Whether it’s the next great American novel or a blog post like this, the writing world is split between two approaches: planning and pantsing. Pantsers, who write “by the seat of their pants,” create a story as they are writing. For planners, there are some things to do before the “Once upon a time” hits their first page. Both have their advantages to consider before answering the ultimate question: which is right for you?
What Does Planning Look Like?
You’ve decided that going in blind isn’t for you. You’re not alone. Plenty of writers can’t work on anything without an outline already written out. In fact, I’m working off an outline right now to make this blog post.
In order to make the most of your planning beforehand, it’s helpful to understand some principles of story to make sure you’re hitting all the major plot points.
For instance, this common plot diagram starts with the beginning or exposition, continues with rising action until the climax, and then finishes with the falling action that includes the resolution. Knowing these important points can make creating an outline simple and easy.
Another template that has been replicated throughout history is the hero’s journey. The popular template has shown in countless stories, with characters like Luke Skywalker in Star Wars and Katniss Everdeen in Hunger Games.
Of course, planning is not always plot-oriented. If you can already picture the characters, their unique personalities, and their role in your story, then creating bios for each can help you later on down the line. The same goes for setting. Can you vividly see the forest in which your charismatic warrior confronts the sympathetic villain? Outlining the setting along with your characters can help things when it finally gets time to write.
Benefits of Planning
While not for everyone, planning has certain benefits that can make you a stronger, more efficient writer.
You may find that writing with an outline makes your daily word count rise faster than operating with a pantsing approach. With a clearer direction of where you want to go, writing may come quicker. You won’t lose time having a story that is developing itself.
On top of the faster speed, having a framework can give you the ability to sprinkle in foreshadowing that will prove instrumental later down the line. If you yourself can’t see where the story is going, it’s next to impossible to drop tasty details during the first draft.
Another benefit of outlining beforehand is that it can keep you from getting stuck during the writing process. We all know the feeling when you run out of steam and ask yourself, “where do I go from here?” With goals laid out in front of you, planning can keep you moving along and away from the dreaded writers’ block.
Benefits of Pantsing
As much as planning what you write seems like a no-brainer to many, there are plenty of critics that claim pantsing, or discovery writing, is the better approach.
The biggest benefit to writing a novel without any former planning is that it may prove better at unlocking more of your creativity. In On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King writes that “I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible.” If you, as the author, don’t know exactly where the story is going, the guidelines that a plan provides are not there to keep you from taking chances and exploring. On top of that, if your story is able to surprise you while you’re writing it, it is sure to surprise whoever is reading!
Stories that use this approach can become more character-driven than plot-driven, too. Without an outlined plot to guide you, discovery writing can focus more on the characters as they drive the story forward. This can result in better character development in your writing.
There are those that argue that writing is as much about the journey of creating the story as it is about the finished product. Planning out your next book may take all of the fun out of building a story. Seeing where your characters take you in real time can be the type of adventure that keeps you typing away at your keyboard until two in the morning.
And, of course, choosing the pantsing route offers one more benefit—having one less thing to do before getting started.
Which is Right for You?
At the end of the day, the answer to this question depends on who you are. Odds are, if you set tomorrow’s outfit out the night before, you’ll probably lean towards planning out your next plot. If the mystery of not knowing where the road will end excites you, then pantsing may be your type of approach.
The best advice for all of those who are unsure which works best for them—try them both out. In fact, developing both weapons in your writing arsenal will only make you a stronger storyteller.
Whether you are planning your route or just pressing the gas, knowing which works for you will put you one step closer to self-publishing your next book.
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