• S.M. Ryan

Plotter or Pantser: a Preptober Declaration

Updated: Nov 25, 2020



Plotting. Pantsing. Architect. Gardener. Planner. Wild child.


To be honest, it wasn't until I started checking in on the online writing community that I had even heard any of these terms, and I was in zero rush to slap a label on myself or pick a box to stand in.


When plotters talk, they reassure you that plans are needed and plotting and planning is "key". Know all about the story before you start and you'll have less hiccups along the way.


When Pantsers talk, they assure you that you can make it to the end of your story without knowing where it's going or how it's going to end up there and still write a good story.


There's obviously no right or wrong approach. As usual, do you as you see fit.


But, here's the thing I don't hear said enough in the community --

you don't have to choose one over the other.



Yesterday I held a poll in my Insta-stories and asked my followers which side they thought I might stand on.


Follow me on IG @smryanthewriter

What if I said everyone right was?....Sort of.


It's taken a while for me to figure out what side I thought should be on and discover where I actually fit in, in the conversation.


Some days, I'm a plotter -- like when I'm writing these posts and doing stupid things like writing 30 blog post in 30 days. Having quick pre-drafts and bullet points of posts I know are coming up help me hold onto what I want to say on the matter but I don't care for much detail or even fully fleshing out my immediate ideas.


Most days, when I'm creative writing, I like far less strings attached and for the sake of Preptober, I'll stick to my creative writing pantsing shenanigans.


Everyday -- I'm a Panster. A gardener. A Wild one.



So let's talk about it -

If you were here yesterday, then you know that I feel a way about too much planning. I'm not a fan of tightly wound day to day plans and that translates heavily into my writing.


One of the main reasons there are so many notebooks in my graveyard is largely because I tried plotting out my story ideas and no matter how I approached the plotting process, I always ended up feeling the same way -- like I've already written the story and I don't want to write it again. I know where it's going and I'm not surprised anymore.


I already know the pros and cons of plotting and even if you think I lose interest in the story because the story probably isn't that interesting to begin with, you'd be wrong.


Just like was I wrong about being a plotter.


I lost interest in the story because I asked myself all the questions too soon and when I made it to the end, I wanted to move on, not go back and write it all out again with just a little more detail.

In hindsight, I don't know why I didn't stick to pantsing my writing in the first place but if I'm honest, I'm glad for the time I spent plotting and filling up my graveyard.


Plotting out stories and fleshing out full characters taught me a lot of things that helped me be a better pantser and come up with my system for making pantsing work for me from start to finish.


The Process in Short

When I start out my stories, it's usually with a seed that's been growing in the back of my mind. Scratch the misconception that I run right to my computer with this seed of an idea and start running at the page -- that's not really how pantsing works. At least not over here.

Before I approach the page, I need a few things:

  • Their name and a couple basic physical features

  • Where are we and what's the end game for this moment

That may sound like planning but it isn't. Instead of writing every detail down that I think will make for a good moment later in the story or even in the moment, I throw some details in a notebook if I think I'll forget them and get writing. it's not until I'm the first thousand or so words in that I break out the true process.


What my “Sideline” looks like after a session

Wash, Rinse, Repeat

At the end of each of my writing sessions, only when I know for sure that I won't be adding any more words for the day, I grab my designated notebook for the project and start tracking... or rather Sidelining as I like to call it.

Because I'm not a fan of re-reading over my drafts as I'm writing them, at least not more than a few lines back at a time. Sidelining helps me keep track of where I've been, what decisions I made, any changes in detail that I need to keep track of and questions I already presented that will eventually need answering.


I don't necessarily plan to answer for everything I put down on the Sideline in the next immediate session but knowing what I already set up leaves me free to go along and figure it out with my characters instead of just giving them the solution to their problems.


The most common question given to pantsers is how do we know what comes next without having planned it out? For me, knowing where the story is, a little visualization and brainstorming go a long way in me knowing what is going to happen next, and because I'm figuring out the story along the way I'm free to let whatever I want come next as long as I line up with what's already happened without having to worry about how it will affect the rest of the story.


You know, like I would if I plotted everything out beforehand and made a change in the middle.


A few prerequisites, a Sideline keeping track of everything that's happened, the right questions, and some creative visualization of what's coming next help me make it through from start to finish and I'm looking forward to doing it again with a project for November.


I will say writing it out like this makes it seem very sparse of a method and if I were a plotter, I'd be worried about me, too.




So now tell me, are you a plotter? A pantser? Are you in a different playing field altogether and can I come over to play? Let me know down below. I love talking about writing processes and picking up new tricks.

DISCLOSURE: There are no affiliate links in this post, though you should follow that link to my Instagram if you haven't already. I'm occasionally funny.

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©2020 by S.M. Ryan The Writer | Armed With Ink Publishing