We often hear that writers fall into one of two camps: pantsers or plotters. In truth, most of us straddle those two camps with a toe and maybe an arm in one and most of our body in the other. I am one of those ridiculously methodical people who have a spreadsheet or a list for everything. My writing desk needs to be spotless and organised. I have multiple spreadsheets tracking everything from submissions to budgets to daily word counts. Wouldn’t you expect me to be a plotter?
Actually, I’m a pantser – I write by the seat of my pants, without an outline, figuring it out as I go. I usually start with a particular setting I want to explore and as I get to know the characters who inhabit that setting, the story unfolds. But I’d love to be a plotter. The methodical part of my brain adores the idea of a neatly-constructed outline, a manuscript mapped out scene by scene, writing with a definite end in mind.
I’ve tried to be a plotter. I really have. Before I started writing my previous manuscript, I wrote a detailed outline. I knew exactly where the manuscript was heading and what would happen in every chapter. I lasted two scenes and then deviated irretrievably from the outline. Perhaps I could have forced the story to follow the path I had originally chosen, but the way it went instead felt more natural and the outline was abandoned.
Yet I still longed to be a plotter. So this time I’m trying something different. I have a very brief outline written on index cards – lovely big, pink ones. I adore index cards and the methodical part of my brain is thrilled at having a stash of those pink cards spread out around me as I write. It makes me feel like a “proper” writer.
The index card method is working well. Because I can change the order of the cards, I’m finding it easier to insert additional scenes or move them to a more appropriate place as the story changes. The story is coming out more easily because I do have some sort of plan in mind, however brief. As I get to know my characters and understand what drives them, the story I had intended naturally changes. With my new index card system, I can shuffle around a few cards, add others in, remove the ones I no longer need, and hey presto, I still have an outline of sorts and the yet the story can follow its own course.
I’m not saying I’m a reformed pantser, not by a long shot. By I have discovered that pantsers and plotters are perhaps not as mutually exclusive as I once thought.
How about you? Are you a pantser or a plotter? And which would you prefer to be?