‘Plotter’ or ‘pantser’: What kind of writer are you?

Are you more of an orderly, outline person (a “plotter”), or a messy, free-writing person (a “pantser”)?

When it comes to your writing, you might be more of a logical person who lives by an outline (a ‘plotter’), or perhaps you prefer to write more broadly and freely without a strict structure (a ‘pantser’). It’s useful to know which of these writing styles you lean towards. Oftentimes, it’s just a matter of finding the style that suits you for the project that you are working on. Let me explain…
Photo by Darius Bashar via Unsplash
Photo by Darius Bashar via Unsplash
If you’re someone who has done some creative writing as an adult, have read books on writing, or taken part in a writing initiative like National Novel Writing Month, there’s a good chance you’re familiar with the terms ‘plotter’ and ‘pantser’. In fact, such is the importance of a writer’s preferred style that it was one of the questions I asked each of the authors I interviewed for my book, The Indie Author). For those who are scratching their heads right now, a ‘plotter’ is someone who plans out the structure and details of their story in advance; things like major events, character arcs, key scenes, and so forth. They’ll often have an idea of the start, middle and end of their story, and they’ll tend to write their book from start to finish - in sequential order. A ‘pantser’, on the other hand, tends to jump into writing without too much planning or outlining. They may have a general idea about where the story is going, but they’ll let themselves be more loose and free-flowing… they’ll write a particular scene or section, and then another, and then another, and then come back to a part they’ve written previously… and so on and so forth. ‘Pantsers’ can be described as writing in more of a circular way than a linear way, adding more fragments as the story progresses and slowly comes more into focus. Which one of these is best? You might now be wondering… There is absolutely no “right” or “wrong” way to write. Whilst ‘plotters’ may have a more clear sense of direction and, perhaps, a writing process that’s more efficient, ‘pantsers’ benefit from having more creative freedom, more space to come up with ideas and insights that otherwise might not appear if they were writing in a more orderly way.
Okay, I think I understand the difference between the two writing styles… so how do I know which writing style is for me?
Well the answer to that largely depends on two things:
  1. Your brain (or your ‘personality type’ if you like), and
  1. What it is you are writing about
Whilst one person might have a more natural preference for writing to an outline, another person might prefer to completely write by the seat of their pants without any outline whatsoever. You might be someone writing a self-help book with a very specific person in mind, or writing a memoir/narrative of some kind, one which requires lots of freedom and space to draw out the various parts of their story. Plotters can benefit from sprinkling some free-flowing writing into their process, and pantsers can benefit from having a framework to write to, one that allows them to write and express themselves in the way the words need to come out. And, in fact, most writers aren’t ‘pure plotters’ or ‘pure pantsers’… they generally come somewhere in between, and it’s finding your best balance between the two which is the key to discovering what works for you best as a writer. And remember, there is absolutely no “right” or “wrong” way to write… there is only YOUR way to write.
Jas Hothi is a writer, coach & author. With a Masters in Positive Psychology (MAPP), he loves to help folks begin and make progress on their book projects by discovering and utilising their unique creative rhythms. He is also currently offering a free copy of his book, The Indie Author, to anyone who signs up for his newsletter. SIGN UP HERE to get your free copy.