How trying to be a ‘plotter’ nearly ruined my writing…

Plotting the novel

In 2018, I entered the Richell Prize (yes I’m blaming you!) for my current WIP. At the start of last year, I wrote the first 25,000 words and since I’d entered my other manuscript in every other award the year before I decided I’d give it a go. This is the first time I’d entered a manuscript that was not complete. What does the Richell entry involve? A detailed chapter summary and a synopsis.


Agh for a pantser this is torture! Even though I have a vague idea of what happens in my stories and where they will go, I can’t really see the details in between until I start to write them. I have tried character profiles and all that stuff and just can’t get into the characters head until I start writing it. I’m not someone who sees a story in terms of plot points but in terms of how a character changes, so writing a synopsis was a real struggle!

But I did it! And I was really proud of myself for getting it done. I thought, hey, maybe I can be a plotter after all! How much easier life would be if I know where I’m heading? So with a detailed plot plan in place, I entered the competition and then forgot all about it. I set this manuscript aside while I worked on the structural edit notes for my other manuscript and prepared it for submissions.

The problem with plotting

And then the submissions went out and in the second half of 2018, it was time to go back to my manuscript. There were a host of other reasons for making it difficult to write again… but every time I sat down to write, I’d look at my chapter summary and it would look like absolute jibberish. Even though the plot details were there, I couldn’t see where the story was going.


I had to get back into my characters head again and the chapter summary wouldn’t do that for me.

Finally, in the New Year, I started handwriting scenes and making notes about the characters as I went to get back into my character headspace. I know that the time that passed between writing also made a big difference in losing the voice of my character, but I also felt trapped by the ‘plan’ and found I was writing super boring scenes with no tension and the character was just blundering along. I just didn’t care what was going to happen in the story, because I’d lost touch with where my character was going.

Once I let go of that synopsis and let the story unfold naturally, it was then my writing got back on track.

Trusting the process

So what have I learned about myself as a writer? I’m never going to be a die-hard plotter, and trying to conform to that will not be helpful. I think up until this manuscript, I had accepted the kind of writer I am and with seven complete manuscripts (sitting in the metaphorical bottom drawer) I’ve learned to trust in the process. I know I’ll get to the end of it eventually, in my own way.


I do want to continue entering competitions, but I think it is easier to do so when the story is complete and I know what it’s all about.

I do need a bit of plan and an idea to get started. I like to jot down notes as the story starts to form in my mind. But mostly my notes consist of statements such as:

Maybe the protagonist could do this? Maybe she is scared of this because of this and then she ends up doing this.

OR maybe she doesn’t do this, maybe this happens and then…

And then I just let the story unfold. Unfortunately, it means my writing style requires A LOT of redrafting. BUT I have really learned a lot from editing seven other manuscripts and seeking feedback from professionals and I know the editing phase is where my story really comes alive.

So hopefully manuscript number eight (that’s a lucky number, right?) will be THE ONE?

Well, one can only dream…


  • Editing is the bitter medicine which comes from being a panser, but think of it as your original plan rather than your first manuscript. Creativity is personal and amazing. Writer’s can’t plan around competitions or shape their creativity around what sells. Stay on track your own way and stay true to your own talent.

  • I think the same goes for real life too. If we get too caught up in the plotting of where life is going, it’s much harder to go with the flow and enjoy the ride as it happens.

  • This is such a refreshing read! I’m not a natural plotter AT ALL, but sometimes it feels like being a pantser is a tad….irresponsible, I guess! But I’m currently reading Fiona McIntosh’s book on novel writing and in it, she reveals that she’s a pantser too. So perhaps it’s not such a bad thing 🙂

    • Thank you for reading, Chrissa 🙂 I’ve just read Fiona’s book and found it very reassuring too! I love hearing about how other writers ‘plot’ but i know i’ll never be one of them either…

  • What a relief! I have no idea what a ‘pantser’ is but I think I am one. I can’t plot to save my life and it has me feeling somehow wrong. Needing to know the ending or the storyline or the plot has had me frozen. I feel a thaw coming. Thank you.

    • I don’t think any of our processes are ‘wrong,’ you’ve just got to do what is best for you. I hope you found my post helpful Rhiannon! 🙂

  • This is how I write too! So nice to read someone else who has the same method. I always feel I should try plotting more, but even when I do the story veers off on another tangent and then I feel that time is wasted. (And 8 was my grandmother’s lucky number – hopefully it’s yours too!)

    • I have the same problem Heather. I want to plot more, but it just doesn’t work for me, so I just have to accept all the edits I need to do after the first (bad!) draft. Thanks for reading my post 🙂

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