By the what??
You read that correctly: by the pants! Uhm, yeah, ok, so, what does that mean?
It means that you write by the seat of your pants, sans-plotting. There is no outline, no guide, no detailed character descriptions. There is only a general idea of what needs to go on the page and a burning desire to get it there. The rest (you hope) sorts itself out as your fingers fly across the keys, forming mostly legible garbage to be edited later.
Yes, many of you cringe and gasp, flinch away from these pants flapping in the wind. How can that be?? How can words be written without a plan?!
Just like that. Pantsing, otherwise known as free-flow writing, is the practice of writing without ‘thought’; without dictated scenes. It is literally writing with the flow of the words that pour out of your mind. Grammar is awful, spelling is questionable at best, sometimes punctuation is missed and a lot of it is ‘talking heads’ (aka endless dialogue). Perhaps you’ve seen a picture that inspires you and you think ‘I can write that story’ so you set things down, plant your bottom in your chair and just go. That is pantsing. The urge to write overpowers the urge to plan and the words, almost literally, vomit themselves onto the page (or screen, as it were). NaNoWriMo ‘awards’ badges to those pioneers of the pantsing movement.
It is not a method for everyone. In fact, it isn’t really a method at all. It is semi-controlled chaos on paper. Authors are often heard saying their characters have taken over, have run off and ‘done their own thing’, dragging them (the author) along for the ride. There isn’t usually a clear end to a piece that is pantsed, not at first. That ending may become clearer as more is written or it may remain elusive right up until that end comes barreling down a jagged path of mostly intelligible plot.
Pantsing, in its own right, tends to require more editing to get it polished, but it also allows the author to write without constraint. It is endlessly surprising to hear how many authors struggle with their very carefully plotted pieces of fiction. The ‘right’ words never seem to emerge when needed, or the scene is not quite what they hoped it would be. Such problems do not exist in the pantsing world. Yes, there are drawbacks as well, the biggest one being that there is no clear path. There is a lot of machete hacking to get to the point you’re trying to get across to the reader, or some grief over how uncooperative a character is being. Still and all, the words get written; there is something on the page, something that can later be fixed or fluffed to perfection.
The piece I am currently working on, for example, is entirely by the seat of my pants. I have no clue how it will end or what challenges the characters will face next. The tone is a little all over the place and the scenes are a hodgepodge of talking heads and excessive description of a tree. Why? Well, because that is what the brain sent down to the fingers. It is like writing a dream that hasn’t happened yet; very surreal and sometimes very frustrating. Of course, all writing is frustrating after a fashion so I suppose I’m still doing something right. Will it be any good? No, probably not, but what first draft is ever any good?
If pantsing is not normally your thing, give it a try at least once. It is incredibly liberating to do so and might just surprise you in the end. Just make sure to take those silly pants off the line when you’re done and store them away for a rainy day when the plot bunnies decide to take a vacation; you’ll want those pants back on the line then.