When Is A Book Like A Building?

In the writing world there is an ongoing debate over HOW a book should be written. It separates writers into two distinct camps…

Planners – those who outline their entire book, down to the smallest detail, before they start writing

Pantsers – those who pretty much make it up as they go along (as in “flying by the seat of their pants”)

plan v pants

If I had to pick which category I fall into – I would call myself a plantser… I have a bit of a plan, and I try to follow it, but sometimes I go a little off course.


I have no formal training in writing, unless you count a high school journalism class and a semester of creative writing in college, so when I started writing my first novel, Living the Dream, I did it the way that felt natural to me.

Living the DreamI had no idea of where the story was going.
I knew that the bad guy, Kurt, was going to go through a lot of crap, which would hopefully teach him a valuable life lesson. The same for the other three main characters, Vicky, Jimmy and Leslie – I knew that they, too, would learn important lessons, but I didn’t know how those lessons would be taught.
In fact, when I started writing it, Leslie wasn’t even part of the story. She was created about a third of the way through the book because I realized there was a void in the story. It wasn’t until I finished the first draft that I realized what else needed to be changed…and again after the second draft.

The way I usually sum up my writing style is by using the analogy of a cross-country road trip.
I get in the car at Point A – knowing that I want to end up at Point B – but I have no specific route in mind. I just head off in the general direction of my destination and enjoy the trip.

road trip
When I tell this to people, they sometimes think, mistakenly, that I am endorsing my particular method over another.
I’m not.
I don’t consider myself qualified to tell anybody how they should write a book. I believe that every author, or potential author, should use the method they feel most comfortable with.

I don’t believe there is any right method – or wrong one.

Let’s look at it using a different analogy, the construction of a building.
The construction of a building is a complicated process which begins long before work-boots hit the ground. Naturally, one of the most important elements in the process is the drawing of plans (blueprints, if you will, even though it’s technically an incorrect term).

floor plan
After spending more than twenty years drawing plans for buildings of every conceivable size and type, I can tell you this…unless the plans are a complete train wreck – the building will get built regardless of how much effort was put into them.

Like writers, Architects’ styles vary…no two are alike.
There are Architects out there who try to anticipate every potential problem that could arise during construction, and take measures to avoid them by including pages and pages of details in their plans.

bldg 1Sometimes it works…sometimes it doesn’t.

Then there are those who include only the barest essentials when it comes to details using the attitude “It’ll be worked out in the field.”
Sometimes it works…sometimes it doesn’t.

architectureNeither method can guarantee the quality of the finished product. Buildings are built everyday using one method or the other. When John Q. Public enters a newly constructed shopping mall he doesn’t know what the plans looked like or how many times the original concept was changed, or why
He only sees the building. He might like it…he might hate it…but his opinion of the finished product will have little, if anything, to do with the plans used to build it.
The same can be said about novels. You can write a forty page outline before you start, or just start writing without a clue as to where your story will go…the book buying public will never know which method you used.
If you read enough blogs and how-to posts you may feel like you have to pick one method or another.
Don’t believe it. Do it the way you feel most comfortable.
Your readers will only know the finished product.
So, regardless of your method…give them the best damn book you can.

They might like it…they might hate it – but if it’s your best effort you did all you can do.

As always – thank you for reading


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26 responses to “When Is A Book Like A Building?

  1. I’m a pantser, and I do think that most writers need to loosen up and trust their instincts more. That’s because I’ve run into two kinds of miserable writers: the pantsers who feel guilty and worry that they “should” be outlining, and the planners who feel guilty about entertaining spontaneous ideas (or resentful of “out of control” characters), and also are tormented by writer’s block despite their lovingly prepared outlines.

    I hope the suffering writers out there will take your counsel to heart about being comfortable. If we’re not happy, we’re not doing it right.

