In Defense of Professional Pantsers


This content is mainly for pantsers: the kind of writers who just sit down and see what flows from their brain to their fingertips onto the page.

So no, this has nothing to do with people who go around pulling other people’s pants down.

The writing kind of pantsers, so-named because they fly by the seat of their writing pants, are typically associated with novelists. Then again, so are plotters: the kind of writers who outline their work before they actually begin it.

Professional writers are automatically expected to be plotters to the point where the practice doesn't even deserve an acknowledgement in the professional writing world. Because plotting sounds more organized. Largely because it is.

As such, it sounds more academic. More serious. And because it sounds that way, many people just automatically assume that’s what every single professional writer out there does.

They create outlines. Then they write.

But au contraire, mon ami d'écriture! (On the contrary, my writing friend!) It doesn’t have to be that way.

There are just as many professional writers – bloggers, essayists, journalists, business book writers, etc. – who make pantsing work… mainly because that’s the only truly viable method for them. If they tried outlining, they’d never write more than the first three lines.

Maybe not even the first two.

Pantsers’ brains just don’t work the same way plotters’ do. That’s not to disparage or dismiss either version, only to say that each writer needs to understand where they’re coming from and how they operate at their optimum.

Since I personally am a pantser with both my novel writing and my professional publications, here are some pantsing tips I’ve learned along the way:

  1. Don’t stare at your first 100 words and freak out, wondering how you’re going to meet your intended word count. Just keep writing. There’s a 90% chance you’ll have exceeded that goal by the time you finish your “in conclusion” paragraph. If you don’t, then that’s what editing is for. Add in some appropriately fluffy words. Clarify a point or two. Include a personal story to punctuate your professional point. There’s always a way to embellish.

  2. Don’t worry if your writing journey takes you on a difference course than you originally expected. It might come back around again. If it doesn’t, you can always change your intended title and intro. More than likely, that kind of curvature is no big deal. Particularly when you’re blogging, writing your own book or not working under the boss equivalent of a communist dictator.

  3. Don’t let anyone try to convince you that you need to be a plotter just because it sounds more professional. If that isn’t the way your brain works, then that isn’t the way your brain works. With that said, don’t get up on a high writing horse just because you’re a “free spirit” while other writers are “chained to their outlines.” If that’s the way their brains work, then that’s the way their brains work. Allow them to be individuals as well.

Pantsing can be done in professional writing just as much as plotting, with both possessing the potential to turn out wonderfully right or ridiculously wrong.

In the end, it’s really up to the editorial process to sort out which blogs, essays, articles and books are worth it… and which ones should go back to the plotting or pantsing drawing board.

So in defense of professional pantsers, if you are one, be one. And if you’re not, own that too. There’s no universal process to writing a strong article.

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

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