Plotter? Pantser? Gardener — Types of Writers and How to Find Out Which One You Are

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Hang out with any group of writers long enough and sooner or later someone will admit to being a “pantser.” Which sounds a little vulgar, but it’s a pretty common term.

You might also hear “plotter,” “gardener,” “outliner,” “discovery writer,” “architect.”

It all boils down to a divide in methodology when writing novels and long pieces:

Do you make an outline first or do you just sit down and write?

And each side will often try to get their hooks into new writers. You have to outline or you’ll wander off into the wilderness. Or, writing an outline puts you in a straitjacket.

The truth is?

You’re somewhere on that spectrum, and nobody can decide where you are other than you.

The Plotter to Pantser Spectrum

At one end of the spectrum is the true plotter or outliner. They have index cards with scenes on them that they move into place, they have everything plotted down to the emotions. If they work digitally, you can pretty much guarantee they use scrivener.

At the other end is the writer who just sits down, writes the first draft, and then sorts it out later.

The fact is that actually, a lot of us fall somewhere in the middle.

George R.R. Martin came up with the more picturesque terms of “architect” for plotter and “gardener” for pantser. I personally love “gardener.” But very few gardeners actually start with no idea of where the story is going to go.

And very few architects are so rigid that they can’t change the shape of a window.

For my personal process, I generally start with a sketch of the world, a main character, and the ending. I don’t care how I get to that ending, and sometimes it changes; the ending of the Lost Guardians series changed three times. But having the ending or goal in mind is vital for my motivation to finish.

I can’t do an outline, though. Well, I can. If I got hired to write a tie-in novel and hogtied into doing one, I could. But it would significantly reduce my enjoyment of the first draft. I have to tell the story to myself first.

How Do You Know Which You Are?

You may well have some idea how your mind works, but honestly, there’s only really one way to really know, and that’s to try both methods.

I worked out I wasn’t an outliner when I outlined a novel with the working title Sarah’s Journey. It never got finished, because my brain informed me very firmly that it was done now. So you might want to try outlining first with an idea you don’t mind putting aside, or something so far out there it probably wouldn’t attract readers.

You can also analyze how you think about your idea. If you think “I want to write a book about X” and X is a seed, a kernel of an idea just waiting to grow, you’re probably a gardener.

If you’ve already daydreamed the story three times in your head to try out different versions? You’re probably an architect.

But you don’t know until you try.

And, most important, there is nothing wrong with either method. Nothing at all. Don’t ever let anyone tell you one is better than the other. George R.R. Martin is a pantser. J.K. Rowling made spreadsheets. Good writers fall into both groups.

The reader doesn’t know. Unless you tell them.

Written by

Freelance writer, freelance editor, novelist and short story writer. Jack of many trades.

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