The age old question.
For those of you who haven’t yet been introduced to these concepts (it’s ok, I spent over 30 years of my life unaware too), a plotter is someone who likes to outline their work before getting to it. A pantser, then, is the opposite; someone who just goes by the seat of their pants. Winging it.
Something like ten years ago I read Stephen King’s On Writing. It was, in many ways, an eye opener for me. I hate to sound conceited, but there was a lot in there I could really relate to. Even more than that, it seemed to give me permission to take my writing seriously. Fantastic! It also has a lot of wonderful advice that any aspiring writer would do well to consider. Buy it, borrow it, read it. You won’t be sorry.
Stephen King is not a plotter. In his book he says: “I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible.” This idea also stuck with me. For years I couldn’t manage to get past the first few chapters of any of my stories. I had no outline, no plan, because the story was supposed to just come to me. It didn’t. Floundering with no clear direction I would eventually get frustrated and give up, concluding that, either the idea was no good or, worse, I was no good.
Then I read another “How to be a writer”-book, Sometimes the Magic Works: Lessons from a Writing Life by Terry Brooks. It was, as far as I can recall, a perfectly fine book, though the only thing I really remember was the revelation that he is a plotter. I thought “Wait a minute, he plots? What about the spontaneity of real creation?” And while I’m no real Shannara fan I think that the Word & Void trilogy is absolutely fantastic. Running With the Demon is to this day one of my favorite books. If he could do it, what’s to say I couldn’t?
I have since discovered I am not alone in needing structure in order to move forward. I can now proudly state that I too am a plotter. I love plotting. If you let me I would keep plotting until the end of days. Writing can be engaging, frantic, heart-wrenching, taxing, thrilling, and just plain difficult. Plotting is always pure joy.
Having said that, I suppose I would be amiss if I didn’t also say that despite all my careful plotting, once I get to the writing my characters tend to up and do things I had not foreseen, changing my careful planning completely, and in the end my finished story only vaguely resembles what I so carefully set out to write. But I had direction and a clear map to follow in order to get there. So what if I chose a different path than the one previously marked, as long as I reached my destination without wandering off and getting lost on the way.
My point is simple: There is no wrong or right way to do it. If plotting works for you – wonderful, do it! If it hinders your creativity, don’t do it. There’s always the second draft (and the third and fourth…) to fix whatever needs fixing.