Some writers discover as they write while others plan their journey before they start
In writing, as in life, people tend to follow two modes: pantsing and plotting.
On one side are the pantsers, those who write by the seat of their pants. I prefer the label of “discovery writers.” They don’t know where their words will take them. Writing reveals an adventure as they watch their plot unfold, learn about their characters, and sometimes paint themselves into a corner with no way out.
In contrast, stand the plotters who map out their writing journey before they write one word. But I don’t like that name because it sounds too much like a plodder. I prefer the alternate labels of outliners or planners. These folks know their story arc, strategize the various scenes (or at least chapters), define their characters, and have the end in sight before they type their first word. (NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month, allows writers to do this sort of preplanning, though actual writing may not begin before November 1.)
The May/June 2016 issue of Writer’s Digest had some great articles about pantsing versus plotting. And many writing podcasters weigh in on the pantsing versus plotting debate. Writers who like to plan may benefit from the snowflake method; writers who forgo planning, need no instruction. Also, see my post “Should You Use an Outline?”
While each side of the debate holds firm opinions, neither is the method that will work for everyone. Each writer must determine which style works best for him or herself; there is no one right answer.
If you’re unsure which you are, look at how you live life for clues. Do you plan things out or wing it? The answer likely reveals your preferred writing mode. Though you can test out the opposite method, don’t let someone talk you into trying to be what you are not.
My default is to plan in detail, both for life and for writing. (I am, however, more open to detours when I write.) For trips, I make lists, verify details, do research, make maps, note addresses, and phone numbers, make reservations, pack carefully, and set timetables. Planning calms me; it provides the structure I need to enjoy my vacation. Encountering the unexpected is unpleasant.
Yet within this framework, I allow for flexibility to relish the journey and explore as I go. Some of my most enjoyable memories are within those moments of discovery. Yet without my planning, I would have never been confronted by those spontaneous, serendipitous delights.
Others are the opposite. They would forgo a vacation if they had to prepare for it as much as I.
So it is with pantsers and plotters. Know which one you are, and learn when you can deviate. This will provide you with the most enjoyable writing experience and the most satisfying results.