As another Camp Nano draws near, the epic battle of the Planners vs the Pantsers is set to commence. For those of you who count yourselves amongst the proud ranks of the Nanoers- I am sure you have your own strong stance, ready to charge into this battle with pens uncapped to slay your enemies with valiant verbosity.
Now, the Planning vs Pantsing debate really boils down to how you decide to write. Do you like to plot out your story in advance and follow an outline, or do you prefer to wing it, to ‘fly by the seat of your pants?’ Never one to shy away from a challenge, I’ve tried both over the years.
When I started writing, I was a tried and true pantser. Planning seemed like an imposter’s role- if I had every detail plotted out, then what would be the fun in telling the story? I wanted to feel the natural twists and turns, and I balked at the idea that of writing within the confines of a plan. After a few novel attempts I learned a few things. Number one: When I pants, I am far less likely to make it past the first ten or fifteen pages. I run out of steam without my direction, I don’t know which scenes I have to look forward to, and I lose interest constantly having to rack my brain for the next mini adventure. Second- when I did make it past the ten pages- I rambled. A lot. I would fill the void when I didn’t know where my story was going, in hopes that my character’s sudden bout of extended dialog would give me a clue about where they should be going next. Out of that period of my life I think I wound up with one finished project- and about two dozen partially started seeds. They were promising seeds, but without proper care, they were simply languishing on my shelf, just one more item on my to-do list.
I knew it was time for a change, if I ever wanted to feel like an accomplished writer, I needed to mature my style a bit. It was time to level up: it was time to plan.
I was a born planner in my personal life. As nerdy as it may sound, I get a thrill from crossing off items on my daily to-do lists. And I go to bed in shame when there are inevitably a few unfinished items still staring up at me, with what I assume is judgement in their i’s. (See what I did there? That pun is gold- go ahead, feel free to laugh heartily). Planning would be a piece of crumb cake, I would be a natural. So I went out and bought all of the organizational tools I could think of. Binder, loose leaf paper, sticky notes, binder dividers, colored tabs. I was ready to go. I planned everything, running through my story from start to finish, attempting to nail down every little detail. I was excited, it felt like I was adulating all over the place.
And then I started to write. It didn’t take long to realize the error of my ways. You see, in all of my time planning, I had thought of my characters and what they would do in my imagined scenarios. But I had never ‘met’ my characters. Thinking about how they will be, and then seeing how they translate on a page are two very different things in my experience. Through my writing I discover who they are. This method didn’t allow for those variations in personality, nor did it give much credence to any spur of the moment creative decisions that I love to make to develop my story. Planning was a bust. I had tried too hard, I had overshot the goal.
Back to the proverbial drawing board. This is the moment when my true style came into being, the hybrid that has served me well for many years now. I am more of a pantsing planner now (or a planning pantser?). I still have the binder, I still have it sectioned out between my character analyses, world building, and the plot points. But before I start, I only write down the bare bones of the story, a few key plot points that I know I will want to hit, the rest of it remains blank. Think of it like a road trip: I mark the cities I want to stop in at, but I’ll choose which roads to take me there as I’m driving. I get the best of both worlds: creative freedom to follow the story where it chooses to lead me, but I still have a roughly drawn map in my back pocket when I find myself mired down in the pits of writer’s block. If things aren’t lining up perfectly, that’s okay. I will take the time to close any gaps and make stronger connections between a few of those dots when I run back through for editing.There is no right or wrong way to work through your story. You have to experiment and find what works for you. It took me years to find my perfect balance, but I couldn’t be happier.
So where do I fall in the epic battle? Somewhere in the middle- the peace negotiator who needs both sides to survive. So please, my friends, stop throwing pens like they’re arrows, they are much better used on the blank page. What about you? Leave a comment with your own personal style.