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  • Writer's pictureAnanya Ridenour

Pantsing (Creative) vs Plotting (Structure)

Recently had a discussion with a few people on pantsing vs plotting and the different writing approaches. Thought it would be good to revisit the Structure vs Creative chapter in the eBook that I wrote called Coloring Outside the Lines: Integrating Project Management and Creativity. The chapter that discusses pantsing and plotting is noted below.

I have recently been learning more about the agile project management principles. The gist of these principles is to provide an iterative framework in which project managers can be more flexible within a structured system. Traditional project management is focused on creating the project plan and executing it precisely. Agile project management really looks at where project managers can be flexible to achieve a greater efficiency and success with their projects.

While reviewing these ideas, the concepts they represent seem to reflect an often-discussed topic among writers, “plotting vs pantsing”. While quite controversial among writers, it is an interesting debate that I love to listen to as I understand both sides quite well. It represents the two sides of how I look at things, structured vs creative.

The plotting side states that all writing should have an outline and should be strictly adhered to. This will create success, hone your craft, and propel you forward. The process itself is quite formulaic and there are many authors that have had great success in following this concept. In project management methodologies, plotting is more traditional. As in traditional project management methodology, the outline is key. You first develop your project plan from start to finish, and all the tasks and milestones in between. You affix dates to complete these efforts and calculate the time that it would take to complete each task. At the end of the process you have a firm map of the project including the effort of work and the clear picture of the milestone deliverables and when to expect the completion of the project. There is no room for adjustment in a traditional method, you can’t take anything more unless you have agreed to sacrifice something in return. And even then, a project that was conceived with a traditional method in mind rarely survives any significant change.

Pantsing comes from the well-known phrase “flying by the seat of your pants.” These authors don’t pay much attention to structure or plans. The thought here is that this process will bring success by unleashing your creativity and allowing your inner voice to drive the story forward to its completion. In project management methodologies, pantsing is more agile. As in agile project management methodology, being flexible to allow the items to flow is paramount. First draw out your project deliverable, and then work backwards, breaking out the individual pieces until you achieve stories that deliver value in an iterative workflow. Then you collaborate with your various teams and allow the team to commit to delivering values in the form of stories with each sprint effort. The end of the project is determined when the final sprint has been completed and the last of the values has been delivered. Things are less defined in an agile approach and have the ability to morph or change as time goes on, because you are delivering value at the end of each sprint effort. The definition of what the project is does not have to be as clearly defined as it would be in a traditional approach.

Plotting is more structured, where pantsing is more creative. The philosophy comes down to the difference of approach. Both structured and creative methodologies deliver the same project, just in different ways. Some debate that one way works, and another doesn’t. However, it is my opinion that both methods have their merits, and neither will work unless you stick to your chosen method and see it through to the end. Historically, I have been very structured within my project management life and I have followed a more traditional methodology, plotting. In my creative writing career, I tend to be more of a pantser and follow a more agile approach to my projects.

As I continue to examine these methodologies and industries in detail, I am finding that it is better to merge the two versus choosing one or the other. In this hybrid approach, whether it be traditional or agile, plotting or pantsing, structured or creative, the best approach is to incorporate the two methods in a way that compliments each other.

I need the initial ideas to come forth and allow them to do so without a lot of restrictions or structure. This will encourage new ideas to emerge that may be beneficial on how to handle a situation. However, once the idea is in place and fleshed out, I need an outline to keep on track. If I do not have that structure, I will not move forward in a timely manner and may fall short of my intended goal.

While still maintaining the flexibility within that structure, I believe that is the best way to provide the greatest path towards success. Allowing creativity and ideas to flourish while providing structure will enhance the ability to get things completed. This might work out for me in my endeavors, however, it may not be for everyone. As previously mentioned, these processes are still under high scrutiny in both project management offices and the creative writing world. I am sure that a new approach will come down through time, and perhaps would solve the problems and detrimental aspects of either of these methods. Who knows, perhaps there will be another revolutionary method that has its own pitfalls. Regardless, it is best to consider your own personality and process in determining the best means to your project. What I find most helpful in this process is to keep an open mind and see the benefits of all sources to make the best decision that fits your requirements.

To check out the video discussion on pantsing vs plotting, click the YouTube link here. If you want to be notified on any new videos, please subscribe (it’s free!) to the Ananya and Brett channel on YouTube or follow me on Twitch at

To learn more about and/or to purchase the book Coloring Outside the Lines: Integrating Project Management and Creativity, click on the link.

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