For many writers, the debate between planners vs. pantsers is never-ending. Some writers (the planners) swear by rigorous outlining and scene dissecting prior to putting pen to paper. Others (the pantsers…those who write “by the seat of their pants”) believe they could never get to the heart of their story unless they simply allowed their ideas to flow unimpeded.
Such debate has created what Louise Tondeur calls the “plan first/write later” myth. “This myth,” she explains, “basically would have you believe that generating ideas, planning, writing, redrafting, submitting and publishing happen sequentially, in that order, in a linear fashion.” Such beliefs stem from a backlash against the misdirected concept that writers can only be “creative” if they’re “messy.” In other words, Tondeur explains, the pantser myth would have one believe that “to be truly creative, you must be an intuitive writer, who writes with their soul, who doesn’t need to plan first.”
Both myths, Tondeur argues, portray the writing process too narrowly. What’s more, both put writers in an “either/or” box with no ability to write outside the lines. This can be damaging, especially to beginning writers, because it creates the image for some planners that planning only happens at the very beginning of the writing process and it prevents those who call themselves pantsers from ever adding structure to their story.
Ultimately, a combination of planning and pantsing works best. Tondeur encourages writers to plan in stages, not all at once. She also advises writers to practice structured writing and free writing to engage both sides of creativity. “Write to your plan,” Tondeur states, “but in addition have writing sessions where you go out and observe the world and freewrite about it.” Doing so will keep you on track but will also allow you to seek depth and inspiration.
As I consider my own writing habits and methods, I realize the benefits of practicing both planning and pantsing. The very first draft of my trilogy found its way on paper during a frenzied three-month writing dash. This draft was unrefined, unwieldy, and entirely unpublishable. Yet, as I’ve worked on revising my first book for the last six and a half years, I also see how planning (and planning and more planning) can inhibit creativity and put too much pressure on “writing the perfect story.”
In the end, planning can offer direction and can ensure that a story is checking all the boxes of “proper” storytelling. Bursts of unstructured writing are necessary, though, to keep the mind flowing and to bring a story to life. When both processes come together, writing truly becomes creative.