NaNoWriMo and the Planner, Pantser, Plantser Model

“I think there are two types of writers, the architects and the gardeners. The architects plan everything ahead of time, like an architect building a house. They know how many rooms are going to be in the house, what kind of roof they’re going to have, where the wires are going to run, what kind of plumbing there’s going to be. They have the whole thing designed and blueprinted out before they even nail the first board up. The gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. They kind of know what seed it is, they know if they planted a fantasy seed or mystery seed or whatever. But as the plant comes up and they water it, they don’t know how many branches it’s going to have, they find out as it grows. And I’m much more a gardener than an architect.”

― George R.R. Martin

Hello Lovelies, welcome back to the blog. In this #PrepTober article I want to go over something that, to my knowledge, was coined by NaNoWriMo, but has been a prevalent idea in the writing community for some time now.

Do you plot your novels out before writing them? Do you start writing with just the ideas in your head and see where the stories and characters lead? Are you maybe somewhere in-between plotting only a few scenes ahead, or just the major points and then building the plot by writing between them?

A Planner is someone who, according to NaNo, believes in rigorous preparation. In the quote above, you’d be called an Architect. You might also be called a Plotter, or perhaps an Outliner. When you start writing on November 1st, you’re likely to have an outline in hand, or at least a ton of helpful notes.

A Pantser is the opposite. Martin would say you are a Gardener. You might have also heard yourself described as a Discovery Writer. If you pants it, you enjoy freedom and spontaneity. On November 1st, you’ll be likely to start with just a blank document and your imagination.

A Plantser mixes the two types of writers in a third, different type of writing category. In typical black and white applications, this third gray category doesn’t really exist. Being a plantser means you probably start your novel on November 1st with some things figured out, but with plenty of room for your characters to go off grow on their own.

These terms are constructs in as far as they are subjective and totally conceptual, yet using these terms, we can predict and design our best writing lives. This can be particularly helpful to know about about yourself if you want to do NaNoWriMo this year.

If you’re a planner and you have to write 100,000 words to complete a High Fantasy novel, you must at least have a detailed outline that covers the first half of your novel. If you are a pantser, you probably need to be brainstorming several scenes and writing your ideas out over a few notecards so you remember them when you need to. As a plantser, you need to have your major beats in place using whatever story or character arc structure you are using.

Knowing the way you like to create that works best for you is essential to winning NaNoWriMo. Even if you aren’t participating this year, being aware of yourself can tell you so much.

For instance, if you plan a lot before hand, you “frontload” the work of writing the novel. Planners typically fix plot holes before they write 30,000 words and realize their story or character arcs are broken. They produce cleaner drafts, with less revisions. Planners want to know all their story elements by heart before they write a single word. For a planner, this is soothing. The joy isn’t necessarily in the drafting process, but in putting each piece in its rightful place.

Pantsers, on the other hand, do all the hard work on the “backside” (pun intended). They fix broken story things during or after writing a draft, proclaiming that they need to know what the story’s about before they can do anything about it. They often go through multiple drafts, and multiple editing rounds to fix what they didn’t understand about their story before they wrote it. And for many pantsers, the joy for them is discovering what their story is about as it unfolds for them in real time.

I am pretty solidly a plantser.

My first novel I pantsed, got six chapters in, got stuck. Tried again. Got a few more chapters. Realized it was a two book story. Planned the ending of novel two, sort of, with three possible endings. Pants out a zero draft. Got bogged down in revisions for way too many years. Admittedly, I was not good at pantsing, I was simply excited to start my writing journey so I went in with no experience or knowledge or skill and muddled my way through the entire draft. It was painfully slow for me. This isn’t a critique of pantsers. True pantsers aren’t bad at pantsing through their novels like me. However, knowing I’m decidedly not good at pantsing was invaluable.

I have also planned my novel scene by scene down to the smallest detail, which, for me personally, was boring and soul-crushing when I was trying to bang out the draft. It was my first NaNo win because every day I just sat down and wrote however many scenes got me to my daily word count goal, but there was no joy in it because I felt like there was no room for error or deviation. Once again, I learned something. I don’t like planning either. Again, not a critique, because true planners thrive when they have a path already laid out before them to walk. I’m just not at my best when planning too much.

So I’m a plantser. A hybrid. I have my big scenes for story and character arcs. I know what beats I’m supposed to hit and I kind of know what will happen in those scenes. Sometimes I even outline my beat scenes a few days or sometimes well in advance. A lot of times, my “outline” consists of just some general notes.

In one beat of my #WiB novel, the note says, “A plan Audrey mentally tallies. Keep it secret, obviously. She needs to get her car back to better investigate the truth. Investigate the pocket watch. Question James about why he knows so much.” It doesn’t tell me where this scene is happening, who else is in the scene with her, how she thinks she’s going to figure any of this mystery out. When I go to write this scene, I know exactly what needs to happen, but I can discover how it unfolds as I write the scene.

For me, this is the best of both worlds. It covers my beats so that I’m not writing a broken story, but leaves me free to explore things and be flexible at the same time.

So which one are you? Are you a planner, pantser, or plantser? How does knowing your specific process help you write more efficiently? Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? Let us know in the comments below!

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