Not a Pantser. Not a Plotter. I’m a Puzzler.

What’s your writing process?

It’s such a common question for authors, and one most writers I know give a great deal of thought. Because we don’t simply hatch one day fully grown as authors who know exactly the best way to write books.

The best writers learn story structure, prose techniques, characterization, emotional depth, and all the good “craft” stuff that makes our writing shine. Good writing can be studied and learned, and we all want that destination of a story well told. But HOW we get from Point A to Point B differs from writer to writer. It can take a while to figure out your own best practices.

When I began writing, I was pretty much a pantser — that is, someone who free writes, by the “seat of my pants.” The story just came out on the page, and I went wherever it took me.

After a while, I decided I was a recovering pantser, though still not a plotter — someone who plans storyline and characters and plot points and scenes in advance. Still, I dove more into outlines and timelines and character sheets.

Then I did something really weird: I drafted two novels out of order. That is, I came up with a general outline, then wrote a scene here, a scene there, another scene here. I didn’t write the story chronologically, but plugged in scenes as they came to me. When finished, I had to work out transitions and flow. But all in all, it sort of worked for me.

One of my writer friends, Jenny Hansen, calls it “story quilting.” Which is a great metaphor. I’m not the least bit crafty, though, so “quilting” was a bit hard for me to connect with.

Not a Pantser. Not a Plotter. I'm a Puzzler. via Julie Glover
I’m a Puzzler.

But I love puzzles. Whether it’s jigsaw puzzles or crossword puzzles or brain teasers or mysteries, I love a good puzzle. I like working on a section at a time, then moving to another, and then another, until it all comes together.

The other day I realized my current writing process is like working a puzzle — a piece here and a piece there, until I have all the pieces fitting together just so and a complete image forms. I start with a solid outline and major characters, like building the corners of a jigsaw puzzle first, but then I let myself write scenes in whatever order I want. Slowly but surely, I build the novel and see the full picture getting clearer and clearer.

Is this a typical way to write? No, it’s not. Which is probably why it’s taken me so long to fess up to this process working for me. But somehow, it does.

My takeaway is that writers should master their craft, but experiment with their process. When someone suggests “the way” to write, it might work great for that someone, but not so much for you. Be willing to try different things, and see which approach brings out your best story.

Maybe you’re a pantser. Maybe you’re a plotter. And maybe a few of you out there are puzzlers, like me.

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10 thoughts on “Not a Pantser. Not a Plotter. I’m a Puzzler.

  1. Is there any such thing as a “typical way to write”? I think every writer has their own technique(s) for getting a story written. It’s probably a lot more of a hybrid of all three techniques for everyone, with each writer adjusting how much plotting, how much pantsing, and how much puzzling they do based on a lot of factors, including how they feel on a given day. And those percentages are likely to change as the draft is written. Kind of like an equalizer on a sound system.

  2. What a great post! I’m definitely a puzzler–although sometimes my characters take over. Right now I’m puzzling over a re-write of one of my books to make the h and h more likeable. I’ve had to add a few scenes (pieces of the puzzle). It’s kind of fun, though.

  3. I’m always so impressed by people who can write out of order. I first heard about this from Jenny and it blew my mind. I’m not sure I could get the emotional arc right if I wrote out of order because my brain doesn’t work that way. It’s so cool to hear about the process of other writers 🙂

    1. I think it’s weird because I’m one of those people who must watch shows or read books IN ORDER. I absolutely do not understand those people who read the last page of a novel first. Yet somehow, when it comes to the other side, I write best this way.

      And like you, I love hearing about others’ processes. Sometimes it gives me ideas of things to try, and sometimes it just awes me.

  4. Occasionally I get dope-slapped by a rogue muse and write a scene out of order, but I generally write the story in the order it happens. Jenny Crusie does it your way.

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