Outliner? Pantser? Which kind of writer are you?

As a writer you may feel like you’re on team outliner (or plotter) or on team “pantser.” Maybe you haven’t decided which side to join. Or maybe you’ve joined one or the other but haven’t really had total success with either in your writing career—or with a particular book.

What are the major differences? Pantsing allows you to be wildly creative. You can be completely spontaneous in your story and have it come to life as you write, which can help if you’re feeling stymied by a this-must-happen outline. It’s also exciting to accompany your characters on their journey—even you don’t know where they’re taking you.

The flipside is that if you’re pantsing and you hit writer’s block (conversely, from not having an outline), you have no direction, not even an inkling of where to go—so there’s a danger that you’ll abandon your novel because you can’t figure your way out of that writer’s block.

But then there are a few cons for outlining, and, in my opinion, con number one for outlining is…I hate it. I just want to write (like the prince in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, “I just want to sing!”). I love being creative, and outlining feels so technical. Outlining also reminds me of an English 101 term paper, which makes me shudder.

But consider the pros. An outline helps you see your plot and storylines and where there might be holes or problems. It helps you flesh out your story and build it by major scenes. It can help keep your storylines straight and your plot organized, especially if you structure your novel in creative ways, such as events happening out of sequential order. Don’t be afraid that keeping your story within the outline’s parameters will limit your creativity. Use your outline as your roadmap and guide, but don’t be scared to go off the beaten path every now and then. You may find the yellow brick road there. Sure, you’ll most likely have to redo your outline, or adjust it at the very least, but that’s a pretty small con, all things considered.

What all of this boils down to is that neither (just) pantsing nor (just) outlining will be right for every writer or for every book you write. Everyone needs an outline, and everyone needs moments of pure spontaneity. So take the best from each camp and let that all-star team go to work.

2 thoughts on “Outliner? Pantser? Which kind of writer are you?

  1. Stuart Danker says:

    I’ve tried both, and I can complete projects easier by pantsing, as long as I accept that my first draft is basically an outline and nowhere near a minimum viable product. For some reason, I can’t visualise the story when I’m outlining, but I can when I ‘stumble’ across plot points by pantsing. Anyway, thanks for this post!


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