To Pants or Not to Pants

I'm taking a class on Usage this semester, and when the stress of school isn't driving me batty, it's actually quite fun. One of the things we had to do for the class recently was write a dictionary definition for a slang word that is in use today. It could be any kind of jargon for a hobby we like, something we say in our families, etc. Well, I chose the noun "Pantser."

Those of you who have been around the proverbial writing block for a while will have heard this term and probably even know what it means, but humor me here, because I'm going to give you my definition. Let me know what you think. And let me know, are you a pantser or a planner?

Pantser [pæntser]

n. One who writes a novel by the seat of one’s pants, or, in other words, without plotting, planning, or outlining. She’s a pantser, so don’t expect her to do any outlining before she sits down to write her novel.

Derivational morphemes can be affixed or removed, creating such forms as “pantsing,” “to pants,” “pantsed,” etc.

On October 13, 2010, the organizers of National Novel Writing Month, (NaNoWriMo) published an article titled, “The Great Debate: Are you a planner or a pantser?” The term had been used within the writing community for a few years prior to that time, but it increased greatly in use and acceptance after the article appeared.

Pantsers are generally looked down upon by planners, and the term is sometimes used in a derogatory way when said planners are trying to tell aspiring authors how to go about their craft. Not all writers think being a pantser is a bad thing, though. In fact, there is a small minority that believe pantsing to be a superior method of drafting the novel. Some authors take the stand that either way is perfectly acceptable, as long as it works for the individual.

Some authors claim to be a hybrid (somewhere between pantser and planner), one who does some light planning but generally wings it, to differentiate themselves from those who spend copious amounts of time plotting, planning, and outlining all the minutia of their stories. However, purists would still call the hybrids “planners.” To truly be a pantser in their eyes, you have to sit down with the blank page and let the characters and the plot take over with no idea where they will lead you.

The term pantser is still not in wide use, although it is generally used and understood within the writing community. However, we predict that it will gain popularity and perhaps someday generalize to mean “one who does anything by the seat of one’s pants.”

1. Plotter 2. Planner