Are you a Plotter or a Pantser?
This question is a popular one on writing blogs across the internet. In a nutshell plotters plan out their writing super thoroughly before they start while pantsers like to wing it and see what happens (There is seriously a ton of info out there on this subject, Chris Baty’s Book “No Plot? No Problem!” is a great place to start looking into the topic a little deeper). This question is usually posed as a black and white situation, but I think there is more of a scale to it.
Back then, I genuinely thought I was a plotter. Most likely I came to this conclusion because I consider myself to be a planner outside of my writing life. Whether scheduling events with friends or family I am always the one asking the “W” questions. What time, Where at, Who will be there? I thought this tendency to have a plan in place naturally made me a plotter.The first time I really reflected on this question was back in November when I participated in NaNoWriMo (National novel writing month). I ended up deciding that I fell into the plotter category, though looking back, I’m pretty sure the NaNoWriMo craziness was affecting my judgment.
Over the past month or so I have come to an earth-shattering realization: I am not a plotter. I am a pantser, and I am actually pretty far to the left on the pantser scale. The only thing I like to have planned, in both my writing and real life is the “what” I don’t usually worry about the “how.” Phrased differently, I will figure out what I have to do, but not how to do it.
This is not generally recommended as best practice when it comes to writing stories. I faced the pitfalls of this first hand with one of my early writing projects. I had a great idea – what if I wrote a story where the main characters fly around on winged animals and have wicked cool battles fighting against the bad guys? I loved the idea so much that I jumped right in without doing any planning. Literally, I didn’t even know how I wanted the story to end beyond a mental picture of a castle in the background of a big battle. It was two years later, with two books drafted out that I suddenly realized I was not on the right track with this story. I ended up shelving those drafts, keeping them in the wings for the day I am ready to weed through the mess and make that story blossom.
After seeing how my pantser attempts at story writing failed, I decided I was going to be a plotter for my next project. I tried really hard, writing out the story arch, creating character profiles and, praise the lord, clarifying in detail how the story would end. This did help, but now that I have finished the first draft of this story, I can see that I still did not do the kind of hard core plotting that genuine plotters do before they write their stories. So what is a pantser to do?
My solution is to own it. Here I am shouting from the blog mountaintops I am a pantser and I am proud of it! Just as plotters have their own advantages for writing, us pantsers have some great advantages too.-Pantsers write – we may not know what we are writing, but gosh darn it if we aren’t good at getting words on the page, something that we all need to do to get stories written
-Pantsers write – we may not know what we are writing, but gosh darn it if we aren’t good at getting words on the page, something that we all need to do to get stories written
-Pantsers are free – we haven’t put our stories into boxes before we started writing them, so the story really does take shape before our eyes, this can cause huge editing hurdles, but it just might create a story that never would have happened if we’d tried to plot it out first
-Pantsers know what to invest their time in – as we are quicker to begin writing our stories, we are also quicker to discovering if those stories are worth our time. Where plotters might spend weeks, months or years plotting out a story they think they will love, only to attempt writing it and find they dislike it, us pantsers find out right away if our story is worth investing in.
I’m sure there are many more advantages to being a pantser as well. But just as plotters need to eventually stop planning and start writing, us pantsers have to halt our writing and do some plotting every once in a while too. I’m still working on finding a balance, but I have two strategies I’m using to hopefully avoid letting my pantsing get the better of me, again…
- Pause: The big mistake I made with my first novel writing adventure, was not pausing to reflect on the direction my novel was going in. I was thinking short term, “what is my next scene going to be?”, instead of the more long term, “what is my story actually about?”. When you don’t preplan your novel it is super important to pause (frequently) to evaluate where things are going, and if you are in a place where you think it might be time to do a little more plotting. Doing this will help you avoid wasting two years writing a series that isn’t even set in the right universe (biggest facepalm ever), and will help you be in a much better place when it is time to revise your novel.
- Plot before your second draft: I was much too excited to get writing to do all my plotting before I got the first draft out. Now that the draft is on the page, it’s time for me to plot. At this point, I am so in love with my story that I am ready to do this task that feels cumbersome and painfully tedious. I do it because I know, it will turn this story that I love into a book that others will love too.
I love being a pantser, even my big mistake story has value to me, not just because I learned important lessons from it, but because it was a super fun and wild writing ride. I believe as pantsers our most valuable asset is the ability to just write, get the words onto the page and worry about the consequences later. It is a dangerous skill, but one that I am learning to harness.
All you plotters out there, why do you love being a plotter? What are some tips you would give to us pantsers to make our novels stronger? All you pantsers, same question what do you love about your writing style and what advice would you give to plotters.
Stay amazing my friends!