Planners vs. Pantsers: Which Are You?


By Katie Venit

Rumor has it there are two types of writers: planners and pantsers. Planners outline the heck out of a piece. They know every scene, plot twist, and character’s favorite color, all before firing up the word processor. Pantsers (those who fly by the seat of their pants) don’t do any of that. They wait until the muse moves them, then they simply record what it says. They let the characters decide their own fates and are excited to write because they want to find out what happens. 

The reality is that most of us are planner/panster hybrids, and could benefit from some casual prewriting planning. Drawing graphic organizers like mind maps can generate ideas or explore unconscious connections between topics.

Start by writing a word or phrase in the middle of a piece of paper. Let’s say, “apples.” Branching from that like legs on a spider, connect “apples” to whatever associations that word brings to mind: tree, pie, fall, apple of my eye, Lowly Worm, Apple Dumpling Gang, comfort food, crisp, sweet, Gramma.

If one of your associations seems especially rich, such as “tree,” branch associations off of that: shoe trees, climbing trees, wood, carpentry, family trees, tree of life, Adam and Eve… whoa. Adam and Eve branched off of “tree,” but it also connects to “apples.” Draw a line from “Adam and Eve” back to “apples,” connecting the two. That might be an interesting theme. “Family tree” is another area that seems intriguing. How can you connect “family tree” with “apples”?  Could “Gramma” be the connection? 

Does a particular area of the map calls to you? If so, that might be a rich direction for your story. 

You can do this on your own, but it’s really fun with your writing group. Set a timer for 10 minutes and quickly map words without second guessing your choices. When everyone finishes, take the group through your map, explaining the associations and what parts intrigue you the most. 


Everyone creates a map on the same topic. Compare and contrast. This is a great team building activity that offers a window into how your groupmates think. 

Related to the above, consider having everyone draw mind maps for one of your member’s specific projects. These maps can provide inspiration when it comes time to write.

Everyone draws maps using different word prompts then share. What areas are most intriguing? Despite being drawn from different words, do the maps inform each other somehow? 

If everyone maps different topics, trade maps and spend another few minutes adding to someone else’s map.

Work simultaneously on the same map. You might not need a timer for this variation; just work until it’s finished. 

After finishing the maps, spend 30 minutes writing drafts based on the maps (trade maps or have everyone work on their own). Maybe the challenge is to write an entire piece or maybe it’s just the first paragraph. 

Distance variation: The internet has a plethora of free mind mapping tools out there. Create one, and email it to a partner.