How to strike a plotting/pantsing balance

May 23, 2022

For those of you even remotely acquainted with Writing Land, you’ll know the age-old debate: Pantsers or Plotters.

First, let me define the terms for those who aren’t familiar. 

A pantser is a writer who flies by the seat of their pants—basically letting the story go where it goes. 

A plotter is just like it sounds—a writer who plots out their story or novel before getting started. 

For most of my life, I resided firmly in the pantser camp. I prided myself on just writing and figuring it out as I went. It was fine when I didn’t have actual deadlines. That way, if I went off course and got stalled, I didn’t have to stress (which actually meant, I stopped writing to “figure it out,” which wasn’t good). 

But when I got actual contracts with actual deadlines and kept up this pantser practice, I found myself sweating it a bit, even though I mostly got to where I needed to go—eventually. Usually the night before the book was due. Still, I firmly believed that I didn’t have the chops to be a plotter—that it just wasn’t in my nature. 

Then came Pawsitively Organic Mystery #6, Purring Around the Christmas Tree. 

I remember this experience so well. I was just about to move, and I was out of the country on vacation. I had a book due in a few months, and I was half done. I was currently stalled, but I figured I’d deal with it when I returned/once my move was complete. It was the end of January.

While I was away, I got an email from my editor, asking me if I was on track to turn the book in on March 1, because they were pushing the pub date up so it was critical the book came in on time. I remember reading the email and thinking surely he was mistaken, because my deadline was April.

Long story short—I was wrong. My deadline was March. And I was, for all intents and purposes, screwed—because I had no idea how to write myself out of the corner I was in, and I had no clear path forward. 

Now, I will say that for this series I did a synopsis before each book, because my editor required it. My synopses are usually about 10 pages, and they cover the major plot points and flow of the story. However, I have been known to change them along the way, especially if I’d left something unclear. Which had happened here. 

I wrote a pathetically self-pitying email to my Wicked Author blogmates about my screw-up, and came home from my trip a few days later to an email from the amazing Jessica Ellicott offering to do a plotting session with me to help me out of my hole. I gratefully took her up on it. 

And guess what? My life basically changed in that two hour FaceTime session. Not only did she help me see where I’d gone wrong and how to get back to a plot line that made sense, she also showed me the value in plotting. I don’t start any book now without a plotting session with Jessie, even for books where I am required to write a synopsis. And even though I don’t plot every single scene for every single book, I get the four major arcs down, the victim, the suspects, the secrets, and the killer. It still leaves me a little room to get back to my pantser roots without putting extra stress and pressure on myself. 

And while I am still working on overcoming my procrastinator tendencies, this process has made hitting my deadlines so much easier. 

How about you? Plotter, pantser, a little of both? Head over to Instagram and let me know!

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