A Pantser Undercover

This post is going to be part review and part experimental confession. I am a proud pantser, but I realize the process can be very unpredictable and a little less efficient than I’d like to be. Plotters on the other hand are known for their speed and efficiency in writing. For Nanowrimo November’s (National Novel Writing Month) I decided to try Rachel Aaron’s 2k to 10k writing strategy.  For those of you who don’t know Rachel Aaron, she’s a science fiction author. About three years ago, she was kind enough to share with the world how she increased her writing output from 2,000 words to 10,000 words. It’s available to read for free, here.

After reading her post I thought my new novel Mandinka Pact was the perfect opportunity to try increasing my output. I’ve had days where I’ve written ten thousand words and even one day where I wrote fourteen thousand words. I was glued to the screen on those days and fortunately a Tahoe wedding kept the family away . Thanks cousins. But Aaron’s story went viral, (people are still talking about it three years later) because she was able to create a strategy that allowed her to write ten thousand words every day. Pretty impressive.

Plotting is key to understanding Aaron’s increase in productivity. Since I am a pantser I decided to buy her book, because she talks about her plotting process. So here are the highlights from the book and my experience.

Step one

The first step is to know what you want to write before you sit down to write. Seems like a no brainer, right? But as a pantser I never know more than the beginning and end of a story before I get started. So I created an outline. She even suggests writing character sheets detailing, the character’s appearance, along with their likes and dislikes. The plotting stage was a lot of fun. I thought my inner muse would throw a tantrum and refuse to participate, but after two days I had a pretty decent outline.

The doozy though is that when it came to actually writing the story, my muse was nowhere to be found. I plunged ahead, but my chapters resulted in an extended summary of the outline. Boring.

Step two

Track your word count

The second thing she suggested is to keep track of word count versus time. This is a tip I really liked. Any writer that wants to take their writing from a hobby stage to a career needs to know how fast they’re writing. I found I could write a thousand words per hour. Not superfast. But I noticed after the second hour I always ended up writing double what I wrote the first hour. I attribute this to my brain needing time to get accustomed to the story world in that first hour.


What did I learn from this? I am still a pantser at heart. Plotting doesn’t work for me, although it may be faster and more efficient. My muse doesn’t like it. I think the problem is every story idea I come up with always has a beginning and an end. What makes me want to write the story is figuring out how the characters get to the end. With the outline, I already knew what was going to happen and how. So I didn’t get the joy of discovery, hence the protest from my muse.

There are still a lot of good tips pantsers can use to increase their productivity.

Just because I don’t like plotting before I write the novel doesn’t mean I can’t plot afterwards. This second point coincides with a previous post I wrote about mapping chapters. Once I’m finish with a story I go back and outline it. But why not do a chapter outline after you finish writing each day? The outline doesn’t have to be very detailed. A couple of quick notes about who said what and who went where should do the trick. By the time you’ve finished writing your rough draft you’d have your character map ready to go for the editing stage.

Writing what you know

Even though plotting is a strategy that doesn’t work for me, knowing what you’re going to write beforehand is a good idea. Plus it makes starting a story less daunting. Once Nanowrimo was over I decided to scrap Mandinka Pact and focus on a love story between two lawyers. I didn’t plot this one, but before I got started I made a list of the things I don’t know. For instance, what’s law school like? Then I used good ole Google to help me find articles and forums where people were talking about their experiences. I still didn’t know how my characters were going to get  point A to point B, but I do  know what things are, and aren’t plausible to do to get there.  Researching the story before saves time because you’re not always going online and winding up on pinterest or any other social media site and forgetting what you came for. Which leads to you writing more, because you’re not taking a break to see how your main character does something.


This is probably the biggest take away for me. I noticed after four hours my mind started wandering. Coupling this with the new information about writing double after the first hour, I now know that I need to set aside at least two to four hours a day to get the most out of my writing time. Knowing how long it takes me to write a story is going to make it easier to plan ahead for submitting to anthologies or running my own release schedule.

Those are my thoughts on pantsing versus plotting. What are your tips for increasing your productivity?

About The Author

E.M. Youman is a freelance writer from Oakland, CA. Some of her short stories have been published by Black Cat Press, S/tick Magazine and IFF. When she’s not writing fiction, E.M. Youman, works at an independent record label and runs a music blog. She has a B.A. and Master in Communication and is currently working on her first romance novel.


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