I'm a planner. I have a bullet journal and before that I always had some kind of planner or notebook jammed into my bag. I research every decision to death. I write to do lists for work, for my personal life, for blogging, for just about everything. So, why did I think I could fly through NaNoWriMo by the seat of my pants? In short, because I thought that my obsessive planning might stifle the spark of my story.
If you've read any books on writing craft at all, you are familiar with the idea that there are two basic types of writers: plotters and pantsers. Plotters are the planning type who plot out novels, do research, write character profiles, carefully plan out the beats within their stories. Plotters can do this with varying levels of detail, but a plotter needs to spend some time pre-writing. Pantsers just go for it with reckless abandon. Maybe they have some idea of the major plot points they want to hit, maybe they don't, but they spend little, if any, time pre-writing or planning. For some reason, I thought that I, with my bullet journal and habit tracker, was a pantser.
In all fairness, in the past I've always written for my own amusement and let a story meander its way along until I'd found that I had written myself into a corner. Up until this year's NaNoWriMo, I had never finished a novel-length work before. So, I assumed that the pantser approach I had always taken would work out just fine. It didn't.
Stephen King says in his book, On Writing, that he believes that "... plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren't compatible." If that is the same for you, then that is great! Keep doing what works for you. If, however, you are anything like me, failing to plan could leave you feeling like you are lost in the woods instead of ready to explore. I love Steven King, but I just can't write in the same way he does.
Over the course of NaNoWriMo, my failure to plan appropriately meant that I had to keep pulling myself away from the writing to figure out plot or character details I could have easily planned in advance. I often found myself sitting at the computer thinking, "What next?". When I had a clearer idea of what I wanted a scene to be, I could just let the writing flow, but all too often I was struggling to connect scene to scene and keep my forward momentum. The result was a draft that is inconsistently paced.
There are a few things that I am working on planning out for my next writing project that I think will help my process immensely:
- Character Profiles - I'm creating profiles for my main characters so I can have a better sense of who they are going into it. I want to be able to have a clearer idea of their voices, personalities, and backgrounds when I begin.
- World Building - This is not some Tolkien-level world building. I am not making up languages or religions, but I am trying to get a sense of what the world my characters live in is like. Where do they fit in the world socially, politically, economically?
- Basic Research - I don't think you need to know everything there is to know about Victorian London if you want to write a book set in that time. But you should know enough that there aren't any glaring errors. Background knowledge or research can help give texture and depth to your story, making your world seem just a bit more real and believable.
- Plotting - Now this is the bit that everyone gets into a tizzy about. Do you need to plan every piece of your novel until the story is done to death before you have even started to write? No. But, plotting out some of the basic events of your story can help you develop a clear rising action, climax, and resolution instead of a meandering story that doesn't really pay off. I want to leave enough room in my plotting to explore tangents, to shake things up if they aren't working, but with enough of a road map to not feel lost.
Instead of killing my enthusiasm for my story, I am finding the planning process really exciting. The more I begin to establish my characters and the world they live in, the more I find myself anxious to start writing. Really, isn't that kind of the point? To be writing a story that you love, that you are excited about, one you can't wait to share? So, whether you are plotting or pantsing, I hope that you are excited and ready to write.