The Pantser’s Antipenultimate Panic #Novel Writing

You would have thought by now I’d have learned the pitfalls that go with being a seat-of-your pants writer. Yes, it’s exciting. Yes, it’s living dangerously. And yes, every time I reach the final third of my novel I come unstuck.

This time it’s worse than usual. Instead of writing at my usual steady pace that sees a first draft completed in six to nine months, I slammed out 50,000 words in one month during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and then only had time to write 6,000 words in December, so I literally lost the plot.

Yesterday, I wrote three pages of dialogue between two people that did little to advance the plot. I may or may not have picked up on some threads earlier in the novel, but mostly I was waffling in the dark.

On reflection, the cause of this waffling is clear: that I can’t remember what I said earlier in the novel, or what clues I laid down. When a writer reaches the stage of to-ing and fro-ing every few sentences via the keyboard shortcut [Ctrl][F], it’s akin to playing yo-yo and hoping the string doesn’t snap.

The moment of reckoning has arrived. I cannot proceed in a southerly direction, when I keep on having to retrace my steps north. If I carry on like that, I will end up tearing out my hair and casting my novel into the trash bin. But I neither want to tear out my hair nor cast my novel in the trash bin, as I’m rather fond of both items.

Thus, my only option is to stop writing and return to “Go”, even if go is situated at the North Pole. This does not involve any kind of rewrite or detailed proofreading, but a straight read through to remind me what I have written in the first two-thirds of my novel. As I’m doing this, I will write a chapter-by-chapter synopsis to save me having to do so at the end.

What am I looking for?

  • Clues
  • Revelations
  • Contradictions
  • Pacing/waffle
  • Direction
  • The story arc

And to end on a positive, what do I love the most about the novel that makes it worth saving?

  • The characters
  • The wry humour
  • The quirkiness
  • The story’s overall premise
  • The setting
  • The novel’s title

See you all when I get back from the North Pole. Only joking 😉

Author: Sarah Potter Writes

Sarah is a British eccentric who writes offbeat fiction, haiku and tanka poetry. When stuck for words, she sketches or paints instead. She's into nature conservation, sustainability, gardening, dogs, natural health, and reading. Her sociability is something that happens in short bursts with long breathing spaces in between.

28 thoughts on “The Pantser’s Antipenultimate Panic #Novel Writing”

  1. You crack me up! Please don’t tear that beautiful hair out.

    I do the same thing. That’s one reason I’m laughing so hard. I started my new novel like gang-busters and then, for a variety of reasons, stopped. Now I have no clue what foreshadowing I did earlier, so I’ll have to go back and read the damned thing in a month or so. And I do this all the time when writing a novel. Don’t you think I might learn eventually? Oh hell no!!!!!

    Thanks for the chuckle, and happy reading!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad to made you laugh, and it’s so good to know I’m not alone in the forgetful-pantser zone! As for my hair, I’m so glad that you think my silver and gold tinsel is beautiful. Thanks, you’ve made my day. The wonders of jojoba oil and organic tea tree shampoo/conditioner!

      Wishing you happy reading/searching for your foreshadowing — in a month or so!


  2. Whenever/if you want a look-over on it, I’m more than happy. Can’t promise I’ll get to it right away or be super-quick, but I’d love to help, at least in encouraging you to keep going and not stop. Maybe pull out some of your darlings—whether dialogue, phrases, characters, and/or chapter—and make them into short stories, if only for practice (or submission) to keep the writing ‘muscles’ strong! Good luck, Sarah, and best wishes going forward. Robert Frost “when you’re going through hell, keep going”!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m not a quitter. Quite the opposite! I absolutely want to submit this book for publication. For the first time in my writing career, I’m actually writing something that fits into a category and should be easier to market.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Good for you, Sarah. I didn’t peg you as a quitter; I probably just overlaid my life situation [a bit difficult right now] over what you were saying and felt like I felt you giving up. Great to hear I was wrong! Rock on, write on! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I’m sorry to hear that your life situaton is a bit difficult right now, and really hope it improves soon. Do I take it that you’re not getting a chance to write, or whatever is happening is blocking your creativity? Email me if you feel like off-loading a bit, or want to run anything by me.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not irretrievably stuck. Just a temporary glitch. Thanks for the offer, but it’s my rule never to show my first drafts to anyone, on the grounds that I would be wasting their time. Although I would appreciate it if you had time to look at the second draft, or at least the opening three pages plus synopsis that I want to submit to a competition during the first week of April. Many thanks for your encouragement, Leigh, and lovely to hear from you.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I still wouldn’t mind some feedback on Counting Magpies, as there are no takers for it, despite my success with it in the University of Winchester Writers’ Festival. Joshua says he can’t find anything wrong with it, so I may end up self-publishing it if there is still no publisher/agent interest by the time I’ve got my latest WIP completed. Then I can make that MS the one doing the submission rounds instead. CM might not have been up your street at all when I sent it to you, and if it wasn’t, no worries. I’ll gladly send you my latest novel when I’ve done as much as I can on my own and am ready for some structured third-party feedback. Thanks for the offer.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Put the damn thing away for long enough for all the anxiety about it to dissipate. Then read the whole thing, as if you were a third party, and make notes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My anxiety is only related to having forgotten what I’ve written re small details, so a weekend away from it will probably do. I get your point about reading it as I’m a third party, and I agree that the making of notes is essential. Thanks for the tips.


