NaNoWriMo 2014: Team Pantser

Every year during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) the discussion of “pantser” (one who writes by the seat of his or  her pants) vs. “Planner” (one who outlines in advance) pops up. For the past two years I’ve been boldly promoting the “Planner'” approach:

Weekend Workout: Prepping fo NaNo (or not)

Reading that post, I sound very convinced and quite smug. Really, there is no one way or best way to write a novel, there’s just the way that works for you. And this year, I’ve joined Team Pantser. Not necessarily because I’ve seen the light, but because I’m being forced to for lack of planning time. As a matter of fact, I can’t even begin until Nov 4, so I’m going to have to haul literary ass to catch up.

gizem vural

artwork by gizem viral

I was inspired by a recent discussion on this topic on a speculative fiction writers forum, and we heard from a few pantsers. There’s definitely something to be said for just going for it.

Jennifer (J.R.) Johnson wrote:

I spend no time outlining or researching. For me, the key to success is to achieve and maintain words-on-the-page momentum, and stopping to check an outline or fact just slows me down. In fact, anything that pushes me out of the story slows me down and is therefore banned from November.


Normally my system involves coming up with a basic idea (ok, a character and a situation) pretty much the night before. November 1st rolls around and I start writing. In the evening I spend about five minutes wondering where the story is going, scribble down a few notes about the most outrageous developments I can think of, then go to bed. Rinse and repeat:)


If the writing is slow I know I’m boring myself, so it’s time to throw in something crazy like ninjas (or whatever the equivalent is in your particular story)…
Robert Runte added:


I think the success of NaNoWriMo depends on using it to fix whatever has been stopping one from writing … the two big advantages for me were giving myself the daily deadline and forcing myself to keep moving forward rather than stopping to endlessly rewrite the same paragraph over and over again until finally making enough progress to realize the paragraph/scene doesn’t belong in the book….


I always start with a vague idea of where the book is going — I’ve usually had fragments of scenes, some characters in my head for awhile—and just launch into it . . . when things slow down, I try to throw something new at my protagonists to keep them hopping…


… But—and this is important— putting this pressure [of the NaNo]  on oneself shuts down internal critic, so images and plot twists and characters pop out of nowhere, things I couldn’t possibly force out of my subconscious if I allowed the boys downstairs a moment’s thought. So what happens is, in desperation to feed the wordcount, they hand anything brainstormed out the door, and some of it is way better than you get thinking about it. I often over think stuff and always over critical to the point of cutting off ideas before they have had a chance to develop into something workable. NaNoWriMo forces one to just go with it and see what works. So…that can often be very helpful
Now, if all this pansting talk has gotten you inspired and you want to join in, but you have NO IDEA what to write about. Sherry Ramsey sent along an article she posted on “random generators” to get you started:

Help for the NaNo Panicked Part One

As well, she has a slightly different version of my 50 First Lines exercise:


I’ve actually never used one of my 50 First Lines exercises to write a novel (though I’ve gotten several short stories from them), but why not? You have to start somewhere.


I wanted to add that doing that NaNo takes a bit of “pantsing” no matter how much you like to plan. You need that momentum in order to finish 50,000 words in one month. The editor is going to have to be left behind simply to finish. And I really like that aspect of it.


If you’ve never done the NaNo, it’s a pretty unique experience. And there’s more to participating in NaNoWriMo than simply writing an entire novel in a month, although that’s pretty cool. There’s also the community, the dialogue, the sense of purpose, and the support. Oh, and the fun.



  1. Jack Remick
    Oct 30, 2013

    In the November 1 issue of Small Print Magazine editor Steve Brannon features an interview with Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWriMo. Should be interesting for pansters and planners alike.

  2. J.R. Johnson
    Oct 30, 2013

    Reblogged this on J.R. Johnson and commented:
    Hey, nice, I’m cited in Danika Dinsmore’s new post about “pantsing” and NaNoWriMo. And she’s right, “Really, there is no one way or best way to write a novel, there’s just the way that works for you.”

    I also love the random idea generators she links. It’s like a slushy machine that pours out stories, tasty, delicious, multi-colored stories!

    Now if I can just figure out how to make time for a novel, I’ll be all set:)

    • Danika Dinsmore
      Oct 30, 2013

      I like the random generators, too! And I also think it’s time to hold another 50 first lines contest. The last one was loads of fun.

  3. satinka
    Oct 30, 2013

    I allow my inner being to decide what to write next. 🙂

  4. 4amWriter
    Nov 1, 2013

    I’m already missing NaNo. But I am feeding on that ramped-up energy out there, so I think I’ll be happy with my decision. Good luck with your NaNo’ing!


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