Plotting vs. Pantsing and The Benefits of Both

One of the questions I always seemed to get asked is, “Are you a pantser or a plotter?” A pantser is someone who writes by “the seat of their pants.” These type of writers sit down and let their story go wherever they’re free enough to allow it. The only thing they may plan is their writing time. Plotters, however, are more specific with their approach. They already know where they want their story to go before they start writing. Some will create a simple diagram or chart to get started, others will work on a detailed outline for days (or months) before they type a single word of their draft. I’ve written both ways, and though I prefer one way over the other, both ways are beneficial. 

The Benefits of Pantsing

1. It’s More Enjoyable

This approach takes away preset plot restrictions. You can simply write your story, and whatever lands on the page is what lands on the page. The stress of sticking to what you already planned is not there. The story can be as long or as short as you want it, and you can end it however your creative heart choses. Pantsing allows you to focus on the fun stuff, like what made you want to write the story in the first place, and focus on the technical parts later.  

2. Allows You to Be More Creative

Writing by the seat of your pants allows more creativity. Without an outline, you can take chances with your work as you go. You are free to experience the journey with your characters and go wherever they lead you. They have no predetermined destination and neither do you. They can wake up one morning and decide to go to Zimbabwe, or they can take an unplanned joyride down the interstate, suddenly take Exit 11B, and end up on a beachfront with a flat tire and no money to get back home. Either way would be fine with you, because you’re enjoying writing what happens next. 

3. Allows You to Discover Who You Are As a Writer

This is especially beneficial for new writers. The hardest thing for many new writers is learning how to sit down and get their words out. If you take away the restrictions of outlines, required word counts, and genre specific limitations, you’ll be able to discover who you truly are—and are not, as a writer. You may intend to write romance, but along the way you may discover suspense is more your thing. You may become overwhelmed with story creation altogether and chose to lend your talent to technical writing instead. Or you may find writing a novel absolutely torturous and realize writing for the screen is what you really want to do.

Pantsing also allows you to see the things you don’t do so well. An example would be using clichés or too many adverbs. Or you may realize that your plot lines are too similar. Even if you don’t catch these issues until you enlist the help on an editor, pantsing will still allow you to see your crutches. (Whether or not you disciple yourself enough to learn to write without them is up to you.)  

The Benefits of Plotting

1. Creates Better Stories 

One of the greatest benefits of plotting, I believe, is that it allows you to create a better story. When you plot a novel, you are more likely to write a story with the elements needed to make it enjoyable for readers. Your intended minor characters will stay in their lanes. The rising action will remain rising action while your climax is exceptionally climatic. You’ll make sure something exciting happens. You will intentionally place your reader on the roller coaster ride of their life. Plotting allows you to pinpoint the ares of the story that are too slow and identify characters and events that are unimportant and unneeded. 

2. Works out Story Issues Before They Start 

Plotting allows you to see the kinks in your story beforehand and forces you to resolve them. I learned this lesson the hard way. A few years ago I came up with a great idea for a story and excitedly began writing it. After writing nearly three-quarters of the book I realized an important event I’d written didn’t make any sense at all and knew I had to change it. That event, however, was connected to several others that had already been written as well. It took me nearly two months to figure out how to reverse what I’d done and write myself out of the hole I’d put myself in. (I have plotted all of my novels since then and have not had that problem again.)

3. Allows You To Write Faster 

Even though an outline may take a while to complete, the work done beforehand may allow you to write your first draft faster. This is especially crucial for those who track how many words they write per day to meet a deadline. Let’s say, for instance, you’re really struggling with the fifth chapter of your work. Well, you already have the words for chapter nine brewing in your head. Instead of wasting precious time struggling to get to chapter five written, you can skip it and go ahead and write the ninth chapter. Your word count will go up and your work in progress will actually progress (instead of remaining at a standstill because you stared at a blank screen for three days in a row). Also, when you know what happens ahead of time, dialogue is easier to compose. Writing becomes about finishing the race instead of stopping to enjoying the smell of paper and ink. (You’ll do that later. Maybe after you sell your first million copies. 😉) 

So, out of the two, which do I prefer? 

Plotting, mainly because I am a professional writer now, and I do not have the time I once did to write for enjoyment only. Plotting allows me to get things done faster. I haven’t forgotten my early pantsing days, though, and plan to revisit them in the future. But for now I’m sticking to using outlines.   

P.S. If you have been staring at a blank screen for three days, see my previous blog post, or reconsider that particular part of your plot. <3