For whatever reason you write, there are usually at least two broad ways to do it. Either you are a planner – someone who plans what they are going to write or you are a pantser. This means someone who is flying by the seat of their pants, or someone who has no plan, they just sit down and write.
Many writers can be both, but many have a preferred method.
I came across this term at the beginning of Nanowrimo in November 2020 and I immediately got it. As someone who frequently just takes a writing prompt and launches herself with it, I get that sometimes it can feel a bit scary, but it is also exhilarating. So, how can you tell which you are? And does it really matter?
If you are a planner:
You like to have an outline.
You might like to have an idea of where the story might end
You might like to plan out a book, chapter by chapter
You might have a special notebook where you plan things out
You might like collecting tools that help you plan such as apps
You might think on a story for a long time before starting to write it
Pros of being a planner:
Easier to begin your writing. You usually have something to write when you start up because you are working to a plan
You know where you are going, so can find interesting ways of getting there
You might have key points in mind for a longer project, such as a novel which will help keep you on track
It is easier to keep going with something when you know the way
Or Someone who likes to fly by the Seat of their Pants
It’s exciting, not knowing where you are going
Some people like to just see where the muse takes them
If you can’t think of something to write, sometimes it is easier just to launch out
You are totally open as to where this thing is going to go
Cons of being a Pantser
It can be hard to start writing on a blank page and even harder if you have no idea what you are going to write
It can make the story uncoordinated or mean that it does not flow as easily
Once you have finished your story it may mean that you need a complete revision of it
You may forget characters’ names or events in the novel and find yourself reinventing the wheel
Which are you?
In the end, it all comes down to personal choice and what works for you. I have tried to start planning my work more but have found that it does not always make for a satisfying story straight away and that it may have needed more work. The stories that I have just sat and written are sometimes more complete stories. That may mean that I prefer more flying by the seat of my pants than planning, but there are times when I have felt that planning is a must.
I first joined Nanowrimo quite a while ago. I had had an idea for a novel for about a year and I managed to write it all during the month. I got the free proof of it, cringed mightily on reading it and shoved it in a drawer, never to see the light of day again.
When I joined Nanowrimo last November, it was a different story: I had no idea what I was going to write. I had spent a few months writing short stories and some had been good, some bad, but I had no idea for a novel, yet here I was, wanting to take part in the novel writing month.
The idea I came up with was spur of the moment, based on a film I had recently seen and in an era I knew very little about. I decided that I would learn on the way. I started the story and managed to write most days, but I did not make the 50,000-word target. I managed around 25,000 words that month. I am now 40,000 words in and I hope to finish this novel soon.
The best of both worlds
Although I began this novel as a pantser, I have, many times, sat down and tried to work out what is happening next. I have kept lists of characters and tried to keep a rough timeline, so I have really had the best of both worlds. I know that the book is going to need some serious rewriting, but I have got to the point when I am enjoying writing it and I know that I am going to finish it. I am then likely to rework it a little before rewriting.
There are other Nanowriting challenges throughout the year. In April and July, they run another two month-long challenges, but this time you set the challenge of how many words you wish to reach. If you are trying to get your writing project off the ground, then this could be a good idea. Check them out and see what you think.