How Random!

by Kassandra Lamb

How often we use this phrase! It’s come to mean that something is illogical. The word random also might be defined as scattered, something with no pattern, no rhyme or reason.

Rodin's The Thinker (photo by Andrew Horne, public domain, Wikimedia)

Rodin’s The Thinker (photo by Andrew Horne, public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

But there truly is such a thing as a random thinker. This is one end of a continuum that is part of a theory developed by a dude named Anthony F. Gregorc, Ph.D. The other end is sequential.

(There is another continuum in his model of how humans think — concrete vs. abstract. More on that in another post.)

Sequentials tend to think in a linear fashion. They are very good at following step-by-step instructions, and they tend to be organized. What we think of as logical or analytical is essentially sequential thinking.

Random thinkers are more intuitive. While they tend to frustrate the bejesus out of sequentials, they have their shining moments. Often they are more creative and come up with novel solutions to problems.

They not only think outside the box, most of the time they can’t even find the box. To say they are messy is an understatement. Indeed, the quickest way to tell if someone is a random vs. a sequential is to look at their personal spaces–their desks, offices and bedrooms. Do these places look like a bomb just went off? If so, the person is probably a random thinker.

My study--not totally neat, but I know what is in each pile, and you can see the floor!

My study–not totally neat, but I know what is in each pile, and you can find the floor!

Now that doesn’t mean that sequentials are always stick-up-their-butts neatniks. But if you ask a sequential where something is, they can probably tell you which pile it’s in. If they say the don’t know, the item is truly lost.

With randoms, they almost always say they don’t know where it is. They have no conscious memory of where they put it, nor any “logical” organization to their piles of stuff. But they are indeed organized, in their own intuitive way.

My husband is a hardcore random. His study in our house is almost impossible to walk around in. There are papers and books piled everywhere, on all flat surfaces including the floor.

By contrast, my husband's random study.

By contrast, my husband’s random study. (Yes, that is a bottle of window cleaner on the floor; I’ve no idea why it’s there.)

If I ask him where some piece of paper is, he will tell me he has no clue. But then he will go looking and almost every time, he’ll come up with it within ten to twenty minutes. On some intuitive level, he knows where it is.

So why has random vs. sequential thinking been on my mind lately? Because I’ve been trying to figure out how these two thinking styles relate to two other phenomena. One is whether or not people finish what they start. That was actually the blog post I set out to write, then decided I needed to explore randomness first. So more on that subject in a couple weeks.

The other connection I’ve been pondering is with creativity. Theoretically randoms are more creative. But I’m very much a sequential thinker, and I’m a writer.

(By the way, this theory of random vs. sequential thinking has replaced the old right brain/left brain theory. The latter didn’t hold up well under scientific scrutiny. While certain intellectual functions tend to be centered in one hemisphere of the brain or the other, individuals do not seem to routinely have a more active right or left brain.)

a brain full of computer circuit boards

A sequential’s brain–just kidding 😉 (by Gengiskanhg CC-BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Common)

But they do seem to fit into the patterns of random or sequential thinkers, or somewhere in between (keep in mind, this is a continuum).

Amongst writers, we also have a continuum of writing styles: plotters vs. pantsers. Plotters are very organized and plan out their story before they start to write. They do character sketches and outline the key plot points. Pantsers write by the seat of their pants. A story idea occurs to them, and they just sit down and write.

I fall a little bit in between (a plantser?) but I lean much more toward pantsing than plotting. This is very strange to me since I am so hardcore sequential and organized in the rest of my life. But I find with writing, that if I plan a story too meticulously I lose interest before I’ve gotten it written. So I just sit down and write and see where that takes me.

My husband, on the other hand, realizes that some things need to be planned–teaching, for example. For his classes, he writes out a fairly detailed lesson plan. But because I am more naturally organized, I can get away with a fairly loose outline of what I want to cover when I teach a class.

So I’m curious about the relationship here between plotting/pantsing and random/sequential. I’d like to take a little informal survey.

Based on this limited description, do you think you are more random or sequential? And how do you approach the demands of your job, do you plan it carefully or wing it? Writers in particular, I’d love to hear how random vs. sequential thinking correlates with plotting vs. pantsing.

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist and college professor turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.

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20 thoughts on “How Random!

  1. Vinnie Hansen

    I’m like you, Kass–organized in my daily life, but a pantzer in my writing. As a teacher, I was a lesson-plan outliner like your husband, but I liked to be open to creative detours that happened organically in the classroom b/c of the students or that occurred to me in my car on the way to work.

    Reply
  2. Jennette Marie Powell

    I’m definitely a sequential thinker–as a software developer in my day job, it’s a must! Yet I was a graphic designer for 10 years before I changed careers, and that often goes much more by feel. As a writer, yup, outliner here, though I can sometimes write short fiction into the dark. Some of my best writer friends not only don’t outline, they write completely out of order, so I can only assume they’re random thinkers. I skip a scene now and then, but can’t imagine anything more. Yet all processes can produce great stories in the end.

