Most folks who venture into the writing wilderness have strong feelings about how to approach the actual creation of their manuscript. There are two official camps: the Plotters and the Pantsers. Writers tend to fall naturally into one category or the other; it’s not necessarily a conscious choice. And then there are the Procrastinators, who can show up to either gathering unannounced and who may or may not stick around.
See if you can find your natural book-writing style … and discover how it can help you write a better book.
Strengths: Organized, structured, methodical, reduced number of plot holes, less chance of “Uh, what comes next?” moments
Weaknesses: Less room for spontaneity and subconscious creativity, can sometimes find their book constrained by their outlines
Famous Plotter: J. K. Rowling
Key Phrase: “FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY, DO NOT TOUCH THOSE INDEX CARDS.”
Signs of a Plotter nest: Sticky notes, Excel timelines, and detailed character-sketch inspiration boards
Plotters are writers who carefully plan the structure of their book—they plot out every detail. Their outlines tend to break down the book chapter by chapter, listing the events and character developments as they unfold. Included in a Plotter’s plan are additional elements like backstory, physical characteristics, subplots, setting, and more.
Strengths: Comfortable with surprises and the unknown
Weaknesses: Vulnerable to plot holes, continuity problems, and “Uh, what comes next?” moments; getting stuck may lead to book abandonment
Famous Pantser: Stephen King
Key Phrase: “Holy crap, what did that character just do? OMG, WHAT DID THEY DO??? Great. Now I have to change everything.”
Signs of the Pantser Nest: Empty coffee cups, motivational posters, the sounds of soft curses
In many ways, being a Pantser can be much more difficult. This is not a “Hey, footloose and fancy-free, I am a creative wonder and this book will just erupt out of me!” approach. Think more along the lines of diving deep into your imagination, your subconscious, or even your soul and letting your intuition guide you about where to go. Now, if you are an avid reader, chances are that you will intuitively have some idea about how a book should be structured. However, the nature of being a Pantser is to risk everything on trusting yourself and your writing abilities.
Strengths: Ability to clean, cook, organize, and manage everything that isn’t writing their book
Weaknesses: The less you obey the call to write, the easier it is to ignore it.
Famous Procrastinator: Victor Hugo
Key Phrase: “I’ll get back to my book in just a tick. Oooooh, my floors need a good vacuuming.”
Signs of the Procrastinator Nest: Spotless. Perfectly organized. Filled with scrumptious home-baked food and lost dreams.
The Procrastinator is a wild and dangerous creature. In only moments, it can take complete hold of its host, luring them away from their writing. “Look at your filthy floors,” it will murmur in your ear. And “Don’t you have laundry to fold?” Its suggestions seem innocuous, even reasonable. After all, being a writer doesn’t mean you can’t clean your home, make meals, run errands. Or bake delicious things. Maybe darn some socks, or gosh, when was the last time you sorted your bookshelves, anyway? The Procrastinator is insidious and insistent, and at some point in all our lives, it has infiltrated the camp of every writer. But you can only stay a Procrastinator if you let yourself.
What Plotters can learn from Pantsers:
Pantsers tend to be much more intuitive writers, and often their writing comes from a place of passion rather than logic. This can yield some incredibly creative writing and characters. Using their outline as a guide—rather than a strict road map—Plotters can explore their intuitive writing more comfortably, allowing room for change and new paths. Think of it like a road trip. While there are certainly must-see sights, some of the most memorable and special moments come from getting out of the car and seeing where the footpaths lead you. Your outline can keep you from wandering too far while still giving you the opportunity to explore uncharted areas.
What Pantsers can learn from Plotters:
One of the big challenges of being a Pantser is when your brain stutters and comes to a halt. Suddenly you’re stuck. But where do you go? Well, in much the same way Plotters can learn to venture off the map, Pantsers can benefit from having an emergency road map of their own, just to help guide them out of the dark holes. Rather than creating a massive document or “Wall of Plotting,” Pantsers can use a whiteboard (or something similar) to sketch a basic timeline for their book. By roughly noting when and how key events need to happen, a Pantser has a backup. An additional timeline for subplots can also guide some interesting developments. Try using sticky notes to scribble unexpected ideas on, and slap them on the timelines where and when needed.
What Procrastinators can learn from Plotters and Pantsers:
Sit down. Write. Show up every day (or close to it).