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Am I a Plotter or a Pantser?
Short Answer: Who cares?
Long Answer: No, seriously, who cares?
This concept of plotter vs pantser, someone who outlines vs someone who discovery writes, is really nothing more than putting ourselves into a box that many don’t feel they can ever get out of. If you are a plotter then you must outline. And if you are a pantser then to outline is a sin! I’m not kidding. That is how many people who are very adamant about what their writing process is will respond if you try to tell them otherwise.
When I first heard the terms, back when I participated in my very first NaNoWriMo, I prided myself in being a plotter. I considered myself more organized than a pantser who was just too scared to outline because to commit in that way would stifle their creative abilities. To that, I would roll my eyes. Then after several years of thinking I was a plotter and that was that, I realized my process was a mix of plotting and pantsing so I would say I was a plantser. I outlined the heck out of my story to use as breadcrumbs but when it came to the actual writing of the story I would stray (a lot) and refer back to my outline whenever I needed reminding of the good parts I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss. By the time I reached the end of my draft, I found that I retained maybe 15% of my original outline. The good bits, I like to think of it.
Fast forward several years later, with several finished manuscripts under my belt both published and yet to be published, I have come to another realization, the answer to this question is irrelevant. Only other writers will ever ask this question and to what end? Does it matter to me if I know that N.K. Jemisin is a plotter? Will that in any way alter the way I read her work or the fact that I enjoy it? Not in the slightest. Do I find that aspect of her writing process interesting, from one writer to another? Of course, but again, not enough to include that in a top-five list of questions I’d ask if I ever had the chance to ask her anything remotely related to writing.
We are all different. I’m sure you’ve heard this before but I think it bears repeating. No two writers will have the exact same writing process. That is a fact. Also, how you might define what it means to be a plotter or a pantser is likely not how someone else will. And keeping that fundamental truth in mind, the real question we should be asking each other isn’t which one of those arbitrary labels we are, but by what process did we get to the end result of the project we just completed? Because at the end of the day the actual process and not the label is much more interesting. There is more to the answer than just, “oh, I’m a plotter so I plotted my way through this book.”
The labels are much too simplistic and honestly, an insult to the tremendous work we writers put into our stories to limit us to either one who plots or one who doesn’t. I am more than my labels and trust me, as a gay, black, female I know a thing or two about labels I cannot change because they are visible to the human eye. So, I guess, in a way, that is why I feel so strongly that camps like plotter and pantser need to be done away with once and for all.
And for those of you who might disagree with me and feel strongly that all us writers must belong to one or the other and that’s just the way it is...well...take a walk in the other half’s shoes. Or better yet, take a closer look at your process from concept to research to writing. Would you chalk all that hard work, weeks, months, years, into just one word and be satisfied with that? I wouldn’t be. And neither should you.