Plotting verses Pantsing

To outline or not to outline?


I’m a pantser. I don’t mind that you know it, I’ve tried not to be, fought the urges, scribbled on index cards and drawn mind maps. But it doesn’t work for me. I need to just write, start with an idea and let it flow, let the story and the characters find their own way.

I do realise that lots of people out there think that this is not the best way to write, that a story needs structure and backbone before the words hit the page. But it is an individual thing and all of us write differently.

It is not that I think outlining will kill my creativity. I don’t, really. But once I have an idea for a story I would rather start the words flowing and see where it leads. For some smaller/shorter stories I have outlined first but there was a different method here. I was struggling to find something to write about and so started playing with ideas, mapping out where they could lead to and how the story could end and then started the writing.

I let the words flow and then pull the threads together at a later point, either towards the end of the first draft, or once I have finished the first draft. Producing an outline at this later stage of the writing process means that I already know where the story is headed. Others like to know where they are going before they start.

There are different levels of outlining. Some writers produce an in depth outline, others a rough, dot point style list, and others somewhere in between.


Advantages of Outlining

  • Clearly defined path before you start
  • Plot twists and foreshadowing required mapped out
  • Reduced need to rewrite
  • Can take any form you like

Disadvantages of Outlining

  • takes up writing time to map before you start
  • pre-determined path may not be as good as you thought once writing


Advantages of Pantsing

  • Narrative forces driving the story forward
  • Discovery as the story unfolds directly from the unconscious
  • Liberating, free form of writing
  • Freedom to follow new ideas as they occur

Disadvantages of Pantsing

      • Rearranging, reworking and rewriting will be required.
      • May write yourself into a corner that you unable to find a way out of


I am not stating that one way is right or wrong (or left as the BFG would have it) and there will be times when I try the other side. At the moment pantsing is right for me.

What kind of writer are you, a plotter or a pantser?