Are you a Plotter or a Pantser? This seems to be the question that every writer seems to ask at least once. But is it this the real question to be asking ourselves?
I had this very ideological conversation with a writer friend when I first began to take my creative writing seriously. I tried to answer this question myself, but didn’t really come up with a sufficient answer. My initial reaction was “pantser” but then I was like, “well, I do plan a lot of stuff in my stories.”
I had asked my friend, who is an avid plotter, the ever looming question, “Which is better: pantsing or plotting?” She told me that she didn’t believe that any writer was truly a pantser. At the time we discussed a well published author who claimed to be a pantser, but my friend pointed out that even if this author doesn’t write down her plot, she knows in her head what direction her story needs to go. “Even if you have a vague idea of where your supposed to be in your story, you are a plotter,” my friend concluded.
This is certainly an interesting perspective and I still carry this comment with me. I don’t know that I’d go as far as saying that every writer is a plotter, but I do believe that there are degrees of plotting and degrees of pantsing. There’s no one true way. The more I write, grow with my writing process, and ask others about theirs, the more I believe that not everyone truly sits in one camp or the other. There is truth to what my friend said, maybe every pantser is unconsciously a plotter. But if you are unconscious about your process is it really a process?
So many plotters and panters feel strongly about their way of writing. One way is clear, known where as the other is too meandering and takes forever; or one way seems more adventurous and creative where as the other is too stuffy and orderly.
I feel that I fall somewhere in between. Why can’t I take that adventurous rout that’s been mapped out? So what if I take a detour or two along the way.
For me, it really depends on what I’m writing whether I pants or plot; though I do tend to be a planner more often than not. For example most of my blog posts tend to fall under the category of “vaguely planned idea;” I generally know where I want to go with the blog post (such as talk about pantsing versus plotting) and then pretty much pants how I go about doing it. Because I write a lot of science fiction and fantasy I have to be a planner if not a plotter; world building take a lot of work, especially when you want that world to feel believable to readers.
In the process of streamlining my outlining process, I read K.M. Weiland‘s Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success. Great book, by the way, it totally opened my mind to different ways of thinking about my writing process. What I enjoyed most about this book was that it validated some of my struggles with story planning and allowed me to consider a lot of what I already do as just that — planning. Of course Weiland calls it all outlining, which can be rather intimidating if you consider yourself a pantser; but character development and world building is all planning. It also helped to know that she takes months to plan and outline her novels, which was also validating because I hold this false belief that it shouldn’t take writers very long to plan or outline their stories. It’s encouraging to know that I’m wrong in this cases. (More on my struggles with my false beliefs in a separate blog post.) Sometimes it’s just nice to know what other people do to get through their stories.
Honestly, I still don’t know whether or not every writer is ultimately a plotter; but I do know that there are degrees of plotting and pantsing. In the end, every writer has to experience for themselves what works best for them and stop wasting time rallying in one camp or the other. Some writers work better when every nook and cranny is known, investigated. and regimented. Some writers like to explore the rocky, winding, clear path before them as they go along. And some writers like to travel the thoroughly brainstormed and researched path only to wonder off the beaten path on occasion to look for faeries, gnomes, or the pot of gold hiding in the brush and then use that magic to forge a new path. The main thing is to be all right with where ever you fall on the spectrum and make your writing process work for you no matter what situation you find yourself in.