Are You a Plotter or a Pantser?

swing in skyThe joy of winging it.

If you’re a writer, you understand when I mention one of the big discussions making the rounds in writing groups recently revolves around the way an author goes about putting down his thoughts. It boils down to an easy question.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Personally, I think the question is kind of funny. Well, not the question so much, as the choice of words to describe it. Plotter or pantser. It puts a smile on my face whenever I hear it.

Simply put, a plotter is someone who plans out their story before they write it. They figure out openings, strategic middle and closings before they write a word. I think it goes without saying that plotters are famous for thinking through the structure of their work before writing … usually in outline form.

A pantser, on the other hand, is someone who obviously, “flies by the seat of their pants” … meaning they likely don’t plan anything.

In all honesty, I believe you need to be a little of each to be a decent writer. Even if you’re a die-hard plotter … no one can outline down to the sentence level. And honest plotters will admit that some of their best ideas have come during their “seat-flying” bouts.

I Like Being a Writer
A special thing happens to many people when they write. I know it’s true, because it happens to me. The rush as the creative juices flow is like little else you experience. But is the rush diminished if you plot out your details in advance? On the other hand, are you doomed to failure without a road map?

I don’t think so … no matter which way you choose to go about it.

I’m far more of a pantser. Unless it’s a technical article, I hate making outlines. In writing fiction I detest it in much the same way I used to hate diagramming sentences in freshman English (sorry Miss Kujala).

Pantsers like me are notorious for writing as they go along. It’s the method I enjoy because I actually like it when the characters surprise me and tell me what’s going to happen.

Plotters fail miserably at pantsing. They compare it to playing a game of solitaire with a deck of fifty-one … they think it’s unwinnable, and they eventually just run out of steam.

Serious pantsers, on the other hand, will suggest the very idea of a book requiring a rigid structure that must be conceived beforehand is akin to a fish needing a plane ticket to cross the river.

So, Which One is Right?
When it comes time to do the hard work of writing a book, which way do you choose? The debate all boils down to the one thing that I think really matters if you’re a serious writer: how do you get your creative juices flowing?

At the extremes, plotters favor the feel of the outlining stage, while pantsers delight in the detailed writing stage. To me, it’s all a matter of knowing where the highest frequency of those eureka moments you’re seeking will fall.

In other words, working to your strengths.

Perhaps it’s just me, but pantsers seem to thrill at the freedom to go in whichever direction the wind blows. They seem to delight in not knowing the ending of book when they start. Like me, they love trying to figure it all out as they create.

To my way of thinking, this method keeps my writing fresh and enjoyable at the best of times … and bearable at the worst. On the other hand, if required to outline first, pantsers often feel like I do … like they’ve been forced into herding cats.

For plotters, the reverse can be true. Knowledge of the beginning, middle and end of a plot makes it easier for them. It’s after the plot points are put together they find it hard … or downright tedious … to fill in the details.

I think it’s obvious … plotters and pantsers find the joy of writing in different places.

I like thinking as I go. I’ve had other writers tell me they admire my ability to create a story out of rarefied, un-outlined air … to which I convey the common message of pantsers on how we create … we’re telling ourselves the story as much as we are telling the reader.

The Secret of Success
But I’ll let you in on a little secret. The two sides of the coin are often more similar than people make them out to be. As a writer, you’ve got to rely on your skills in both if you’re ever going to succeed.

Successful pantsers intuitively create a solid structure to their books to match the best plotter and … like I do when I begin a story … start with a lot of the crucial character details defined. Plotters, on the other hand, frequently admit to a love of “seat-of-the-pants-writing” to improve the details of their stories.

Knowing where your personal strengths lie will help. But only by having both a great plot and beautifully expressed details – down to the individual words you choose – are you ever likely to finish a book worth reading.


My books have all garnered some terrific reviews, and you can see the ones I have available by using the Amazon link below. My latest, BLOOD LAKE, was just published. Look for it. You might like it.

buy now amazon

You’re invited to visit my web site, BROKEN GLASS, or
like my Book of Face page. You can find me on Goodreads, or follow
some of my shorter ramblings on The Twitter.


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