Every year during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) the discussion of “pantser” (one who writes by the seat of his or her pants) vs. “Planner” (one who outlines in advance) pops up. For the past two years I’ve been boldly promoting the “Planner'” approach:
Reading that post, I sound very convinced and quite smug. Really, there is no one way or best way to write a novel, there’s just the way that works for you. And this year, I’ve joined Team Pantser. Not necessarily because I’ve seen the light, but because I’m being forced to for lack of planning time. As a matter of fact, I can’t even begin until Nov 4, so I’m going to have to haul literary ass to catch up.
I was inspired by a recent discussion on this topic on a speculative fiction writers forum, and we heard from a few pantsers. There’s definitely something to be said for just going for it.
Jennifer (J.R.) Johnson wrote:
I spend no time outlining or researching. For me, the key to success is to achieve and maintain words-on-the-page momentum, and stopping to check an outline or fact just slows me down. In fact, anything that pushes me out of the story slows me down and is therefore banned from November.
Normally my system involves coming up with a basic idea (ok, a character and a situation) pretty much the night before. November 1st rolls around and I start writing. In the evening I spend about five minutes wondering where the story is going, scribble down a few notes about the most outrageous developments I can think of, then go to bed. Rinse and repeat:)
If the writing is slow I know I’m boring myself, so it’s time to throw in something crazy like ninjas (or whatever the equivalent is in your particular story)…
I think the success of NaNoWriMo depends on using it to fix whatever has been stopping one from writing … the two big advantages for me were giving myself the daily deadline and forcing myself to keep moving forward rather than stopping to endlessly rewrite the same paragraph over and over again until finally making enough progress to realize the paragraph/scene doesn’t belong in the book….
I always start with a vague idea of where the book is going — I’ve usually had fragments of scenes, some characters in my head for awhile—and just launch into it . . . when things slow down, I try to throw something new at my protagonists to keep them hopping…
… But—and this is important— putting this pressure [of the NaNo] on oneself shuts down internal critic, so images and plot twists and characters pop out of nowhere, things I couldn’t possibly force out of my subconscious if I allowed the boys downstairs a moment’s thought. So what happens is, in desperation to feed the wordcount, they hand anything brainstormed out the door, and some of it is way better than you get thinking about it. I often over think stuff and always over critical to the point of cutting off ideas before they have had a chance to develop into something workable. NaNoWriMo forces one to just go with it and see what works. So…that can often be very helpful
Help for the NaNo Panicked Part One
If you’ve never done the NaNo, it’s a pretty unique experience. And there’s more to participating in NaNoWriMo than simply writing an entire novel in a month, although that’s pretty cool. There’s also the community, the dialogue, the sense of purpose, and the support. Oh, and the fun.