I Am Not Broken: A Pantser’s Manifesto

A few years ago I wrote this and it got a huge response. I feel the need to repost it today for reasons.


Over the last couple weeks I’ve seen several blogs/articles about “fixing” pantsers or written by “reformed” pantsers … one even “how to save a pantser” (wish I’d marked that one) – Lots of great ways to make people who have been pantsing successfully stop and become something else. Something that they may not truly be.

Let me give you the tale of two writers.

The first was me. I’m a pantser. I’m a fairly true pantser. I’ve talked about my writing process before, so I won’t go into it. The second is my CP. My CP thought she was a pantser. And why wouldn’t she think that? She was working with someone who was…and who it was working for.

To people outside pantsing, sometimes it looks easy. You just sit down and write and the words flow. Um, yeah. No.

FIRST off, this: It is just as hard to be a pantser as a plotter. The challenges are different, the successes are different, heck, the rewards may even be different. But, the essential truth remains: Writing Is Hard.

Accept it, embrace it, because if you want to be a writer, that’s your new reality.

So, here I am, writing as a pantser, ticking the heck out of the woman trying to teach me how to use tools because I have an answer for each thing before using the tool and I meet my CP. She sees this, we get along, we click so she must be a pantser too.

Book two, she embraces plotting… When I say embrace, I mean there’s this notebook… it has cards and collages and outlines and timelines and photocopied research books and character sketches and and turning points and and and and and… She wrote that book, cleanly, in less than a month after putting together her plottery stuff. And I say, good for her! Because, after we edited and revised her book it was clear she wasn’t a pantser. She didn’t need to be reformed, she needed to start doing things the way that worked for her.

SECOND: Everyone’s process is different. Do NOT judge someone’s process. Judge their product if you must judge something.

So, I thought I should give plotting a whirl. I had a great idea for a story way outside my genre. What better way to test this plotting gig and to do it with something totally new and unknown. Only (and I’m sure you’ve heard this a ton of times before) once I plotted it, I couldn’t write it. I tried. I wrote and wrote and then tossed the outline and tried again. That story? It’s dead to me.

THIRD: It doesn’t hurt to try to see how far into the other camp you can slide. You’ll at least learn something about your own process.

So, what about all those great tools? I have such spreadsheet love that it’s a running joke with my friend. I’d love to be able to play with sheets and tools and bright colors, but it just doesn’t work… until…

There have been times when my story isn’t working. Something just isn’t…right. How does a pantser fix that? For me, it’s a fast book map. For the fantasy it’s most indepth, so I’ll go there. I read the book and as I go I created a spreadsheet that has: Chapter/Scene/Page Start / Page End / POV / Plot Necessities / Romance Necessities / Character Necessities

I cut 19 pages from a 102 page section that didn’t work by mapping it. After mapping it, I combined, reordered, and deleted the heck out of that. It sped the read and streamlined the story. And I totally stole the idea of mapping from my plotter friends — they just do it to build the book. I do it to fix the book… you know, if it needs it. Obviously, everything I write is now perfect *snerk*

FOURTH: Stealing is good. Pantsers steal tools (if you know when and how to use them for your process.) Plotters steal flexibility and adventure. Most plotter friends say they still feel that way, but I’d challenge them to let their stories surprise them…. even if it means replotting a little.

So, here I am. Three books under my belt (update that to nine) and one more partially done… as well as the idea notes or first page to first chapter of several ideas saved… and what have I learned?

I’ve learned that this works for me. I’ve learned that as I grow I need to continue analysing my process. I’ve learned that Fast Drafting is still my friend. I’ve learned that what works for me may not work for you. I’ve learned that what writing is about is doing the work.

Let me repeat that in case you’ve lost it in this long collection of words: WRITING IS ABOUT DOING THE WORK.

I don’t care if you sit down with a title and just start typing. If that’s what works for you — and you keep at it, completing the draft and polishing it till it’s beyond ready to go — or if you spend months plotting before writing a word, it’s all the same. It’s called writing. All of it.

And so, the next time someone tells you that your process is WRONG or STUPID (Yes, RWA I deleted a workshop off my MP3 player after the speaker called pantser “stupid” or “idiots” for the SEVENTH time) you smile and nod. Those people aren’t worth arguing with… But, a little twangy part of me says, ask yourself… are they doing the work or just trying to rip yours down.

And so, here I am, a pantser. Now excuse me, I have to go write.


  1. Mirroring what I say — I get tired of people saying I’m broken and that my story must be broken because I don’t outline. Everyone says “everyone’s process is different and that’s okay” — until it comes to not outlining, and then the tune changes very quickly. I had an outliner tell me pantsers scared him, and maybe that’s the problem.

    When I get stuck, I have to backtrack a few chapters to see what happened. A lot of times, I’ve thought too much and directed the story, rather than following where it was leading me.

    • Bria Quinlan says:

      I’ve never heard a reader say “I don’t read her bc she’s a pantser.” Actually, I had several readers tweet me asking what a pantser was after this. Honestly, I don’t get the obsession with how other people do things! Also, what toothpaste are you using, bc if you’re not using Crest, you’re doing it wrong! 😉

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