Are you a planner? Are you a write-by-the-seat-of-your-pantster? I’m not sure where I fit.

I blogged not too long ago about my blog writing process and how I plan or sketch out my blog posts before I actually start writing them. I suppose in that respect I’m a planner. But right now I’m sitting in a coffee shop writing this post with no planning at all. I sat down with a tea, a notebook and a pencil and started free-writing.

There’s a lot of advice out there about planning before you write AND about just writing without bogging yourself down with planning.

“If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water.” – Ernest Hemingway

“The most difficult and complicated part of the writing process is the beginning.” – A. B. Yehoshua

“The benefit of this kind of outlining is that you discover a story’s flaws before you invest a lot of time writing the first draft, and it’s almost impossible to get stuck at a difficult chapter, because you’ve already done the work to push through those kinds of blocks.” – George Stephen

“I spend eight months outlining and researching the novel before I begin to write a single word of the prose.” – Jeffery Deaver

“Outlining is like putting on training wheels. It gives me the courage to write, but we always go off the outline.” – Hallie Ephron

“I’m a big fan of outlining. Here’s the theory: If I outline, then I can see the mistakes I’m liable to make. They come out more clearly in the outline than they do in the pages.” – Cynthia Voigt

“Writing nonfiction is more like sculpture, a matter of shaping the research into the finished thing. Novels are like paintings, specifically watercolors. Every stroke you put down you have to go with. Of course you can rewrite, but the original strokes are still there in the texture of the thing.” – Joan Didion

“Planning to write is not writing. Outlining, researching, talking to people about what you’re doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing.”- E. L. Doctorow

“Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go.” – E. L. Doctorow

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” – Ernest Hemingway

“Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers.” – Isaac Asimov

“I am a hopeless pantser, so I don’t do much outlining. A thought will occur to me, and I’ll just throw it into the story. I tell myself I’ll worry about untangling it later. I’m glad no one sees my first drafts except for my poor editor and agent.” – Marie Lu

“I don’t like outlining, because books are organic things. Sometimes a book doesn’t want to be written in a certain way.” – Sara Gruen

(Thanks to for the quotes.)

My advice to the writers I coach isn’t so black and white.

I say:

  • Try freewriting.
  • Try taking an idea and mapping it out in a list or in a mind map or in random thoughts scattered over a page.
  • Try writing a theme statement about your piece.
  • Try writing a synopsis for your piece.
  • Try writing an outline describing your scenes.


Find what works for you. And remember–what works for one project might not be the process you follow for your next project. That’s okay.

As writers we must always be growing, learning, and trying to get better at our craft. That’s why we read as much as we do–to learn from one another.

The exercises I’ve listed are things to try to get a different perspective on your project, your characters, or your theme.

Whether you’re usually a planner or a write-by-the-seat-of-your-pantster, your writing and your understanding of your text and characters can be helped by trying out some new techniques or writing exercises.

Are you a planner or a pantster?
What are your favourite writing exercises?

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