Some people also call these planners versus pansters, because they fly by the seat of their pants. Architects versus builders who don’t read the directions before putting together a table. And while there are different societies that look down on one or the other, neither way is really wrong. Of course, there are pros and cons to both, but it really depends on what is important to you as to which you would prefer. It is no different for writers.
Those who like to plan their dates, keep schedules, and in general know what is going to happen before it does are the outliners. These writers vaguely plan out the plotline using three-act structures or the hero’s journey. They may use their own formula, but there is a formula. They write down the main characteristics of every significant character and take their time naming. Outliners study and do research before-hand so they can know what technical details will affect the story.
It takes a lot of time to do this, but once everything is prepared the writing should be smooth sailing. Of course, things may need to change and most outliners don’t stick to their original outline, but just having that outline in the back of their mind gives them a structure to build on top of. There is still revision work, but it is considerably minimal in comparison to discovery writers.
Outliner writing is good for people who like to think and think, and then act. However, his does mean they can struggle with starting a novel. These people tend to be perfectionists and will spend years planning a book that will never be written. At some point, you do have to write. But once it is written, the words will flow together in amazing complicated deepness.
Alternatively, discovery writers act first as the impulse hits them. They have no trouble starting a novel and can bust out pages in a hurry. These people find inspiration in a variety of environments and find stimuli hugely increases their creativity. No two pages are exactly the same and these writers get plenty of practice in.
But, these writers have trouble finishing the story. If a new idea hits that seems better than the last, they will move on to it while the idea is there. But since that is what they are best at, they will never finish any book. Good advice for these writers is to settle down and stick with each story even if you have other ideas. Write those ideas down so you can get to them later, but don’t write them out just yet. That may seem constricting, but you have to finish a story to be able to publish it.
Most of the work that these writers do is in editing. They find discrepancies later and must go back over and over to fix them. They look up details and do their research later. This means they can do less research than outliners who don’t know exactly which information they will need. But discovery writers may have to change quite a bit after learning something. Discovery writers need to be flexible for that reason.
The find out which kind of writer you are, you have to write. You can judge yourself based off of daily actions like if you plan dinners or not, but you may find your writing style to be different from the rest of your life. I am a plan-ahead kind of person in most areas. I do plan out my novels and do extensive world-building research, but I write my flash fiction and short stories as a discovery writer. I don’t like spending that much time on planning for a thousand-word story. It seems redundant.
You may find you have different preferences for one or the either. You may be a discovery writer for thriller and comedies but are an outliner for fantasy and science fiction stories. You won’t know until you try. That is the best advice there is for finding your own path.
Photo by N.