On Writing: Planning versus Pansting

When I first stumbled upon NaNoWriMo in 2016, I decided that I was going to write a novel. Through the weeks leading up to November 1st, I carried around my notebook where I kept my outlines, character profiles, setting descriptions… you name it. I’d never considered myself an avid planner when it came to writing my stories, however, it seemed appropriate for this particular story. Perhaps this was due to the fact that I had so many characters to keep track of and details that needed to become more concrete on the page.

Before November of 2016, I’d never heard of the difference between “plotting and pantsing”, which refers to two types of writers that either prefer to plan their novel beforehand or simply sit down and write.

For “Scavenger”, I was most definitely a planner. For that novel, it worked. I found it helpful to have my outline of the plot when I was brainstorming how to get from point A to point B. In contrast, for “Because of India”, I would say that I was more of a panster.

I started with the characters: Edalene, India, and Finnegan. While I recorded a few notes on their basic traits and personalities, I mainly allowed myself to get to know them by simply spending time with them. It sounds strange, but letting the characters take shape and run freely in your mind can be beneficial, especially when you don’t have much time to sit down and plan the entire novel in a notebook.

I did keep notes in my phone that were very unorganized, but they seemed to get the point across enough for me to remember important details or scenes. Then, each night, I would sit down and stare at the blank screen for twenty minutes or so before I began writing. I still chose to set goals for myself. For example, I wanted each chapter to be at least 1,500 words (but preferably more).

So, do I believe that being either a planner or panster is better when it comes to writing? I think that their are benefits to being a little bit of both. Here are some tips that I have from my own experience if you’re looking to be just one.

Planner:

  1. Post-it notes or index cards

  2. This was one of my favorite ways to outline “Scavenger.” Clear a space on your desk or wall or wherever you prefer, but start by making a stack for characters, scenes, settings, etc. These are so easy to shift around if it feels as though something isn’t in the right place and would work better towards the middle instead of the end.

  3. Character profiles

  4. Add as many or as few details as you’d like. Whatever will help you get to know your characters is essential to the writing process. A few things to consider: age, hair/eye/skin color, family, personality traits, quirks, flaws, skills, goals, fears, etc.

  5. Outline in reverse

  6. Start with how you intend to conclude your story. Work backward from there and consider what needs to happen to reach this point.

Panster:

  1. Sit down with your characters

  2. Actually sit down with them. Make some tea and turn on some music, or whatever helps get your creative juices flowing. Introduce yourself. They’re going to be a big part of your life throughout this process, so be sure that you become friends.

  3. Don’t stop

  4. Just keep writing. Don’t worry about discrepancies or typos or anything just yet. You can go back and fix those later. Write as if your life (and your career) depends on it.

  5. Jump ahead

  6. There’s no need to write your novel in sequential order of how you pictured it. If you get stuck (believe me, it happens), just jump a few scenes ahead and give it some time. Your inspiration for those missing pieces will return.

To this day, I wouldn’t categorize myself as either a planner or a pantser. As a writer, you know what’s best for you and your work. Thank you for being interested in what I have to say and I wish you all the best with beginning your new masterpiece or continuing your writing process! 🙂

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