#IWSG Plotting & Pantsing #amwriting

This post is written in response to the insecure writers support group’s monthly prompt.

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January 4 Question: What writing rule do you wish you’d never heard?

I’ve been thinking hard about this question all day, and I can’t think of an answer. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a writing rule which has influenced me so strongly and negatively that I wish I’d never heard it.

I’m not aware of following rules when I write. I do listen to other author’s advice and opinions, and I’ve read many books on writing, but I’m aware I have to adapt this information to my own way of writing, my story and my characters. I’ve always trusted myself to write on my own gut feeling. I write because I have great fun recreating imaginary worlds, characters and stories. I’m mainly concerned with pleasing myself, although I also worry about not boring or annoying potential readers. What’s the point of that?

The single most useless piece of advice was probably don’t plot, just write and go with the flow. I’m not sure exactly who said it first, but I’ve heard it a lot. It might work for some people, although I doubt it, but if I did that I’d end up with a disjointed mess, not a publishable novel. Writing, plotting, planning, editing, re-writing, re-editing, re-plotting are a constant cycle in my writing process.

Some people attribute this idea of not plotting to Stephen King, but he never actually said he didn’t plot, he said he didn’t use ‘written outlines’. He said he starts writing and lets the ‘patterns’ develop later.

“I start a book knowing just two things: the basic situation and that the story will create its own patterns naturally and organically if I follow it fairly…and by fairly I mean never forcing characters to do things they wouldn’t do in real life…For me, the first draft is all about story. I trust that some other part of me—an undermind—will create certain patterns.”

On the other hand, other authors, such as J. K. Rowling or Ken Follett , don’t start writing their novels until they’ve worked out a detailed plot outline.

It seems that both approaches work, as they’re used by successful authors who write excellent novels.

This is how I’ve done it in my first five novels (three published and two in process).

My first phase approaches King’s advice (pantsing).


1- I start with some characters, usually one or two at first, and an idea or situation, which I explore.

In order to explore, I start writing my story, not knowing where it will go yet.

I don’t start serious planning until the idea itself has developed into a complete story with more characters, scenes, places, etc and I’ve convinced myself I’m interested in pursuing the idea and telling the whole story.

This is a crazily creative period which usually takes about one month to write 20,000-30,000 words.

2- At this point, I start outlining my plot. I divide it into the basic three-part dramatic arc; exposition, climax and denouement, which are subdivided into about 30 chapters and 40-50 scenes.


Perhaps Follett’s approach relies too heavily on outline, but I can see that it helps, especially if your novel is a complex web of characters and events spanning various decades.

More about my writing process here.

Although plotting versus pantsing is an interesting debate, I wouldn’t say it’s very helpful for authors, except that it helps us reflect upon our writing process. We each have to find out what works best for us and our type of novel.

However, if you’re very intersted in this debate, this article is enlightening and Ken Follett’s Mastercalss on his blog is priceless advice on outlining.

More about Insecure Writers Group Here

Happy New Year to all fellow Insecure Writers!



Published by LucciaGray

Writer, blogger, teacher, reader and lover of words wherever they are. Author of The Eyre Hall Trilogy, the breathtaking sequel to Jane Eyre. Luccia lives in sunny Spain, but her heart's in Victorian London.

15 thoughts on “#IWSG Plotting & Pantsing #amwriting

  1. I think you’ve summed it up in your final paragraph. I love seeing how other people write, but I hate getting drawn in to the debate. I pantsed my first NANO novel and really loved the felling of freedom – it wasn’t even that bad in terms of structure.

    Now though I value plotting because it saves soooo much time in the long run. That first Nano novel needed so much revision to sort out the world building and the character arcs, and the the plot points…

    We must find our own way 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t think writing is a one-size-fits-all endeavor. Whichever process works best for any given writer is the process that writer should use. There’s no way I could just sit down and write aimlessly without having built the framework ahead of time. To me, that’d be as pointless as trying to build a house without a blueprint.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I never plot and I don’t use outlines. I’m just a ‘seat of the pants’ kind of girl. Like you said, whatever works for us.
    Best of luck!
    Great post.
    Heather M. Gardner
    Co-host, IWSG

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I have never planned a story, not even slightly. In fact my novel was totally improvised, from just the single word, “Stuff”. I have written quite a few short stories now, all of which were written from single word or random letter prompts and not a single one of which was even remotely planned.
    I can honestly say that I have no idea whatsoever what I’m going to write before I sit down on any given day to begin a new story.
    In fact I’d go further than that and say that, if I try to plan a story even slightly, my mind goes completely blank and I’d just sit staring at the page for ever.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, that’s impressive. I’m the opposite. I ‘see’ and ‘feel’ my characters and the situation first. Usually for days, even weeks. I make notes,describe places, bits of dialogue etc. When the scene’s more or less vivid in my mind’s eye, I start writing. At this first stage I’m not too sure where it’s all leading me and I think it’s important to listen to my characters and feel where they’re taking me, but as soon as I ‘see’ where it’s going, I start planning/outlining, and then I carry on writing. My plan is a guide, there are shifts and in corporations along the way, but I mostly follow my outline and I re-outline as I go along. I suppose it’s whatever works for you and it depends on the type of novel/story too. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to go about it. As long as it works, it’s useful:) Thank you so much for sharing your writing process.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Wow, that’s very organised. I find that stories write themselves in my head once I start writing. Characters seem to suggest themselves to me and all I need do is give them names.
        My novel started out as a single, one-off short story that I was writing from a prompt, but I didn’t finish it (I just started writing and was waiting to see where it took me) so I thought I’d use the following week’s prompt to continue with the plot (whatever it decided to be) and I just kept doing that, week after week, until I found that I’d reached the end of a story I had no idea was coming. I ended up with fifty thousand words, all of which were written with no edits and no outline whatsoever.

        Since I’d had a few short stories (written exactly the same way) published in anthologies, I thought I’d send the improvised, unedited draft to the same publisher, to see if they reckoned it was worth polishing and editing into a novel.
        They took it exactly as it was written in episodic form on my blog, (there were four typos) all I had to do was design the cover and they published it as it was.

        Oh, and I did it all on my phone, the same way I do everything else. ;~}

        Liked by 1 person

  5. That’s ridiculous “advice”. I’m a pantser 110% but everyone works differently. I would never tell anyone how they had to write or are supposed to write. Eh, take it with a grain of salt and all that. 🙂 You seem to have a great system that works well for you. 💖

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Whatever works for you, Lucia…and it works very well. I have only a vague idea when I start out and just let it develop as it goes along The downside is that I need to go back and change things,depending on where my mind has wandered. But even that is fun!

    Liked by 1 person

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