    Reply
  3. Kassandra Lamb

    Hmm, I’d think graphic designer could benefit from being a sequential as well, Jennette.

    And I could never hop all over in story as I write. I would get so confused. I almost never skip a scene, although occasionally I just write some notes about that scene into the ms and then keep going.

    So we’ve got 2 sequential pantsers and 1 sequential plotter now.

    Reply
  4. shannon esposito

    Well, it is very true in our house that if I don’t know where something is, it is truly lost. 🙂 I’m definitely a an organized, sequential thinker in “real” life. But when I write? Yeah, definitely a pantser. If I know how the story ends, I’m bored before I begin. Which is a big challenge writing mysteries, for sure. Scenes usually come to me completely out of order. And when it all comes together in the end? That’s the magic part I love.

    Reply
  5. Kassandra Lamb

    Okay, so this is totally fascinating. Why are do many sequential thinkers tend to write by the seat of their pants? Is that the only way we can let the creative juices flow? Maybe so.

    Reply
  6. K.B. Owen

    Hi Kass! Interesting post. Love the pics! I think I’m naturally a sequential person, but this writing life has definitely tapped into my creative side. Much more willing to fly by the seat of my pants and go tunneling into rabbit holes, if you will excuse the mixed metaphor. 😉

    Reply
    1. Kassandra Lamb

      Thanks, Kathy. Glad you like it! I’m now really wondering if we sequentials, for the most part (Jennette being the exception so far), need to be more random when we are being creative.

      Reply
  7. Karen McFarland

    So the right brain/left brain is a thing of the past, eh? Interesting. I had no idea there was a clear cut structure to it. I know many people who cross over and possess a little of both. And I can see where that would be applicable with those who are random or sequential also. I say that because I lean either way. Although, until my move, I knew where most things were. lol! But I was raised by a German perfectionista and everything had to be just so. (*clicks her heels and salutes*) Because of that I have a tendency to rebel against that nature. As much as I am not messy, I am not a fan of structure or planning. Who am I? lol! And should I care? 🙂

    Reply
    1. Kassandra Lamb

      LOL I’m not sure you should care, Karen! If you can lean either way, then you may be in the middle of the continuum. Not a bad place to be at all, since that means you probably get along well with both randoms and sequentials.

      Hope the settling into the new place goes smoothly and you know where things are again soon. 😀

      Reply
  8. Rhonda Hopkins

    I’m late to reply, but here I’m here! 🙂

    I’m definitely a pantser when it comes to writing. I’m like you Kass, and if I do too much detail work first, I lose interest. It’s nearly impossible for me to write an outline before I write the book. Even when I was a kid and a teacher gave us a project to do and wanted the outline first, I always had to do a rough draft before I could do the outline.

    As for random or sequential — I guess I’m a little of both. I like to be organized and I’ll eventually get organized, but then life happens and I’m not anymore. BUT during those times, I have my piles and I pretty much know where everything is until I can organize again. I’m more comfortable when organized, but I can work with the other, too.

    Reply
    1. Kassandra Lamb

      Hmm, you sound like you lean toward sequential, Rhonda. Interesting that so many of us sequentials are pantsers.

      And I was the same way as a kid. I’d write the first draft, then the outline just to satisfy the teacher. Then it was downright painful having to write it AGAIN as a final draft.

      Reply
  9. Pingback: Are You a Compulsive Finisher or a Chronic NonFinisher? | Misterio Press

  10. Jami Gold

    Oh! I missed this post earlier!

    I’m a sequential thinker in general. My desk is a disaster, but I still know where most things are, and the mess hasn’t taken over the whole room. LOL! I’m big into organization, steps, processes, etc. I’m the “tour guide” type for family vacations, coming up with itineraries and possibilities. When I write, I write scenes in sequential order. I can’t bounce from one scene to another when drafting.

    However… I also write by the seat of my pants. It’s not a random kind of pantsing, as I have very vague ideas, such as, “I write romance, so my story will have a happy ending.” *whew* *checks THAT off the list* 😉

    I know story structure inside and out, etc. So while some pantsers run into trouble with tangents and stories that don’t go anywhere, I avoid those. It’s like the difference between someone coloring a page who ignores the lines and someone who fills in each space with a random pattern, but still pays attention to most of the lines. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Kassandra Lamb Post author

      LOL, Jami. I was careful not to take a close-up of my desk when I was comparing my study to my husband’s. It’s the only part of my room that is close to chaos. And yet I still have a basic sense of where things are there.

      I also have to know where I’m going as I pants my way through a story. So I always figure out who the killer is going to be and what their motivation will be. Other than that I just have a vague idea of a few major plot points.

      I let myself go on the tangents in the first draft; they can always be edited out later. But sometimes they lead me to something good. The whole romance between my two main characters started out as a tangent. Now it’s one of the main themes of that series.

      Reply

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