Both are challenges for different reasons. The themed puzzle may take me forever to actually get it started. I'm always trying to innovate, and look for more themes, another entry, or a unique spin on an old standby. The grids themselves tend to be less lenient, so if there's any fun stuff in it, it's a bonus. There are times (like last Friday's) when the thematic material is the bare minimum, so I can kind of turn it into a themeless with all the showy fill.
Now with themeless, it's always a question of new material. I almost always start each corner with one or two "seed entries" that (hopefully) are fresh and never before seen. BTW: while I'm thinking about it, thanks to Doug Peterson for the overall seed for this puzzle: 35-Across. And while we're here, I was about halfway through making this puzzle when I got another gem of a seed entry from Rex Parker. I liked it so much, I scrapped the half-finished grid I had already begun and started all over again (keeping Doug's suggestion), just to try and get Rex's in there as well. Although it couldn't find a place in either the NW or SE corners (their logical homes), something strange happened: the grid became better overall. (Astute solvers will find Rex's suggestion in puzzle #137).
I'm not really sure whether I like making themed or themeless grids more. They're both challenging for two different reasons. When I started off making puzzles, they absolutely had to be themed. Why? Because at the time I hated solving themeless puzzles. They didn't seem to have a point. Plus, I wasn't any good at solving much past a Wednesday-level. When I finally came around to the weekend level nastiness, though, the themeless became my favorite style. I find most themeless puzzles slightly tedious now, as so much of puzzlemaking relies upon computer-assisted grids. (Dare I say "Autofill?" No, that's for another post altogether.) A lot of today's themeless puzzles are starting to have that same been-there-done-that vibe that hackneyed themed have. (Okay, this is definitely another post altogether.)
I kind of bounce back and forth as to whether I enjoy making themed or non-themed puzzles more. I believe as of today, I would say I'd give making themed ones a slight edge. It seems like almost every gimmick has already been done before, yet somehow we still find new ways to spin it into (hopeful) gold. I even go through favorite types of themed puzzles. I had a rebus stage for a bit (who doesn't?). Now I seem to be into a quote puzzle phase (look for a crazy one this week).
Anyway, share the puzzle. New one on Wednesday.