Those of you who like to just sit down and write what comes out, you all are known as pantsless writers. — KitFox

We have a question on preparing for NaNoWriMo, but what if you start a NaNoWriMo manuscript without much of a plan, how do you determine what happens next?

Are there processes I can use to keep my plot going for 50,000 words, or are pantless writers doomed to write themselves into a bottomless pit?

If there are processes I can use, I'd like a list of tips on how to concoct a next scene from the bones of the scene I've just finished writing.

  • 1
    I thought the term was pantser -- not pantsless. Meaning "pants in seat/chair" writing.
    – raddevus
    Nov 19, 2014 at 12:09
  • I guess there are two terms for it
    – Matt Ellen
    Nov 19, 2014 at 12:10
  • 9
    @SaberWriter It's pantser from "flying by the seat of your pants," meaning that you have no plan. "Pantsless" means to me that you're writing either with no trousers or no underwear, or both. The practicality of that depends on the comfort level of your chair. Nov 19, 2014 at 16:09
  • "Home is where the pants aren't." How do you determine what happens next? Same way as ever, you think and you decide. How do you keep your plot going for 50,000 words? Keep throwing obstacles in your characters' paths. Nov 19, 2014 at 20:28
  • 1
    @DeanCorso why does your last name rhyme with torso?
    – Matt Ellen
    Nov 21, 2014 at 8:16

3 Answers 3


I keep a second word processing document open where I scribble down ideas and thoughts which don't fit into the current point in the story.

This document is a grammar-free, style-free zone.

I record the ideas as quick as I can type them, then jump back to the main document and dive back into its tempo and style.

I make no promises to the ideas in this second document, they are not guaranteed to be part of the finished story. Instead, I ignore them as soon as they are recorded, keeping my mind on the story that is becoming revealed in the main document.

Only when that main story stalls... when I have written myself into a dead end... only then do I go back and read through the secondary document.

More often than not, the next scene emerges during that reading.

  • 1
    This is sometimes called a slush file, and it's also a great place to put things which aren't quite working in the main document but have some element you don't want to delete, like a nice turn of phrase or an event which reveals character background. Nov 19, 2014 at 19:01

It depends on what kind of writer you are. NaNoWriMo doesn't have anything to do with it.

Some people are "pants" or "discovery" writers. Whether they write the whole thing in a month or a year or a decade, they sit and type to see what happens.

Some people are plotters. Again, the amount of time they spend to get a word count is irrelevant; they have to have structure first before creating.

Discovery writers must treat the first round of edits as part of the writing process, because it's dang near impossible to create something perfectly plotted with great character development on the first shot. Beyond that, however you write and finish your book is up to you.

Discovery writing is no more or less practical for NaNoWriMo than plotting. I'm a plotter, and discovery writing is like pulling fingernails for me. I would trash 98% of what I did if I was just spewing logorrhea all month. But I know people who find pre-plotting to be like watching paint dry.

  • 2
    +1 for "spewing logorrhea." Personally, I'm a combination plotter/pantser.
    – dmm
    Nov 19, 2014 at 18:48

The writers Margaret Mitchell, John Irving, Graham Greene, Mickey Spillane, Richard Peck, Edgar Allan Poe, J.K. Rowling, and Agatha Christie all famously write/wrote their endings first, according to this website. So, you might want to reverse your thinking. Concoct the previous scene from the bones of what you've just finished writing. This ensures that your novel does, in fact, have an ending. Now you just have to find a beginning. ;-)

Or, do what I often do: Write up various scenes, in random order, as your inspiration for them gets fleshed out in your imagination. Then do some hard work and connect them.

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