If you’ve ever written a novel, you’ll know it’s no easy feat. In fact, if you’ve ever written anything, it’s not easy. But I’m focusing on novels in particular, because that’s what I tend to write most of the time.
Now don’t get me wrong – there are a lot of pitfalls and places to trip up while writing a book. But one of the biggest decisions is whether to flat out write the damn thing – ‘pants’ it – to completely write with abandon, no plan, to plunge into the writing head-on, or to meticulously plan every last detail before you start writing.
Which one is better?
In my experience, it’s a much better idea to plan. In my post ‘5 Lessons from my First Novel‘, I talked about my first time writing for Nanowrimo. “Wrimo’s” (or, people who participate in Nanowrimo) will be familiar with the old “plan or pants” dilemma. For some, pantsing works just fine. For others, planning is the way forward.
Now, my advice would be to plan. Of course, it doesn’t work for everyone… but I pantsed my first Nano, and let me tell you – you write yourself into a hole. You might have some idea where you’re going for the first couple of thousand words, but eventually you’ll run out of a) steam and b) plot, and you’ll write yourself into a corner. You’ll end up with more plotholes than you can reasonable sew up in editing, and you’ll make the whole process a lot harder for yourself.
I mean, if you like a challenge, then that’s probably the way forward for you.
But I run best on well-laid plans. I’m not saying I plan right down to the last detail – of course not! What else would there be left to write? Instead of spending all my time working out what type of tea they were drinking when they’re discussing the will, well… to be honest, most of those details come out in the writing, if you’ve got it in your head. If you know your characters, their little quirks will emerge while you’re writing your first draft. You’ll know some of these quirks, and others will jump out to surprise you. Sometimes they’re at odds with what you imagined – sometimes they work, other times they don’t.
Someone recently told me they’d finished reading Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’. Aye, I agree – very good book for people who want a bit of writing advice before they get stuck in. I mean, the man is a master of his craft. He churns out books like sweatshops make pants. But he’s not gospel. He does recommend not planning too much, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with planning. King probably does plan to a certain extent. He’ll have certain details worked out before he starts his first draft. But he still plans. And it’s to the level and extent to which you plan which is the really important part.
For me, I plan characters, plot, and scene order. I have an idea of where the scene will start and what happens in that scene. Trust me, it usually saves you a lot of time later on when you’re editing.
But my true advice is to find out what works for you. The more you write, the more you’ll get a sense of what you work with best. For blog posts, I have the ideas. When I sit down to write one, I’ll decide on the topic for that week and sometimes make brief bullet points of what I want to say in that post. Sometimes those points stay in my head and I don’t need to write them down. I do the same for essays, even emails sometimes (if I cross over into novel-length territory…). But planning helps with a lot of things. I think if you’re the type of person who likes organisation and a clear goal of what to aim for every day, a plan is important to keep you on track.
Don’t be afraid to plan, don’t be afraid to break off from that plan. It’s only a guideline as much as you make it be. You’re not restricted by yourself. If your plan is too strict, par it down. If it’s too loose, hash out some more details. You can switch up what you’re doing at any point. You’ll find your style of planning and writing one way or another. And your routine will help you to work wonders.