Pantser? Plotter? Shrug.

roadmapI just returned from the SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles. While there, I overheard and joined in several discussions about outlines. The conversations typically go something like:

“Are you a plotter or a pantser?”


“Really? I’m a pantser. I could never work from an outline.”

“I could never work without one.”

“Don’t you find it confining?”

“No. Don’t you find not having one crippling?”



It seems to me the pantsers are leery of knowing the story before it’s written. It seems to me plotters are leery of not knowing the story before it’s on the page.

The discussions made me think of my own process. I used to be 100% pantser. Just write and see where the story takes you. If I’m honest with myself, I’m still 100% pantser for shorter works.

But then I tried writing novels. Novels are (in some ways) more difficult than short stories. They’re longer, and the story, typically, has to go somewhere.

My first couple of attempts at writing a novel ended with the story fizzling out around page 50. Over time I learned to push through to an ending, but found my middles totally sucked. This was bad. I didn’t want to write good beginnings and endings, but middles that totally sucked.

Then, thanks to a blog post by Elana Johnson, I read Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, and — holy guacamole! — I became a plotter.

Kind of.

In my experience, there’s a certain amount of staring at the page, waiting for the story (a la pantser) AS WELL AS a certain amount of thinking ahead, where the story is going (a la plotter). For me, it isn’t Either/Or. It’s And. My outlines serve as a road map. They give me a destination to drive toward. They help keep me from getting mired up in the murky middle. If along the way, I get a different/better/more interesting idea from the story, I adjust the outline to fit the story. Likewise, if I get lost along the way, I can use the outline to get back on track. What matters is the story, and that it doesn’t end up just cycling in circles, but actually does go somewhere.

So, for me, the pantser/plotter discussion is…*shrug*. Am I a pantser? Kinda. Am I a plotter? Yeah, kinda. What I am, for certain, is a writer. And being a writer means I’ll do what it takes — outlining or flying by the seat of my pants — to get the story onto the page, into the hands and minds of the reader.

I’m sure it’s not the same for everyone, though, so…how about you?