If you’re a writer, you’ve probably heard the terms plotter and pantser thrown around. They refer to the different creative approaches a writer can take when drafting a manuscript. The plotter plans, using an outline and thinking through the major story arc, characters, and scenes beforehand. Some plotters are more hard-core than others, using a very detailed chapter-by-chapter outline. Others, like me, create a basic framework for the book, with the major story arc worked out, but leave space for the unexpected. Pantsers, on the other hand, like to fly by the seat of their pants, creating as they go.
Does it matter which way you prefer to work? I don’t think so. Let me be honest though, pantsing scares me! I am more joyful and free in my writing when I have the general direction mapped out. With one of my books, I thought I’d try a free-spirited approach, sitting down to write each day with very little of the story developed in my mind. Turns out, this didn’t work at all. I spent more time worried that I’d never figure out the plot tangles and stressing about where to go next, than I did writing. So, I took a week off from the draft and really thought through the major plot points and character arcs. When I returned to writing, I felt relieved and the words began to flow. At the end of the day, we all have to do what feels right and is effective for us.
As I get to know more writers, I’ve come to realize that pantsers and plotters have more similarities than differences, and it’s really our common good habits that keep us going. Here are some things I’ve identified in both plotters and pantsers that contribute to writing productivity and success:
We’re disciplined in our writing habits.
We do our research.
We edit our work.
We think about our story before we start writing, and it’s constantly on our minds while we’re drafting it.
I know one woman whose inspiration comes from interesting places. Whether she stays in a particular town for weeks, or circles a single building day after day, she’s listening for the story to emerge. She carries a tape recorder with her to capture snippets of thoughts and the whispers of her developing characters. Once the story comes, she starts drafting and doesn’t stop until it’s all out.
Another self-proclaimed pantser friend is one of the best researchers I know. I’m sure the story is working itself out in her mind while she’s seeped in her research, she just doesn’t plot it out on paper before she begins to write. She’s comfortable allowing the scenes to develop organically once she’s been marinating in her imaginary world for a while.
We have to honor our own creative process, but at the same time, we have to commit to improving our craft and doing the work. Plotters or pansters, we’re all writers!