What's your writing process?

Are you a Pantser or a Plotter? Much has been said about the two processes, I thought I’d weigh in with my opinion.

J.K. Rowling's spreadsheet for "Phoenix"

Plotters are called such because of the amount of “pre-work” they do to outline their work and develop a picture of the direction, form and shape of their end product. They journal, do extensive character profiles, make outlines, event trees, etc. before they write one word. One glance at JK Rowling’s charts (see figure above) show the extent to which she plans her stories. Some say that leads to cookie-cutter writing and stifled creativity, but seriously, who can call “Harry Potter” uninspired?

On the other hand, authors like Stephen King and Nora Roberts consider themselves die-hard Pantsers. They sit at the computer, their imagination unchecked, and let their fingers and their hearts unfold the story as they write.

Even pantsers can plan

Most people identify themselves as one or the other, but even without an extensive outline and plot chart, most Pantsers still do a lot of planning and prep work before they put any words to paper. If the characters are going to lead the story, the writer must know them inside and out—their strengths, weaknesses, quirks and flaws. Their personalities, goals and motives must be sketched and identified and an ‘intimate’ relationship developed, whether on paper or in the writer’s mind. There are also times when unfamiliar settings or topics need to be researched and learned.

Hence the terms “Hybrid” or “Organic” writers. Those of us (and yes, I am one) who start with an idea for a plot, have a good idea of the beginning and how the story should end, but let the characters find their own way from point A to point Z. We “plot” in our heads and “pants” through our fingers. Rather than let the settings or the narrative drive the story, my characters do.

There are also different schools of thought on whether to write scenes in a linear fashion or jump around from scene to scene and arrange them into chronological order later. I can see where writing a scene out of order might be helpful during those painful hours of writer’s block. If the writer finds himself stymied in a corner or his main character has lost direction, writing a later scene could stimulate the juices once again and jump start his creativity.

But, relying on this method also leaves you constantly trying to connect the dots to fit these beautiful scenes you’ve written, into a cohesive flowing story. Making bridges, so to speak, to link the action and not have it seem disjointed or out of place. My brain insists on flowing with the story as it develops, as a reader would see it. It keeps me in the character’s head and makes editing later a lot easier.

I'm sure, like me, you get asked these questions a lot. I believe what it comes down to is how your brain is wired. If you're a Plotter, do you plan other aspects of your life? Do you adhere to a rigid schedule and keep detailed notes on steps to achieve your goals?

If you’re a Pantser, do you thrive on spontaneity? Are you eager to try every new thing that comes along?

Does your brain only work in a straight line like mine or can you jump from scene to scene without losing focus on the whole picture?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.