Planning or Pantsing? Which Approach to Writing Works Best?

Planning or Pantsing? Which Approach to Writing Works Best?

Are you a planner or a pantser?

The first time I ever heard the term “pantsing” was when I joined a writer’s group, and most of my fellow group members  had decided to take part in NaNoWriMo.

National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, is a writing competition that takes place in November, where participants are challenged to both start and complete the first draft of a manuscript within that month.

Of course, you can prepare ahead of time by planning and outlining your story, building your characters and so on. However, the actual writing is not to start until November begins. I hadn’t planned on taking part in 2017, and I changed my mind at the last minute. Through our chat in writers’ group that evening, I discovered that made me a pantser.

You are a pantser if you start writing cold, with no preparation or outlining, no purposeful choosing of plot points or structure, or so on. You just sit with a notebook and pencil, or sit in front of your computer, and you just go for it!

I also realized that this was how I wrote my first novel. At the time, I worried that if I thought too much about the technical aspects of writing, I would feel overwhelmed and it would stifle my creativity. However, I had the storyline in my head for over twenty years before I put it down on paper, so I already had a pretty good handle on the premise, plot points, characters, and so on, even if I didn’t have my ideas on paper in any real, organized fashion.

I also went ahead and published the first edition of my first novel, The Guardians of Eastgate, with the help of an assisted self-publishing company. It was a Canadian company called Tellwell, based in Victoria, BC. As part of my agreement with them, I purchased a substantive edit, which includes both copy editing and content editing. Also, I have a degree in Language and Literature. So, I was good to go, right?


It was after I sent that first book out to be published and was thinking about the second book in the series that I decided to take a closer look at all the technical elements. After all, though I had written plenty in the past, this was my first novel. It started with a book called, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Browne and King. From there I read Structuring Your Novel, by K.M. Weiland, and I am still reading anything I think will help me improve my craft, in both book and blog article form. And you know what? I started thinking, I can do better.

So, when I found a graphic artist to do all the covers for the series and I decided to re-do the first cover as well to keep the series uniform, I decided that would be a perfect opportunity for me to make some improvements in the story as well. As a result, the second edition of The Guardians of Eastgate is being released on the February 19th, 2018, and I feel it’s a much better, much more solid novel because of what I learned and the improvements it led to.


So, is planning or pantsing better? Does planning stifle creativity? Of course, each author must find their own methods and a system that works for them. But here are some advantages and disadvantages of each that I have discovered along the way.


Advantages of Planning:

  1. You will develop a greater understanding of your world and your characters before you start to write the story
  2. You will know what your plot points and pinch points will be ahead of time
  3. You will be able to see if the plots and subplots are adequate
  4. You can see and fix obvious plot holes before they happen
  5. You will have an opportunity for feedback that you can easily incorporate in the story
  6. It will be easy to track your progress and see the road ahead as you write
  7. You can choose the planning method that works best for you, with as much or as little detail as you like, as long as it helps you stay on track

Disadvantages of Planning:

  1. The challenge may seem daunting at first, and some authors, new authors in particular, may feel overwhelmed and give up
  2. It is a slower process
  3. You may spend time developing a plan or outline that does not work in the end
  4. Despite your best-laid plans, your characters may have different ideas and make you veer off-course
  5. It might stifle creativity by causing writers to think too much about structure and grammar instead of letting the story flow naturally
  6. The author may be less flexible and less open to new ideas that come up during the writing process

Advantages of Pantsing:

  1. You can get into writing your story right away!
  2. The writing process may be faster and smoother because you are letting it flow freely
  3. The story flows organically, allowing more opportunity to come up with novel ideas
  4. You will have less stress, since you are worrying less about the technical aspects of writing
  5. You are less likely to over-think or over-complicate things

Disadvantages of Pantsing

  1. Some authors may feel like they don’t know where to begin, or don’t know what they are doing
  2. Obvious plot holes might be missed until later on, when they could be more complicated to fix
  3. You may end up having to cut portions of the story because they do not work
  4. Plot points, subplots, character development, and so on, may be inadequate if you haven’t put the thought into it ahead of time
  5. You may end up with a weaker story line than you would have if you had planned it
  6. Writing your story may go faster in the beginning but end up taking much more time to revise and re-write on the back end


What are your thoughts on planning and pantsing? Which works best for you?

I will pin this question to my Facebook author page. Please feel free to visit and comment. Let’s start the conversation!


Sherry Leclerc is a science fiction and fantasy fanatic who lives in magical realms where swords and sorcery, action and adventure, seers, shifters and sorcerers abound.


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