The second week of October is nearing its end and the NaNoWriMo madness is gathering steam. Did you attend the live webinar yesterday? I had to miss a comfortable night’s sleep for that one. But no matter, because I woke up to a holiday, which means I can catch up on the lost hours of sleep.
You might have noticed a few changes to the site this time if you’re a veteran or get thoroughly confused if you’re new around these parts. Today I’ll be taking you through the two schools of writing – the “planner” and “pantser”. But this post will mainly focus on the best of both worlds – how to be a “plantser”.
Before we get to that, there’s a small little thing to be done that will tie together this post and the previous one. I’ll admit I’m the worst kind of procrastinator you’ll ever meet. I love curling up with warm blankets in my bed when I should actually be doing something awesome or schoolwork. There is one thing that keeps me in check though. I can’t imagine announcing something to the world and going back on it. I have, several times, and each time the guilt has compounded until I vowed never to make promises I can’t keep. However, writing is important to me. I’m sure all you NaNo participants can relate. After all, isn’t that why you signed up in the first place? If this is true for you, I welcome you to join me in doing something bold and life-changing. Tell the world you’re a NaNoWriMo participant! It can be through social media or a post on your blog if you have one or just informing a good friend who will understand you’re being dead-serious. Me? I’ll just do it here.
Done? Great! You’ve officially sealed the deal. Congrats! Now we shall delve into a hotly debated topic among the writing community.
I am a natural pantser, which means I don’t plan out my writing. I think of things on the spur of the moment and just write. I’m most suited to write flash fiction. I’ve done this a lot for my Fictional Fridays blog posts. This also means I don’t keep track of my characters or have an outline or maintain a timeline, which would get really confusing if it were a novel. This is probably why I haven’t finished a novel yet. If you’re like me, short pieces of fiction come easily to you. You don’t bother weaving complex plots or exploring character arcs. You write intuitively, trusting that your brain will keep tabs on everything and the story will naturally lead you in the right direction. However, this can turn into a nightmare when your first draft reaches the 100k+ word count mark.
You’re probably one of those who writes things down in their calendar or always carries a notebook. You’re organised and like to gather information beforehand. You approach something with a plan of action ready at all times. You probably have a time-table you follow rigidly. You keep track of your goals, your progress and your achievements. As a writer, you can’t start writing at the word go. Your ideas should be on paper, leading to a tangible plot thread. You like to explore your characters and keep separate, detailed logs on each. You know what to do with your story even before you start writing it. But this has its own shortcomings. If you’re new to NaNoWriMo, you probably haven’t encountered this. Characters seem to take matters into their own hands and wreck your carefully laid plans, sending you into panic mode. New ideas come to you as you write, tugging your story in different directions, but you can’t accept them because they don’t fall within the scope of your outline. In these cases, planning down to the last detail can get suffocating.
As you can see, they both fail under certain circumstances, so if you’re wondering what sort of writer you want to be before November arrives, why not do a bit of both?
The Dawn of the Era of the Plantsers
Planet would’ve sounded very weird in that title, so I tweaked it a bit. Plantsers are people who do a bit of planning, but leave enough room for their story to breathe so that November proves to be an incredibly productive month. I’ve been reading quite a few articles around the blogosphere that talk about how much outlining one needs to do for NaNoWriMo. I agree with some, but not all of the advice out there might apply to me. I’ll be sharing my method here, which is also the assignment for this week.
Get out an empty notebook or sheaf of papers that you can file so they stay in the same place and can be referenced frequently. Bring out your favourite pen – perhaps that magical one somebody gifted you long ago that you haven’t dared to use because it’s so beautiful. Now, think of exactly three specific things you absolutely cannot start your story without (for three is a magical number). If you’re a natural planner, list five or seven or ten. Then cross them out one by one till you’re left with only three. For pantsers like me, expand on that inkling of an idea. Visualise the ending or whatever part of the story that makes perfect sense in your head. Then pick three aspects that you would need in order to write that part. For example, I picked these:
- The character arc of my MC
- The map of the country the story is set in
- The names of seven supporting characters
The key is to be very precise and limit yourself. Perhaps you loved exploring the main character so much that you decided to give the supporting characters their backstories as well. Don’t do that. Stick only to the specifics on your list.
That said, maybe three isn’t really your number. Perhaps five seems better to you. Or maybe you aren’t thinking from that perspective at all. Maybe you just got half an hour of time and decided to do a bit of planning. Do what works best for you, but know when to stop.
Done? Well, that’s it. You have a few details ironed out that you really need to write your story. The partial skeleton has materialised. Don’t go back to it and don’t keep dwelling on it. Turn your attention to something else entirely so you don’t become obsessed. I let myself have the rest of the chocolate bar sitting in the fridge to distract my mind after my planning session. If you’re wondering, that worked.
Thus we come to the end of another post in the prep series. I’d love your feedback on it! Enjoyed it? Planning to follow it? Anything you want to add? Share some personal experience, maybe? Head to the comments section and tell me all about it. Happy weekend, everybody!