Are you a plotter or pantser?
This is an oft-discussed question between writers of fiction, attendees of writing conferences, and people who while away the hours listening to podcasts about writing. (Dear reader, I include myself in all these categories.)
“Plotters” refer to writers who meticulously outline every single twist and turn of their novel or short story, and compile detailed biographies of their characters’ favorite foods, movies, life goals, pet peeves and other defining qualities. “Pantsers,” are those who sit longing for inspiration before writing a single word with little idea of what their imaginations or muses will dredge up next.
For years I bought into this either/or scenario, and not just in fiction. These binary concepts easily translate into grant writing. For example, there are those who swear by logic models in the creation of concise precise grant proposals, and there are those who swear at logic models as yet another wretched attachment to complete. Guess which category I chose?
What I am learning now after more than 25 years as a fundraiser and grant pro, and more recently in writing young adult novels, is that plotting and pantsing are false dichotomies. These artificial labels get in the way of creating stories that connect with the readers whether they are grant reviewers or those looking for a good beach read.
Developing winning grant proposals, compelling annual appeal letters, or even growing a consulting practice takes planning, but also demands the ability to adapt to changing times and circumstances. A well-honed logic model and tight budget will do a lot of the heavy lifting of grant writing for you—that’s definitely a plotter move, and a good one. Creating winning grants that can truly transform the communities they serve also requires listening and learning from community members, current research, and changing demographics. Site visits, as well as talking to those we serve (or their representatives), program staff, and members of the finance team, often moves needs statements and program narratives in different directions and provides compelling details to help program officers and reviewers connect to the story.
What I’m saying here is that “plotting” and “pantsing” can support the success of any persuasive writing, whether it’s a novel or a federal grant or even a business plan. In the most recent episode Fundraising HayDay Podcast Starting and Growing Your Own Consultancy (podbean.com), podcaster and entrepreneur extraordinaire Lucy Morgan of MyFedTrainer discusses her methods of establishing her successful grant training business. She talks about how she methodically connected with potential clients on LinkedIn (major plotter move), but also about how the pandemic forced a sea change in the way she conducted her training. 2020 was a pantser year, for sure, for Lucy and for all of us.
I’ve learned that ignoring the either/or nature of those labels freed me to use what works in a given situation—a lesson I will continue to take to heart whenever and whatever I’m writing. So, from now on if someone asks me if I’m a plotter or a pantser, I’ll say yes.
DH Leonard Consulting & Grant Writing Services, LLC is so excited to be season 4 sponsors for Fundraising HayDay, a podcast about grants and such. Catch up on seasons 1 – 3 and stay up to date on the new season here.
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