You know that there’s value in planning your novel ahead of time, but you just can’t quite make yourself do it. You are not alone! In today’s episode, we talk about the plotter/pantser continuum and how to explore the options for starting a novel in a way that is authentic to your own writing practice, while also challenging some old beliefs you might be able to let go of.
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Today I want to talk about this question of whether or not you have to plan your novel. And the emphasis on have to is key. I’ve talked with many writers in workshops I’ve lead who, well, they really love the idea of having a solid first draft, but they are also really resistant to doing the activities I share with them for intentionally thinking through their story and what they are trying to say.
So before I go any farther into this topic, I want to address the phrase “do I have to.” The answer is no. You don’t have to do anything. If you just want to dive into the writing, piecing scenes together as you go, then please, do that. It’s your story, it’s your writing process, and you can do whatever you want. I’m never going to tell you that you have to do anything.
My goal as a book coach, though, is to help you write your novel in a way that is as efficient and as intentional as possible. In the spirit of that, I’d like to talk again about the pantser vs. plotter debate.
A pantser, in this scenario, is someone who likes to write by the seat of their pants. In other words, they want to follow the inspiration, the muse, etc. It feels creative. It feels passionate and flowing and it taps into that right side of our brain.
Plotters, on the other hand, are those who like to spend time before writing mapping it all out. It feels logical, structured, and productive. For those of us who enjoy a to-do list, it can feel almost heavenly.
On the pantser side, what often gets missed in the early drafts is the structure of the story, and because they then have to go back and revise for that it is a bit less efficient. On the plotter side, what often gets missed is the internal emotional arc, the reason for the story, the beating heart of it.
I see this as two extreme ends of a spectrum, and I think honestly that most of us fall somewhere in between. Perhaps you lean more toward the pantser side, but you have a small inkling that it could be beneficial to do some planning work before you start. But you don’t want to.
And that’s where this question comes from, right? Do I have to plan my novel? You’re basically saying that you want to just write, to feel that inspiration and flow, but a little planning might be good, but you don’t want to do it.
It’s not unlike being told that you have to eat your broccoli before you can have dessert, right? And of course you are going to have resistance to that. That comes from the most primal, childlike part of ourselves. You can’t tell me what to do, lady!
There’s also the issue of this idealized image we have of how art should be created. We have this idea that unless it comes to us from some sort of divine inspiration, then we’re not a real writer or we’re doing it wrong.
So, listen, if you’ve been with me for a while you know by now that the work I do with clients and what I share on this podcast does involve some intentional planning work because I think it’s important. We also know that you are a grown-up, and get to make your own decisions.
Given those two things, I’d like to offer you some questions to think about, and perhaps write your responses to. I’m not here to convince you of anything. What I do want you to do is explore where your resistance to planning your novel is coming from.
Question 1: What do you think writing a novel is supposed to look like?
Question 2: What do you want your experience of writing a novel to be?
Question 3: When you imagine planning your novel, what do you make that mean about you as a writer?
Question 4: When you imagine planning your novel, what do you see as the pros and cons?
If you like the answers, great! Go forth and pants your novel. But if you think maybe those reasons aren’t as strong as you thought, then perhaps you could begin to open yourself up to the idea of intentionally thinking through some key components of your novel ahead of time.
Writers, there are as many different ways to write a novel as there are writers. Just know that everything I share here, and every resource out there for writers, are simply tools in your toolbox. Pick up the ones that work for you and leave the rest. I’ll talk to you next week.