Pantsing a Novel: Getting Started

The first page.

Fresh. Empty. Blank. 

Full of possibility. Full of potential. Full of… 

What in the world do I write? It’s so empty. There’s nothing there. It should start well. All novels are supposed to start well. What is that perfect opening sentence? How do I get readers past the first page? How do I get them past the first sentence? Maybe I should come up with an outline first. What do I put into an outline? 

Are those thoughts familiar to you? Those first words can feel really intimidating to write, am I right?

Novels are really big projects but they don’t have to be too big to do. Yesterday, I shared some tips on my vlog about getting started and finding sources of inspiration for writing. Today, I want to look at first draft fears.

First Fear: It’s going to be terrible, so why try?

Realize this is your first draft. And it’s going to be terrible. All first drafts are.

Breathe this truth deep down into your soul. It doesn’t have to be perfect the first time. Realize that it won’t be. The purpose of your first draft is to simply get your idea onto the page. To run your idea from where it is right now to its full completion. To introduce the majority of your characters. To begin to get to know them and understand them.

I know of no one who writes a perfect first draft, plotter OR pantser. As a pantser, however, your first draft will be worse. Why? Because you are figuring out your story as you go along. There is nothing wrong with that! It is simply another method by which people write and it is a perfectly legitimate method.

In the writing world, there seems to be a bias against pantsing, that somehow plotting is the only ‘legit’ way to write. Of course, not everyone feels this way, but there are definitely pockets of people who believe it and many writers feel it down in their souls as they try to write.

I’ve fallen victim to that thought – believing that the only way I can write a story is to plot it out first. Let me tell you something. I tried that and I failed. Hard. I’ve now pantsed two stories and have three more in the works. This is the method that works for me and for my brain and I am owning it. I love it.

Second Fear: The idea is actually stupid and no one will want to read it

It is entirely possible that not everyone on the planet will want to read your story. Let me tell you a secret, though. You’re not writing for everyone on the planet. You are writing first and foremost for yourself. Your story is first for you, and THEN for your readers. If you are writing a story so that it will be the next Twilight or Harry Potter or Hunger Games whatever other mega-best-seller has come out recently, you’re writing with the wrong motivation.

Are there times when I am weeding in my garden that I can pretend I’m as famous as J.K Rowling? OF COURSE! I think that every writer, deep down inside, wants to be the next big find, the next mega-author, the next big deal. It’s only natural.


You cannot let that be your motivation.

If you really think your story idea is stupid, ask yourself why you think that. What about it is dumb? Is it simply a repeat of another story? If so, what can you change to make it unique?

Every story has, in one sense or another, been told before. There are no new base storylines and that’s okay. It’s our unique twist on our story that makes it worth reading and worth writing. So what can you bring that is different?

Third Fear: I’ll never be published, so why put in the effort? 

This is really defeatist thinking. It’s entirely possible that you won’t be published, but it’s entirely possible you WILL be. There are plenty of small publishers that are legitimate and there is also the option of self-publishing, in addition to the Big Five. Just because you’re not published in the Big Five doesn’t mean you aren’t legit.

I want to point back to the second fear – again, if you’re writing with the sole purpose of getting published, I daresay you’re writing with the wrong motivation. Write the story you want to write and once it’s done, THEN worry about publishing.

It’s okay to want to be published, but you should take care to not desire it above all other things. Enjoy the actual process of writing. Enjoy getting to know your characters. Develop discipline and work your way through the issues you encounter.

I heard a stat that only 3% of people who begin novels will ever finish them. What are you willing to do to be among that 3%?


Are you writing a novel? What’s it about? What is the biggest hurdle you’ve encountered so far?


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