Greetings! I recently had some thoughts and doubts about plotting style.

My writing buddy is a strict plotter, who plans detailed outlines, while I’m more of a plantser. Even when I do draw out plot points, the story tends to wander off to more natural, more in-word, logical paths.

This process often has great results story-wise, but it also means that when my writing buddy’s progress rises like an air-force missile, I’m out here messing with heavy editing, launching entire characters into the trash, switching arcs like lightbulbs, and doing backflips with the magic system. If I’d say this has zero negative effects on my motivation, I would be a liar-pants.

Can a preferred plotting style become an obstacle? Where is the line between “you should just polish it a bit more” and “you should try something else”? And in the latter case, is it right to fear that forcing a different style on myself would kill the joy of writing?

Thanks for the advice, as always!


Hi Róka,

That’s a great question, and you’re certainly not alone in wondering about it. Many discovery writers end up questioning if they should plan more or are told by a mentor that they should. At the end of the day, this comes down to the individual. You’re going to have to experiment to find the best process for you.

However, I can tell you about the wide range of answers out there. Some writers who love the discovery process have begrudgingly tried planning, only to find it makes their stories much better and they want to stick to it. Other writers find their motivation for writing that first draft depends on not knowing the ending, and they’ll never get through it if they plan the ending ahead. From my experience, the most typical case is that discovery writers slowly migrate toward planning over the years. They’ll start with a very loose plan and slowly add detail.

If the heavy revisions are getting you down, it’s probably worth asking why you’re deviating from the plans you do make. You mentioned your deviations are more natural and logical in-world. This might be a matter of doing more worldbuilding and character development in advance or just thinking through those plot points more. Ironically, this can also be a matter of planning too little rather than too much. Sometimes, we come up with a big plot point, but once we dive in, we don’t know how to make it work realistically. Adding more detail can allow us to catch those problems and revise the plan before we start drafting.

For other writers though, it may be a matter of getting excited about new directions the story could take. Some people have trouble finishing any story because they’re always chasing what’s new and shiny. The best I can recommend for this is taking a good measure of what you’re actually interested in exploring when you start and then centering your darling. This doesn’t protect you from new darlings that suddenly show up, but it could make you more excited about the plan you’re following.

If discovery writing helps motivate you to create that first draft or makes drafting more fun, there will be some risk in trying something new. However, if your revision process feels overly slow, unpleasant, or is even keeping you from finishing stories, then it’s probably worth experimenting. To start, try planning a short story or keeping your plans loose. You might even choose all of the important story arcs but leave how they resolve open. You don’t have to plunge into heavy-duty outlining all at once.

Best wishes with finding your one true process,

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