Are You a Pantser or an Outliner?


It’s no secret I’m a “pantster.”  I looked it up in the dictionary, but couldn’t find the meaning.  However, on many of the Facebook groups I stalk the term is used in a derogatory manner for those who don’t write with an outline.  Ugh!  It reminds me of high school, when my history teacher gave assignments that had to be outlined and turned in.  I could outline with the best of them, but I hated it.  I’m more the “off the cuff” kind of person.  I’m never at a loss for words (well, almost never) and preparing beforehand just makes them stilted conversation in my mind.

But wait!  There are those who insist that a good writer must have an outline to properly list sequential events, characters and plot in their stories.  Oh, is that why I kept interchanging my character’s middle name?  Because I forgot to write it down?  Hmm, that’s one for thought.

I have to confess that I actually did make a list of characters and names for my first (and only) novel.  Since the book is about Gypsies in the circus I had a lot of research to do to make them more authentic.  Since there is a whole cast of performers and animals as well as several towns I could only keep all that information straight by writing it down.  That’s sort of an outline, right?

A year ago, while I was still writing Inzared, I got a great idea for a mystery.  I hung a whiteboard on the wall in front of my desk and made a chart for the thing.  Since I don’t know anything about cops and the book was about a corrupt cop, I again had a lot of research to do.  Did I tell you I love research?  Well, anyway, that chart sat there for three or four months.  At first I gamely wrote in sequential mode and it went well.  But my old buddy Inspiration took over and soon I was right back to my old habits.  I got through several chapters before I realized the book was all wrong.  I had forgotten to follow the script!  I put it in a drawer and slapped myself on the hand.  (I finally took the whiteboard down too).

I think what I’m trying to say is that not everything works for everybody.  There are many writers with a lot more formal education than I.  That doesn’t make them smarter.  There are a lot of authors with a lot more books sold than I.  (That does make them richer).  However, out of those authors who are selling, I would be willing to bet there are just as many “pantsters” as there are outliners.

In closing I would like to present my opinion.  Neither is right.  Neither is wrong.  If it works for you (as Nike says) Just Do It!  The main idea is that you write; whether you arrive in a Ferrari or a covered wagon.  It might take those of us who are “pantsters” a little longer to finish.  After all, we aren’t taking the nicely prepared, newly paved road.  No, instead we take the bumpy gravel secondary road.  We’ll both get to our destinations.  But I would be willing to bet those who write like I do will enjoy a little sweeter ride.  After all, we are guilt-free and have time to stop and smell the roses!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject.  What do you think?  Leave a comment and we’ll talk about it.

Check out INZARED, Queen of the Elephant Riders here:

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7 responses »

  1. Off the cuff pantster to be sure…outlines are like reading a teleprompter with words written by another in the wrong order that makes little sense. Can’t wait to read your books.

  2. LINDA. i’m back on line again after a summer of hectic, and am so so impressed by what you’ve done. This is an excellent video – trailer. You are amazing. Who shall I contact to edit my book and do my cover and video. is it the same person for all? I have not done anything since returning, but am ready to pick up the gauntlet again. When do you plan to return to Maz? Thanks for your continued inspiration. love, angela

    Angela Jackson is a professional speaker, seminar leader and coach. Author of two best-selling books, Angela offers keynote presentations which inspire people to live creatively and joyously. Her practical workshops deal with communication challenges, stress overload, conflict and anger issues and how to give powerful presentations. Contact her at: 705 385 3416, and during winter months at 669 981 2403.

    Date: Tue, 11 Sep 2012 04:39:23 +0000 To:

  3. I am definitely a little bit of both. I love to just scribble my thoughts onto a blank paper with my pen as fast as they are coming out of my head, but at the same time I do like to create outlines. I create outlines most of the time as it makes it easy to fill in the blanks as I go.

    • That’s what I aspire to do. Fly by the seat of my pants with an outline! Seriously, I believe every writer needs some sort of notes or outline just to keep the book grounded and not make mistakes! Thanks for your comment.

  4. Pingback: Author Interview: Richard Barnes | Deb E

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