Do you add words or subtract them?

Much has been made of the plotter vs. pantser approaches to writing. Plotters have a plot worked out ahead of time, either as a general outline or as a detailed story map. Pantsers fly by the seat of their pants, letting the story come to them as they write.

Everyone has their own native predilections, comfort zones and mental happy places. However, the best writing comes from a combination of these approaches. Plotters need to loosen up and let inspiration take them off the rails they've carefully laid down for the story. A bit of surprise from unexpected twists and turns can serve to electrify a piece. Similarly, pantsers need to incorporate at least a bit of structure to keep the narrative moving forward in a coherent manner. It also avoids massive blind alleys and internal contradictions that complicate editing.

But what I want to ask you about is peripheral (or perhaps corollary) to the plotter/panster divide.

Are you a putter-in or a taker-out?

In his "On Writing", Stephen King says to write the first draft, then start cutting in revision. His manuscripts get cut by 20%, 30 % or more in the trimming and shaping. (Given his prolific nature, it's amazing to me that he actually writes a lot more than we ever see.) What's interesting here, though, is that while he acknowledges the plotter/panster divide, he assumes rewriting-by-cutting. In fact, almost all of the writing books I've read assume rewriting-by-cutting.

I rewrite by adding in. My first drafts grow as relationships are fleshed out, motivations clarified, scenes polished, plot moved forward. This has always been true. I want to get the idea down first, then add flesh to the bones.

Granted, there are entire scenes, characters and subplots which are cut. However, these are more than made up for with new scenes, new characters and new subplots which serve to support and drive the main characters and plot elements.

What do you do? Add or subtract? Both at the same time? First add, then subtract? Vice versa?

===== Feel free to comment on this or any other post.


  1. I'm not sure what I am yet because I'm still writing that confounded first draft (I know. I am so lame.). I do know that, when I read at my writing group, their comments are almost always to "flesh out" rather than cut and that feels true to me because sometimes I get in a hurry to finish uncomfortable bits.

  2. adding always adding. One mor eline to nail it. I hate editing, because I always have to rein myself in from adding way more. The first draft is written all of a piece, it may be far from perfect, but it was written within the same momentum throughout. The moment you break from that & return to it even a fortnight later, some of the mindset and energies have drained away. So tampering too much can really upset its flow, because I can't ever recapture that as was.

    marc nash

    1. I have a problem with maintaining momentum. Energy flow in the writing is a tricky thing.

  3. Adding seems to be my mode overall. I rarely cut a scene entirely, although that has happened. More often, it gets moved into a sequel or side-story. Sometimes it gets pared down and blended with an existing scene (or scene set).

    Typically, what happens is that I'll realize I haven't tied off a loose end, or introduced something important toward the end that needs to be introduced earlier… or simply failed to explain something important.

    I thought for a moment that this is perhaps a sign of a beginning writer, that I don't get the whole thing down then cut the unimportant parts — or don't understand what's not important. However, when I first started writing flash, it was really easy to run over 1000 words. My later works have often run 700-ish. It's probably another axis, orthogonal to the plotter/pantser axis.

    1. I'm wondering about the experienced writer vs. beginner aspect, too. Does all of the writing advice from established writers come out of a place where they've forgotten the putting-in? Or did they never do that, and were takers-out from the beginning? And is that why they're successful? Hard thoughts, these.


Thank you for leaving a comment. The staff at Landless will treat it with the same care that we would bestow on a newly hatched chick. By the way, no pressure or anything, but have you ever considered subscribing to Landless via RSS?