    1. It has to be the first 50,000 words of a novel, as that is the word count to qualify it as such. Anything under that is classed as a novella or a short story. My novels average 75,000 words. I am now at 63,000 words and coming unstuck, hence the retracing of my footsteps!

      Perhaps you should have a go at doing NaNoWriMo next November. It’s a good challenge to help fight a leaning towards laziness. My son participated in the challenge and wrote 53,000 words plus (his first attempt at a novel), and he is the first to admit his tendency towards laziness and backsliding! Fortunately my husband was very supportive of both of us, while we shut ourselves away in front of our computers for hours on end. He deserved a medal for patience, but he saw we were both in excellent spirit, and I made sure to cook him extra good meals, so he was happy 🙂


      1. The link in my blog post will take you to the right place to read all about NaNoWriMo. Unless you’re a really speedy writer, you would probably find it necessary to tell your blog followers that you’re disappearing for a month. In my experience, if you inform them that you’re doing this and tell them why, none of your genuine interactors will desert you. But disappearing for a month or more without saying a word would probably not be so good. I know that when I return from a break, I get lots of people telling me they’ve missed me, and they give me a great welcome home! It always feels good to be missed 🙂


  4. As a fellow pantser my heart goes out to you. I was proud of myself just for writing a beat-sheet for each chapter, and then I changed character relationships and added plot points that made most of that work irrelevant, so now I really need to sit down and write all new sheets… ^_^ Courage, my friend!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think your characters probably changed their own relationships as they took over telling the story, and they didn’t want to be “beat-sheeted” down a set path. It’s risky allowing them free rein but I mostly enjoy the suspense. After writing that post, I printed out all 208 pages I’ve written so far and felt a bit happier, thinking “wow!” I’ve acheived something. I read the first chapter last night and really liked it, despite discovering one (what has now become) small inconsistency, Then I read the last bit I wrote before having a short nervous breakdown, and it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought, plus it’s quirkily humorous. So I think I will continue letting my characters tell the story and just have my print-out as a security blanket. My courage has returned. Good luck with writing all new sheets. I’ve never done beat-sheets, as even the name of it sounds far too erudite for me, but I will google it and see what it’s all about. I think I have a vague idea of what it might involve, so let’s see if I’m right 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You are so right and after all this time I’ve come to trust my characters implicitly. But I do sigh and say “You know, you’ve just made a lot of work for me…” But it’s fun work (when my brain cooperates) so I forgive them. 🙂 Carry on, Sarah!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Good luck with your arctic explorations Sarah 🙂 There’s often a sense of panic, I think, with a story, when you wonder if it will ever say what you want it to say. And many times, I’ve gone through chapter by chapter, writing down what happens so that I can bring it all together!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh my dearest Sarah, and look how long it took me to get to you, although I know your stay at the north pole wasn’t too long 😉 This has been my problem with my memoir as you know, the gaps in between writing spells so long that I’ve forgotten what I’ve written and the constant back and forth is exhausting and so time consuming. And that’s with a true story! So with a novel where you’re plotting the story and all that goes with it, it must be a nightmare. I hope that the read through got you back on track. I am so glad you have kept both your lovely hair and your novel, and I hope that by now, you are once again well on your way to the south pole, basking in the warm flow of your words. Have a wonderful weekend my wonderful friend, and I’ll catch up with you next week. Love & hugs Sherri xxxxxxxxxxx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hope my readthrough has got me back on track. I’ve just finished it today and didn’t find too many inconsistencies, so that’s something. The story also made me laugh quite a lot in places, so I’m hoping it will make my eventual readers laugh, too. I love the characters, which helps. Now I have to let what I’ve read marinade over the weekend and wait for the Muse to deliver into my imagination a satisfying conclusion to the story! The lovely sunshine today is making me feel lazy and distracting me. I found some snowdrops and primroses in bloom, which made me smile 🙂 You have a wonderful weekend too, my dear friend. Love and hugs, Sarah xxxxxxxxxxxx

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sounds like you’re making great progress dearest Sarah, so pleased. Aren’t the snowdrops and primroses so gorgeous? A beautiful day. Thank you my dear friend and I’ll see you next week. More love and hugs coming your way 🙂 xxxxxxxxxxx


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