  2. Author Rebecca Heishman

    Thank you. I have always felt inadequate because I’m a pantser. I’m not a trained writer. I’m just a dreamer who writes. My imagination is way too big to be contained in an outline. I’ve tried making outlines, but I found them too restrictive. For me, outlining was like trying to put a meter on my imagination and measuring it. When I’m caught up in my writing, it’s exhilarating, I am oblivious to the outside world, and I have no idea how the story will end. There is great joy in that for me. As you said, it’s my ‘road trip’ to take…..my journey. And when I’m ‘traveling’, I allow myself to go wherever I please, unstructured and unrestricted. But, that’s my personal story. You’re absolutely right. There is no right or wrong way to express yourself in your writing. A gifted writer will find his own path. It doesn’t matter how we get there as long as we and our readers are happy with our creation.

    I enjoyed this post very much. It’s one of the best you’ve ever written.

  3. Perse Show

    Bravo and thank you! Such an amazing post; I can’t hope to equal it! This is the perfect combination of two of my favorite hobbies, both of which require the ultimate creativity a created can offer! Thanks again! If I wasn’t following your blog already, I would now! All I can say really is…WOW!
    I may just reblog this…amazing.


  4. Perse Show

    Reblogged this on Perse Show and commented:
    This is simply the most amazing post I have ever read. Hope you readers enjoy it as much as I did. I found it inspirational and true, and I think we can all take something away from it!

  5. Author Rebecca Heishman

    Reblogged this on Dancing With The MS MonSter and commented:
    One of the best posts I’ve ever read on the subject of writers and writing by a master of the art.

  6. Ali Isaac

    So true! I get so bored of all the writers out there posting about the way they did things and how great they are and offering advice like they were the next Tolkien or JKRowling! Thats why I never write posts about writing on my website.

    I agree with you. I too am a plantser. I have a 1 page outline when I start. Then my characters take over and basically write their own stories. I just have to weave them together in a logical manner and edit.

    Its one hell of a ride! Having every detail planned out out beforehand would bore the pants off me and the book would probably never get finished. I love not knowing exactly where the journey’s going to take me! It makes writing a book just as exciting as reading one!

  7. I’m with you Tim. I have a plan of sorts, but I fly by the seat of my pants, so I’m like Becky too. For me it’s not the destination as much as the getting there that makes writing fun. I write in the hopes that my readers will like what I write, but everyone says they write for the readers. I say I write for myself first, because if I’m not enjoying my writing, how can I expect my readers to enjoy it?

  8. I’m an outliner, but I keep the stories in my head until I’m ready to write – until I have that opening sentence prepared in my mind. Once that sentence is written down, the rest of the story I’ve been thinking about flows out of me. I make changes along the way, add new characters and material, but I pretty much know the story arc and the way it will end, and usually who is responsible as well. But that’s just the first draft. Then there are many more drafts that come after that where almost anything can happen. Usually, though, that first seed of idea and the general structure of the story remain the same.

    Thanks, Tim, not just for offering examples of how you or other authors write, but for making us think about how we each approach the task. It’s different for everyone – not only how we write, but why we write – and no one should ever feel that they’re doing it wrong. They’re all doing it the right way for them!

  9. Reblogged this on Books: Publishing, Reading, Writing and commented:
    Tim Baker with some thought on how he writes a novel. Very interesting to compare the ways of approach and to also consider how we each write – and ‘why” we write.

  10. A brilliant, in-depth post on this!

    I tend to plan a lot 😀 I can’t help myself. But then, that suits me as a writer, and everyone has to decide for themselves what suits them best, not just follow what others say is best.

  11. Amazing and inspirational post. I love the word planster. I wrote my last novel as a panster. I really had no clue, and not sure I am much more than clueless now. This one had so many convoluted details, it required an outline. It’s not in the same genre, and is a completely different style for me. I am certain my own voice will come through, but learning to write with a road map has been more fun that I initially expected. I agree. Any way you get there is fine. Just keep driving until you do.

  12. Perse Show

    I’m writing a story that I’ve had to plan the whole way (Florida). Usually I write as a Pantser, but I was definitely being a Planner with that one…until now. Something changed, and now all of a sudden I’m a Plantser. Wow.

  13. laurie27wsmith

    I’m writing a series, so it’s basically by the seat of the pants for me. The characters tend to take care of the details, I’m just the bloke who types. 🙂

  14. Pingback: How Important is Your Word count? | blindoggbooks

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