Plotting Versus Pansing and What to do if You Ever Want to Sell on Proposal

~ by Stephanie Haefner


When I started writing, some seven or eight years ago, I had no clue how to do it. I just wrote. There was a story in my head and it came out through my finger tips. But then I started learning there were rules. Basic rules about storytelling and characters. I read a couple books and found invaluable information. And I had to relearn all the grammar stuff I had forgotten. Boy was that tough!
I joined a writers group maybe a year or so after I started writing. The people were awesome and they really helped me figure out this writing thing. They helped me fix the things that needed fixing. They were great for bouncing ideas off of. And then one day we had a new member join our group. She was working on her novel, a mystery, and though she only had a few chapters written, she had the whole thing planned out. Every scene. At the time, that seemed so incredibly boring to me. I remember thinking it felt like all the creativity had been taken out of the process. I couldn’t understand why someone would want to write like that.
Fast forward a few years….
I’d been through the publishing process a bunch of times. I’d written a few more novels. I’d met tons of people in the online writing community. Many were pansers- people who wrote by the seat of their pants, like I did. And the rest were plotters, who planned their books, either in an extremely detailed manor or just a simple outline. I was a panser. Had no desire to change that. And then one day a friend posted about her new book and how she was becoming a reformed panser. After selling several books to her publisher, they now only wanted a proposal before offering her a contract. She now HAD to write an entire synopsis for her future book before writing it. I had a mini anxiety attack just reading about it.
That really hit home with me. I knew I wanted to someday sell to a big publisher. And if this is how big publishers did it, maybe I needed to take a serious look into changing my process too. So I decided to give it a try. A test. I decided my next book would be plotted out beforehand. I spent a couple weeks writing what was originally supposed to be a semi-detailed outline. But I ended up writing a very detailed outline, scene by scene. It was about 25 pages long, single spaced. When I finished, I started crafting the book. It took me only 35 days to write 82 thousand words. And not once was I bored or felt a lack of creatively. There was never a lull, asking myself, “What’s gonna happen next?” There were less plot holes. Since I had the book all planned out, it gave me the ease of just writing it and not having to stop and think about where the book was going. I already knew.
I am now a reformed panser! And proud of it!!
I know everyone has their process and everyone must do what works best for them, but I am honestly shocked by how at home I am with the new process I have adopted. My dream is to sell on proposal. I would LOVE to sell a book based on my ideas instead of spending months writing something that no one wants to buy. Fingers crossed that I get there!
So…panser or plotter? Any reformed pansers like me??? Were you shocked with the ease of the process once you started it?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Stephanie Haefner is a multi-published contemporary romance author, PRO member of RWA, and secretary for the Western NY Romance Writers. Visit her website at or follow her on Twitter at @stephanihaefner.
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