Pantsers vs Plotters During NaNoWriMo: How to Plan for Success
In high school, you were the English major who skipped the day they taught outlining. You refuse to read “How to Plot Your Novel” articles. The very idea of an outline to guide your story makes you break out in hives.
Does this sound like you? Then you might be a pantser. For those who have never heard the term before, a pantser is a writer who writes “by the seat of their pants” using no outline; one who lets the story and its characters lead the way.
For such things as NaNoWriMo, you could wing it like you always do (you’d be in good company!) but consider this time, especially as Week 2 approaches, creating a little structure to help you succeed. As a 7 time WriMo (A person who participates in NaNoWriMo) and a die-hard pantser, I can tell you for a fact that you’ll be wishing you did at some point this month (I even offer some tips for surviving NaNo here.). Does this mean you need to create a full blown outline?
You can stop scratching now. The answer is no. You don’t need a full blown, detailed outline to succeed, but here’s 3 reasons why changing up your routine can help you succeed NaNoWriMo. (Veronica Roth shares some great advice here.)
A Gentle Nudge
Week 1, the ink drips from the pen, and the words fly onto the page. Making your daily word count is easy, you’ve managed to settle into your routine, and you feel pretty confident in your ability to meet that 50k word count.
Week 2 roars in, and suddenly, the writing isn’t flowing as smoothly. You’ve used up all your ink, and your muse is silent. You go back and skim through what you’ve already written. Despite the warning not to, you’re editing because it kills you not to. Suddenly, you’re getting behind in the word count. Panic sets in.
Stop! First, stop editing. Second, leave your NaNo project and just go write something else, even a grocery list. After you’ve done that, open a new doc or a fresh sheet of paper. Grab your pencil. We are going to borrow from the plotters to get back on track. Why? Because that outline they so carefully created in October? It’s keeping them writing. It’s giving them the gentle nudge they need daily to keep typing, staying on point within the story (even if it does waver a little). Here’s one of those advantages I mentioned earlier.
Now, it’s not too late to salvage your planning and get back on track. Take that fresh page and jot yourself some notes based on where your story has gone so far. Maybe even work up a set of flashcards like Sofia Wren suggests. They don’t need to be specific, even just leaving yourself a bunch of possibilities in direction works.
Who dies next? How do they die? Will Amber leave Fred and if she does, how will she do it? In this scene, Joe gets in a fight with Delilah. What happens to their relationship from there? Will he need to bend over backwards to win her back or will she forgive and forget. Find a way to bring back the argument and resolve it. Focus on Amber. Introduce a new character/plot/dilemma.
It’s pretty much endless, and while it’s unstructured, it does give you something to fall back on. It’s a gentle nudge in the right direction. You can get more ideas on simple plotting that won’t make you pull your hair out from Letitia Jones, a NaNoWriMo forum moderator. Her article is all about keeping it simple.
Filling in the gaps
Another advantage plotters have during NaNo is they know where they need to fluff, or fill in the details. Details move the story along and also boost your word count without causing a lot of unnecessary pain when NaNo is over and you have to edit that manuscript. Because they’ve carefully plotted out each step, they can afford to stop and speculate on how to make each scene richer, how to create that movie playing in the reader’s head.
With some semblance of structure, you’ve already got your characters lined up. You’ve decided on the world your characters exist in. You have an idea of how they get from A to B, and B to the end. You’ve got some conflict, a little chaos. Having something to guide you day by day not only helps you fill in those gaps and breathe life into the story, but it also helps keep you on track. Yes, you can write too much and be as purple as you want during November, because in December, January, and so on, you’ll have a chance to fix it. So go all out and tell us what color highlights hit which strand of hair, and how each thread on her cotton candy pink tunic is actually a different shade. Fill in the small details with items on a shelf (you never know. That bottle of Tylenol you left on the destroyed pharmacy’s shelf could actually come into play later.) The more you fill in now, the less you’ll have to fill in later, and the better your writing mojo becomes. You won’t need to stop to go back and mark this section or make a notation on that page. You get to just write.
And probably the most important advantage a plotter has over us pantsers:
You wouldn’t take a vacation with your kids without doing some research into the location and planning some semblance of activity, even if you’ll let things fall as they will. You go on that vacation equipped with the knowledge of what, where, and how, so figuring out the when is a lot easier once you arrive. Preparing a writing map for yourself is the same thing. It lets you continue writing, adding in the when as needed, without needing to stop and mull over the next scene, or wonder if such and such could actually be there. You’ve got your basics, created your foundation, now all you have to do is write your heart out. Fill the pages with what comes between and navigate your way straight to the end.
NaNoWriMo is not for the weak at heart. It most certainly is a challenge, and one worthy of meeting. Get all those myths about NaNo out of your head. Take a minute and set yourself up for week 3 when the holidays interrupt your flow. Take the less stress route, create a little something something, even if you never look at it. After all, isn’t it better to have and not need, then to need and not have?
What tricks do you use to keep your writing mojo during NaNo? Are you a pantser or a plotter, or somewhere in between? Tell us about your NaNo project and how you write in a comment.
A published author with a knack for twisted tales, Stephanie Ayers is the Executive Creative Director of OWS Ink, LLC, a community for writers and readers alike. She loves a good thriller, fairies, things that go bump in the night, and sappy stories.
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