Pantser or Plotter or Plantser

pantserI have been catching up on my reading from Writer’s Digest magazine (which, in my opinion, all writers should subscribe to, just $10 for the e-subscription!). Anyway, the June 2016 issue had some articles about the difference between writers who are pantsers and those who are plotters… and how it’s worthwhile to develop writing skills using both approaches.

If you’re not familiar with the terms, a plotter is a writer who carefully sets up a plot outline, clearly defines the characters, creates a clear mapping of the setting, and so on, before ever starting to write the manuscript. A pantser, on the other hand, just starts writing, with a simple idea of how the story will start, and simply follows the story as it develops, or as the characters take a lead. Writers who use a hybrid approach are known as plantsers.

There was also a quiz to figure out which approach you’re most likely to be. Apparently, I tend toward the pantser side!

An interesting thing I’ve observed from taking this quiz, and others like it, is that when I try to be really accurate about myself, I find myself caught between what I feel is my “natural” inclination and my “learned” inclination. For example, I love the freedom of the pantser approach, but constantly find myself feeling guilty when I allow myself to take that writing route, because I was taught from birth to be “responsible” and “obedient” and “organized” and “serious,” all of which were considered great virtues in the cultural/ educational/ religious milieu in which I grew up.

So whenever I find myself joyfully pantsing along with my writing, I pull up to a skidding stop, and guiltily start doing some serious outlining, organizing, researching … all things I’ve learned to be very good at, and which serve me well for certain circumstances, but which too often bring a halt to my writing joy. I actually have a lot of incomplete projects filed away due to this, especially fiction writing and poetry. In school, back in the day, we did very little fiction writing and very little poetry that did not follow strict rules of rhyme and format. “Good writing” was serious, either well-organized, informative, intellectual non-fiction or occasionally fiction that provided a strong moral component.

And yet, this quiz informs me that, at root, I’m a pantser! Hurrah! What a relief! It’s okay! I can write for joy as well as seriously! Whew!

Which side do you tend to? (The quiz is on page 60 … or 63/76 in the e-version). Are you pantsing or plotting … or plantsing somewhere in the middle? Why? Do you use different approaches for different writing formats or purposes? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below! Thanks.

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