Planner or Pantser: Which Are You?

02A (GS)They say that all writers come in two flavors only: planners and pantsers.

For those who aren’t familiar with the term, a “pantser” is a writer who writes from the “seat of his or her pants.” In other words, they go into a writing project or writing session without a plan, and they just see what comes out, what happens on the page. A planner, of course, is a writer who outlines what they write before they start writing. Some writers write detailed plans–a summary of every scene that may even include lines of dialogue; others write a simple outline of what needs to happen chapter by chapter. Others might simply have a general outline of the major plot twists of the story. On the other extreme, “discovery writers” have no idea where their story is going until they’ve written it.

Like many other writers, I fall somewhere in the middle, but I definitely start all my writing projects with some sort of direction. Planning out the stories I write makes them stronger and heightens their drama, and also results in less rewriting. But I also find it important to be present to whatever I’m writing in the moment, because only then do I imagine or “live” the details of what I write. These specifics of an emotion or concrete details of an event are what makes the story more compelling, more resonant with people.

With regard to much of the rest of my life, I’m a huge planner. Making a plan may be challenging, tiring, or exhilarating, but I always find it wonderfully freeing to have a plan. It frees me because it gives me something to hang my uncertainty on. At the same time, my plans give me control. When it’s my plan, I can deviate from it as much as I want. Sometimes I feel that planning gives me the ultimate control: I can stick rigidly to the plan if I can’t think of anything better, I can use it as a general guide, follow tiny pieces of it, or throw it away all together so that I can live in the moment. I love my plans, because plans make the story of my future real, hopeful, and positive.

But then, something unexpected will happen and all my plans will be disrupted and become completely useless. While this can be challenging, even upsetting, when this happens I often experience an unexpected but welcome sense of being connected with the present moment. Instead of being focused on future plans, I’m simply living the gift of the present.

How do you feel about plans?

* * *


To Journal About:

  • Are you a planner? Or are you more spontaneous in how you live your life? If you are a bit of both, in which areas of your life are you more spontaneous, and in which are you more comfortable making plans?
  • What are the strengths of allowing more spontaneity in life? What are the weaknesses of being spontaneous in one’s approach to life?
  • What are the strengths of making plans? What are the drawbacks of relying on one’s own plans?

4 thoughts on “Planner or Pantser: Which Are You?

  1. I do make plans but have come to realize they are more general guides than absolutes. I long ago accepted the fact that I am not an organized person and when I put my energies in trying to be organized (with my time), the end result is usually frustration. “God laughs when we make plans” helps me keep my sense of humor.
    I’m enjoying your blog and I’d have to say I’m more of a “punster” than a planner. I enjoy “discovering” where my writing and painting will take me.


    • Connie,
      Thanks again for your thoughts and sense of humor! I agree that plans can often lead to frustration if I try to make them absolute or stick to them to closely. I suspect that deep down, I am a pantser, but I was raised and encouraged by mentors and my environment to be a planner. I am trying now to make fewer plans, and make them more flexible. My favorite times of writing happen when I don’t plan at all, I just start typing and see where it leads me…


      • Then I would venture to guess we are who we are meant to be. In both my painting and my writing I’m often surprised at what develops. When that happens, I figure God must have something to say I wasn’t privy to when I made the plans. Isn’t it fun?!


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