Ask an author what type of writer they are, and you’ll likely hear one of two responses: Plotter or Pantser.
(Pantser? What in the world does that mean?)
Even if you’ve never heard these terms, you probably fall into one category or another. There is no right or wrong when writing, and your technique is largely a personal preference. Every author works differently, and there are merits to both styles. But knowing the characteristics of each can help you anticipate potential pitfalls and improve your productivity.
Let’s break down these two dominant approaches among various writing styles. Read on to learn what they mean, their pros and cons, and how you can get the most out of your book-writing strategy.
What is a Plotter?
Plotters plan out their story before writing. They may use a simple outline or bullet points in a notebook or a large visual (think Post-its or notecards on a giant board) to “see” the book at a glance. But, regardless of the degree of plotting, the key element is the same: outlining the story before writing.
Pros and Cons of Plotting
Plotting lets writers know the whole story upfront and can help keep them on track while writing. It can increase clarity and decrease writer’s block. Some plotters say planning the book excites them to start writing and helps with efficiency and time management. Additionally, it can save time in the revision stage because the book is already highly organized.
On the other hand, plotting can take away some of the spontaneity of the writing process. If you’re glued to a preconceived outline, you may be less likely to sway from it, even to the story’s detriment. As a result, creative inspiration is limited mainly to the plotting phase, and then the writing phase is simply following an outline. Similarly, some plotters may feel overwhelmed when a snag in the story pops up and feel forced back to the drawing board.
What is a Pantser?
The term “pantser” comes from the phrase “flying by the seat of your pants.” These writers approach their work with an open mind and little to no plan for the story. They simply write, letting the story take them where it will. Also referred to as “plotsers,” they value the freedom to discover a story as it happens. Many pantsers enjoy getting lost in the story and find outlining stifles their creativity.
Pros and Cons of Pantsing
Pantsing offers unlimited creativity and a feeling of liberation. It allows flexibility to change the plot as you go. Some pantsers say their characters are writing the book rather than themselves as the author. What the characters say and do in the moment is where the story goes.
However, with little to no outline, it’s easy to come up against roadblocks. Pantsers can sometimes write themselves into a corner, including plot holes, inconsistencies, or a lack of cohesiveness to the story. Further, the revision stage is often more challenging for pantsers, requiring more rewrites to fix issues in the manuscript. It’s not uncommon for pantsers to cut large writing chunks because they no longer fit in the overall story.
But wait, is there a third option? Yes! It’s called a Plantser.
Maybe you’re reading this and thinking you’re not firmly in either category. You’re a little bit of both. Guess what? You’re probably a “plantser.” That is a combination of plotter and pantser. Plantsers may have a general sense of their book’s plot before writing or may write a loose synopsis to keep them on track, but they don’t plot every scene. They may be the type of writer who likes knowing where the story is going but isn’t afraid to pivot. Being a plantser is an excellent blend of plotting and pantsing—a way to get the best out of both approaches.
Making the most of your writing style
The best way to write a book is to do so in the most natural manner. It’s great to find inspiration from fellow authors and their processes, but at the end of the day, every writer is unique. Find an approach to writing that makes sense for your style. Try several and see what fits. Or challenge yourself to flip for a scene or chapter. If you’re a plotter, try freewriting for fifteen minutes. If you’re a pantser, try outlining your next chapter.
Keep in mind your approach may change from book to book. While one story requires detailed planning and a fleshed-out outline, the next story may be looser and allow for more flexibility. Writers shouldn’t put themselves in a box—let each project dictate what it needs and do what works for you. Remember: writing is supposed to be enjoyable, never a burden.
When it comes to writing a book, there is (sadly) no magic formula. Whether you’re a plotter, pantser, or plantser, there will be bumps along the way, rewrites that need to be addressed, and maybe even phases of burnout. So while understanding these three types of writing approaches is helpful, it’s important not to put too much pressure on where you fit. You may even adopt all three techniques at some point in your writing career.