Creativity's Workshop

Taming and Training Your Creativity to Write Abundantly

Tips for Those Writing by the Seat of Their Pants

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The front of a mountain bike heading down a dirt path at speed

How’s your story coming along? Is it heading off in a completely unexpected direction? Are your characters rebelling and mangling your carefully planned plot for their own nefarious schemes?

Have you suddenly found yourself facing the prospect of writing by the seat of your pants for the rest of November?

Fear not. This could be a very good thing!

Even if we’ve carefully plotted our story before we started, during NaNo WriMo we all end up becoming ‘pantsers’ to a certain extent. So, with that in mind, I’ve done some research and assembled the following tips on how to make a success of writing by the seat of your pants.

Map What You Have So Far

Put together a high level diagram, list or spread sheet of what you have written so far. This benefits you in at least two ways:

  • Going back over what you’ve been working on may remind you of earlier plot points which you can introduce back into your current chapter.
  • It will allow you to see what kind of tempo your story has up until this point and determine if you need to spice it up a little (add some more action and adventure perhaps).

In this post by Justine Larbalestier entitled How to Write a Novel, she speaks about creating a spread sheet of the chapters you’ve written. She suggests having a ‘content column’ where you can add symbols to show whether the chapter was action packed, people sitting around talking etc. It provides you with a wonderful overview of what you have so far, which you can then use to launch yourself further into your story.

Remember: Keep your map as high level as possible. Don’t get bogged down in the nitty gritty otherwise you’ll lose your forward momentum.

Think About Where Your Story is Going

Allison Winn Scotch wrote a post entitled Flying By The Seat of Your Pants,  in which she says:

I guess my advice is to really ruminate on the action before you put it down on paper. Even though I might not spend my entire day writing, I do spend a lot of my non-writing hours mulling over what’s going to go on the page when I do. I don’t just sit down and write to write…I’ve long since hashed out WHY I’m asking a character to do something and WHERE this is going to lead to in the plot. If their actions make sense and propel the plot forward, then for the most part, I’m safe.

Writing is not just about putting words on paper. It’s about putting thoughts, ideas and feelings into words. For those words to come, you need to have at least the beginnings of these things inside you.

So set aside time to sit and think about where you are going. Perhaps do this while you’re taking the bus to work, walking the kids to school, pottering around the kitchen (Agatha Christie apparently though the best time to plan a book was while you were washing dishes), ironing or doing other less mind-intensive tasks. If all else fails, take a shower.

Resist the Urge to Go Back

While some authors do go back and rewrite during their first draft, this is NaNo WriMo. We have a word count to conquer!

If you decide something needs to be inserted earlier in your novel, write yourself a note (perhaps in caps) on the page you’re currently writing on and then keep going. For example, if you suddenly kill off your point of view character, make a note to ‘change novel to third person’ and then keep going.

Novels come to life in rewrites. In fact, I have recently come across further evidence that the messier your drafts are, the easier it is to revise them. This post at Writer Unboxed proves it.

Live Up the Randomness

As long as you’re heading off in a different direction with your story, why not take advantage of the added flexibility?

Add in new characters, send your protagonist to another country, call in a thunderstorm. Shake things up. Throw in a bit of randomness. Work your new angles and look for ways to make your story and characters even more interesting.

NaNo WriMo provides dares for different things you can incorporate to spin your story off in a new direction. If you’re facing completely new territory with your story, why not try a dare?

Next week Creativity will be providing some extra ideas to help you spice up your story with a little randomness.

Trust in Editing

Writing is rewriting. Therefore don’t panic too much about your first try at the story. Go with the flow and leave niggly problems to the editing later on. It’s far more important to dream big at this stage and see where your imagination takes you.

Here is an example of a well-established author, Susanne Alleyn, who writes by the seat of her pants. In her post Plotting a Mystery By the Seat of Your Pants, she takes the reader through a real life example using one of her own novels.

This example just goes to prove that you should allow yourself to discover new characters and plot points, because there’s a good chance your story will end up in a far more interesting place. And this is perfectly okay because you can always go back and edit later.

If all else fails and you’re really starting to panic, remember this quote from Martha Alderson (author of The Plot Whisperer):

I don’t care how you write the first draft. Just get it written all the way from the beginning to the end anyway you can – pre-plotting, plotting as you write, or writing purely by the seat of your pants. With a completed draft, no matter how wretched you may believe it is, you can then get down to the real work of plot and structure.

In the end you just might discover that writing by the seat of your pants is liberating. If this system works for you, then embrace it!

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Author: Jessica

I'm a writer who refuses to pin myself down to one genre, hopping from science-fiction and fantasy through to literary and even the odd western now and then. Check out what I've written at www.jessicabaverstock.com or follow me on Twitter @jessbaverstock.

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