If you’ve been a part of the writing community for any amount of time, you’ve likely heard the terms, pantser and plotter. Their definitions are fairly self explanatory.
Pantser- Flies by the seat of their pants. No outlines, no plotting ahead of time. A pantser sits down in front of their preferred way to write and just starts writing when the muse strikes.
Plotter- Prepares a synopsis, builds an outline based on their synopsis, character interviews, world building, and plot development.
These are generalizations, but you get the idea.
When it comes to writing fiction, a lot of famous authors are notoriously known as pantsers; George RR Martin, Stephen King, and Margaret Atwood. Equally famous plotters of note are JK Rowling, Joseph Heller, and John Grisham.
“I think there are two types of writers, the architects and the gardeners. The architects plan out everything ahead of time, and the gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed, and water it.” — George RR Martin
What they all have in common is, they write and complete novels. Well, most of them.
I’m looking at you, GRRM.
When it comes to writing, we all have to figure out what works for us. Stephen King has famously, and rather harshly, stated that he believes outlining is a sign of a bad writer. I don’t think this is true. If creating and following even the sketchiest outline helps you plot and execute your novel, there is nothing wrong with that.
It also depends heavily on what you’re writing.
When I sit down each week and work on my editorial calendar, I am being a plotter. For the most part, I don’t make outlines for each article I intend to write that week. What I do is plan ahead in regard to which publications I want to submit to, what ideas I have brewing for content, how much content I want to produce, and any freelance projects I need to accomplish during the week as well.
That is a sort of outline for my writing week.
Each morning, I take what is on my calendar and create. If it’s an article for publication here, I’ll research if necessary and begin writing. I don’t outline or flesh out paragraphs ahead of time.
Research, write, edit, repeat.
Freelance projects get essentially the same treatment, but will probably be worked on over the course of a few days or weeks, depending on the project. If it’s a big project, I break it up into smaller pieces.
So, my non-fiction, creative non-fiction, and freelance work is more pantser than plotter, but there are elements of both.
When it comes to my novel, I plan, a lot.
I write down characters and their biographies, 2–3 paragraphs describing the general plot, the story time line (Act I- Inciting Incident; Act II- The 1st Doorway; Act III- The 2nd Doorway), the epic ending. I use index cards for this, so that I can place them in order and add to them as my novel grows.
I spend time with my idea, fleshing out bits and pieces, before I ever start writing. When I do this, I find I have an easier time writing the actual story.
But I also fly by the seat of my pants when it comes to writing the bulk of the story. I don’t excessively plan each moment in each chapter. I give myself a shell and work from there. That way, when I finally sit down to write, I have a place to start.
When I am writing a novel, I’m mostly a plotter, but have moments of pantsing too.
There’s nothing wrong with being a plotter or a pantser, but to find the balance between both worlds is where writing magic happens.