Pantser vs. Plotter: The Great Myth, PLUS a FREE Cheatsheet!

Hi there, and welcome to The Daring Writer. I’m Sherry Peters of sherrypeterscoach.com. I am an award-winning author and a coach for writers looking to bust through the block, the self-doubt, and the fears holding them back from getting the words on the page, polishing them up, and sending them out.

Today we’re talking about being a Pantser or a Plotter, why both are good, and why, in the end, it doesn’t really matter which one you are. Other than declaring yourself as a part of one camp or the other.

Chances are, at some point someone has asked you if you are a Pantser or a Plotter. In case you haven’t heard the terms before, or you would like a refresher, a Pantser is someone who writes, essentially, by the seat of their pants. They sit down, open up their notebook or new file on their computer, and just start writing. They let the story go where it wants to go, they’ll figure it out along the way. A Plotter, on the other hand, is someone who has a fairly detailed outline of at least half if not the entire book completed before they start to write their first draft.

Many a heated debate has been held as to whether Pantsing or Plotting is the best way. Plotters tend to be rather rigid in their belief that plotting is the only way to write, and have been known to shame Pantsers into believing the same. You know the ones. They are the most vocal at any writing convention, declaring how much time they save by outlining in great detail every moment of their novel.

“It is the only way to write!” They’ll say. Or, “It is the only way to know where your story is going.”

Most Pantsers, myself included, will at some point in time, buy into that belief. If we just learned to outline, and stick to that outline, that our writing process will be faster. We will have fewer drafts, and much less time will be spent editing.

Dean Wesley Smith, in his book “Writing into the Dark: How to Write a Novel Without an Outline”, goes to the opposite extreme, to the point where he says that not only do you not need an outline, you shouldn’t even go back to edit.

I call Bull! Shit!

Here’s why: No one is ever truly only a Pantser or a Plotter. Pantsers may not have a detailed outline before they begin, but they almost always have a beginning, and end, and a few key points in the middle that they know they have to hit. As for Plotters, most of them end up changing their outline several times as they write, because their story keeps changing.

I declare a cease-fire between Pantsers and Plotters. Every writer is different. There are many who need detailed outlines, then go for it. There are many writers who feel completely stifled by an outline and prefer to let the words flow. That’s OK.

Because what it all comes down to, is what you do with your novel after the first draft is written. Whether you stick to your outline precisely as you set it out, had no idea where to start or end when you sat down to write, or any variation in between, it is always, always, worth going over a few times.

Getting the first draft written is fun, probably the most creative part of writing. A lot of writers hesitate to finish that first draft because they dread what comes after.

I don’t want you to dread it, or hate it. Revising and editing does take time. It is work. But doing it will make your novel so much better. It will make your novel something you are proud of and will want to put out into the world.

Here’s a strategy that I use after I’ve finished my first draft, which, by the way, I like to call a really, really detailed outline!

Read through the manuscript and make sure everything makes sense, that there is flow to the story. Figure out where the plot holes are, which scenes need to be expanded, which ones can be cut, which ones need to be moved.

I have a spreadsheet in which I list the main Point of View character, the other characters involved, the setting, the external conflict, the internal conflict, what important plot information is being revealed, how the theme of my novel is illustrated, and the change in the charge, meaning do things go from good to great? Good to bad? Bad to worse?

It is a great way for me to see which scenes need work, if there is enough conflict and tension, if I have put too much information into one scene and not enough into another.

Download your copy of this spreadsheet here. Feel free to make it your own.

In addition to this spreadsheet, I like to make bullet point summaries of each scene as I read through my first draft. I’ll go through it again and note where I need to add scenes, and make notes of what changes I should make. I color coded it to also show which scenes I moved.

Yes, Plotters, I’m suggesting you do this too. Set aside your outline. You’ve written your novel, now make sure it actually makes sense.

For us Pantsers, this takes nothing away from the creative flow we love so much.

Once you’ve done this high level restructuring, moving things around as needed, filling in the blanks, then you can get down to the details of making the sentences as powerful as possible, and polishing up the words, and sending them out.

As I said earlier, I don’t want you to hate or dread what happens after you finish your first draft. Let me help you get past what gets you stuck. What part of editing don’t you like? What part of the writing process has you stuck, and struggling to sit down and write? Let me know in the comments.

And don’t forget to get your free outline spreadsheet!

Until next week!

Happy Writing!



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