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  • Writer's pictureluisaraegan

Are You A Plotter or a Pantser? Here's How You Can Do Both Effectively.

Updated: May 12, 2022

Are you a plotter of a pantser when you write? In this post, I dive into how you can do both!

I had never outlined much in the past. I liked to take my story idea and run with it. But this made for a lot of unfinished work which is why I finally took the leap and researched HOW to outline.

Once I finally mastered the art of outlining, I was free to pants as I pleased, and doing both helped me finish a full manuscript for the first time, with minimal plot holes. Now, I will never write a novel any other way.

So I’m sure you’re wondering: how did I do it? Well first things first let’s dive into what outlining and pantsing is for any newbies out there!

Pantsing: You write by the 'seat of your pants'. You just sit down and write whatever ideas pop into your head. No brainstorming involved. You just write.

Outlining: You're a plotter. You brainstorm and plot your entire novel from start to finish before writing a word. You know how your novel starts and ends and all the details and subplots in between,

Let’s start with pantsing:

Pantsing allows us to tap into our creativity in a way a pre-planned outline can’t. It gets our creative juices flowing and endless opportunities and scenarios take shape which make our stories unique and compelling. Storytelling after all is an art, not rigid. Pantsing gives us the ability to embrace our art wholeheartedly without any limits.

Pantsing can also help you determine your writing style and voice, especially if you do various writing exercises as you go. Pantsing helped me to determine what POV was best for my story. I tried both first and third and until I settled on first person being best. Pantsing also helped me determine which tense was best. I initially started writing in present tense only to realize past tense was so much easier for me to write. The agent I spoke to at the Writer’s Digest First Ten Pages Bootcamp also mentioned my story flowed better in past tense, so that was great feedback.

As for outlining:

Outlining can help minimize major plot holes and the amount of edits you’ll have to do.

Brainstorming and outlining involve research. Not just historical or technical facts you want to incorporate in your story; research on the genre itself. If you plan to traditionally publish, it’s vital to research the genre you write to ensure it fits a mainstream model. It also helps if you plan to self publish, because you need to know your market and audience to sell well. There is value in preparation!

For example, If you write a 200,000 word novel on a pantsing streak, only to learn mainstream romance is between 80,000-100,000 words, you will be kicking yourself. Agents and publishers will not accept a romance novel that long unfortunately -- no matter how good it is. It’s the hard truth of the publishing world. You have to play the game if you want to win.

If you don’t plan or research your novel prior to writing, you could set yourself back if you just pants. That is the biggest drawback to solely pantsing.

I use the three act structure to outline my major plot points. Check out this post on my outlining process + free downloadable plotting templates.

This is something that takes a great deal of thought. Don’t rush this creative process. It’s better to take time and think your novel through than acting prematurely on a vague idea. Give some TLC to your baby and you shall be rewarded. Here's an inside look of my first novel timeline - from when I started my novel to when I finally finished.

Another thing I highly recommend is using a notebook to write your outline and story ideas. Psychologists say your brain clicks better writing free hand than using a computer.

If I feel stuck on a particular plot point or I’m hit hard with writer’s block, I take out my trusty notebook and write various scenarios starting with “what if”. This is a great exercise I learned from author and writing guru KM Weiland. From there I write whatever pops into my head, no matter how ridiculous. It works wonders.

Once I feel confident about my plot points and have taken time to research my genre and develop my characters, I transfer my notes to Dabble -- the cloud-based writing software I use to outline and write my novels.

For more info on Dabble and how I setup my outline, check out this post:

If you’re not sure how to go about outlining your novel, check out KM Weiland’s guide. It was this book that taught me the ins and outs of outlining and it was life changing.

Once I have my outline in place, I put my pants back on!

I love the freedom pantsing gives me. This type of "rush" I definitely encourage. When I have my major plot points figured out, the words just fall onto the page. It’s almost like my characters take over and tell me what subplots and scenes happen next and sometimes it feels like an out of body experience when I get into the hyper focused pantsing mode. As my story unfolds, even I think ‘damn, I can’t believe this is going to happen’ and I get all excited like a teenage girl watching her favourite rom com television show.

Being too rigid with an outline can minimize that creative flow. Even when I’ve had some scene ideas prior to writing, I gave myself permission to stray from that outline whenever pantsing prevailed.

The best advice I can give any writer is to not fall into the 'all or nothing' mindset. If you want to stray from your outline, do it! But make sure the why, how, what, when, where is thought out once you do. Document every new idea and how the sequence will unfold, because that way, you won’t end up with huge plot holes.

Both outlining and pantsing have their place, and if you do it right, you will save your sanity once you get to the editing process.

At the end of the day, do what feels right for you, not what someone else tells you to do! I wanted to share my experience with both in case it helps writers find a balance, but at the end of the day you know you and your writing style best!

Good luck on YOUR writing journey!

Are you a pantser or an outliner? Or both? I’d love to hear from you!

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