When you consider planning, there are two kinds of extremes: outlining and discovery writing.

The outliners plan their stories and sit down to write them only when they know the plot of what they are going to write. The discovery writers just write; they start somewhere and then follow their intuition, letting themselves be surprised by what they will encounter.

Many discovery writers need that they do not know what they are going to write. If they have to rewrite something they have already written, they are often blocked by the boredom of already knowing what they are going to write. Apparently they need the often surprising exploration of the unknown to motivate them. Psychologists call this tendency "novelty seeking".

I am a discovery writer, and looking at my life, I get the impression that novelty seeking not only determines my writing style, but many other aspects of my life as well. For example, I need to switch jobs every three years or I will die from boredom. I also tend to fall out of love after a couple of years and find myself yearning for another partner – and I realize that it is not another partner that I want, but the phase of not knowing the other person and the outcome of the dating. My hobbies are explorative as well, I like hiking and literally exploring places, and I like to learn new things.

So I was wondering if that was just me, or if other writers observe the same thing: that, maybe, discovery writers are novelty seeking in their non-writing lives as well, while outliners are maybe more steady.

Does anyone have an insight into this that goes beyond the mere opinion that is disallowed on this site? Maybe you know so many writers privately that your observations approach objectivity. Or you have read something on the matter.

  • Interesting observation. Looking forward to the answers. I'm a discovery writer and wanted to point out that the question is asking about novelty seeking, not adventure seeking. It's not, I think, about skydiving. Sep 27, 2016 at 13:07
  • That's right, @KenMohnkern, risk-taking is a related and correlating but different construct.
    – user5645
    Sep 27, 2016 at 13:56
  • I'm a plotter, not a discovery writer. I think you might have hit upon something though, because I enjoy designing anything and everything. I almost enjoy outlining more than writing. Almost. Sep 27, 2016 at 19:48

1 Answer 1


No takers? (stretches) All right, then, lemme take a swing.

I suspect that my answer might be disliked, being chiefly my personal hugely biased opinion, but, in all fairness, my opinion is based on my experience in both my real and imaginary lives and should be worth something, even though I do not have my own Wikipedia page to cite.

First and foremost: I try to avoid labeling things. I know that labeling things is a classic American approach to pretty much everything, and that bothers me greatly.

Without sinking into an essay on that particular subject I would say that dividing writers into Outliners and Pantsers is a vast generalization. Even Republicans and Democrats have different shades of blue and red among them, although they elected to label themselves.

Both Outlining and Discovery Writing are merely methods one can employ in a unique personal blend to achieve the one and only goal--to finish the damn thing you are working on! This forum if full of complaints of self-labeled Outliners who cannot bring themselves to start writing, because their outline is not perfect enough; just as they are filled with the confessions of Pantsers who do not know how their stories end--all because a methodology flaw.

One cannot be sure if one's outline works for the story, unless one tries to discover words to flesh it out, and one cannot just plow forward without at least a vague idea of where the story is going no matter what they say (please, do not bring Stephen King into this).

I do adhere mainly to discovery writing, yet I do have an outline (about five or six bullet points, this is why I am at 460K+ words at the time of this rant, being 3/4 through the first draft :-(--I should be writing, damn it), and I do know how my story ends. I get bored at work easily, and I love daily routine--it calms me down and brings some structure into my life. I had moved from place to place about 18 times during my lifetime, and I am married to the same partner for 35 years. I love animals, but I am neither a Dog or a Cat Person--I have had and do have both.

The point to which I am trudging is that the correlation between one's writing method and real-life choices might not be that immanent. They are very different things.

What is important (at least I think it is) is that labeling things is rarely precise and almost never unequivocal.

Sorry for the lack of graphs and statistics (and the length of this post).


  • lol, upvoted for not having a Wikipedia page. I had one and it took a major effort to get it deleted again. I had to prove that I'm not notable. Anyway, I'm not American, if that's what you thought. And 460K words? That's quite a brick! I guess you'll break it into a trilogy, then, right? But what I wanted to say is that indeed I'm a pure pantser. I have not the slightest idea when I start out. And the plot always turns out nicely. It is indeed possible to "plow forward without at least a vague idea of where the story is going". Trust me.
    – user5645
    Sep 27, 2016 at 20:01
  • @what I know you are not American. I just did not want to label you German ;-)
    – Lew
    Sep 27, 2016 at 20:04
  • I was hesitating over that label myself.
    – user5645
    Sep 27, 2016 at 20:06

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