enough structure to be efficient in your writing, and all the freedom your pants desire.

12 thoughts on “If You’re Pantsing Without Planning You’re Wasting Time

  1. I’m with Agatha Christie: “The best time to plan your novel is when you’re washing the dishes.”
    If a story idea comes to me, I work it out in my mind over and over, ironing the wrinkles, developing the scenes and bringing the thing to a conclusion, before I ever sit down to write it. (Which is why I have four books in my head right now!)

  2. You are so right! Who in the world would want to lead a will-less life! I would not want to be cast as a zombie. When I go on a trip, I want o know where I’ll end up. I have friends who attended school with me. Over 40 years later, and no degree, they are still in the dark, as to how “their story” is going to end! Blessings.

  3. “What’s up with some people?” (Me, in particular)
    That’s ^^^ exactly the thing I’m really working hard to figure out, these days! It goes with “What’s your Why?
    ~ And the next step will be “How did I get that idea? And how do I turn it around, now?”

    1. Google “saggy middle” and you’ll find loads of articles on avoiding the slump many writers fall into. There was one excellent article which I can’t find, but when I do, I’ll let you know.

  4. Super good reminder, Joel!! Wow. That’s weird. I just wrote “Jose” instead of Joel and had to delete it. (Didn’t plan for that one! What’s it all mean??)

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