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Plotter or pantster? When I started writing my novel, the question came up time and time again, in reference books and writing groups.

As the names suggest, a plotter is someone who plans out every aspect of the book they are going to write. They know exactly what is going to happen at every stage in the plot. They will also spend time carefully crafting the characters and writing down every detail about them.

On the other hand, pantsters – as in, people who fly by the seat of their pants – may have a rough notion where the book is going but they largely make it up as they go along. They let the characters come to life as they write and let the story unfold organically.

No one way is necessarily better than the other. It is a personal choice and down to the preference of the author. And of course, there is always someone like me, who falls somewhere in between the two!

Plotting with a touch of pantster

As someone who in business, has always planned out what I am going to write, and as a lover of lists, I struggled with plotting my novel. Some of this was due to fiction writing being a completely new genre for me, and some of it was my impatience to just get writing.

I spent time outlining the plot of my novel, as personally, I would have been unable to start writing if I didn’t know where I was going with the story. I also had a general idea of the characters, their relationship with each other and their idiosyncrasies. However, I did not go into as much detail as others recommend.

As I wrote my story I did find that the characters started to come alive more in my imagination and this allowed me to flesh them out. I also found that some aspects of the plot developed in parallel to the characters. I have heard other authors say that the characters tell the story and I did experience a little of this.

On the whole, my approach served me well and I produced a reasonable first draft with likeable and credible characters. Would I do anything differently next time? I would invest more time mapping out how the subplots impact the main protagonists and contribute to the overall narrative. So having experienced an element of pantsterism – I think I may have coined a new word – would I use this approach in my day job?

To plan or not to plan, that is the question

I know there are people in business who claim not to have a business plan and I certainly know plenty of big businesses that have very elaborate plans that never get looked at. But to me, being a total pantster does not make business sense.

When it comes to marketing communications, I believe it is vital to have some sort of plan. Some may call it a strategy. And you can’t have a marketing communications plan until you know what your business is going to achieve.

Your marketing plan doesn’t have to be grandiose but it has to set out where your business is now, where you want to be and how marketing communication is going to help get you there. Before you spend any money on advertising, hire a PR consultant, start posting on social media or write a blog, you need to have a clear idea of what each tactic (activity) is going to achieve. If you cannot measure the outcome of any of your marketing communications, then you are wasting time and money and risking the future of your business. 

There is a classic quote by a US businessman called John Wanamaker “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.”

That is as true today as when he said it in the 1800s. If you blindly spend money or produce content without having a clear objective of what you want to achieve, then you will achieve nothing.

Knowing customer is key to communications success

Be clear on your audience

The secret to business and marketing planning is knowing your customer. The clearer you are on your customer, the better you can target your communications. Once you know where your customer hangs out, what media they consume, which social media platforms they use, how they make buying decisions, what they are feeling, thinking and doing, what problems they have that your products/services are going to solve, then you can start to craft communication that is going to resonate with them.

Whilst I believe everyone in business needs to be a plotter, not a pantster, when it comes to communication and running a business, the current pandemic has highlighted the need for that plan to be flexible. Companies that have been able to rapidly adapt their business model have gained a distinct competitive advantage.

As I found when writing my book, it seems the optimum solution is a hybrid of the two – to have a plan in place that is guiding the business and the marketing but with the operational flexibility and awareness to adapt to changes in the external environment.

Do you identify as a plotter or a pantster? Let me know in the comments.


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