Five reasons why you need planning in NaNoWriMo 2015

I’ve been posting about ways of keeping free-form creativity going while still keeping on track in NaNoWriMo. Or – indeed – on track in anything you’re writing.

Writing fuel!
Writing fuel!

That doesn’t avert the need to plan, though. Planning pays dividends – big dividends – when you’re working to timeline.  Here are five reasons why.

  1. Planning keeps you on track. It means the story doesn’t wander, and it’ll have the right structure. Even if you revise the words later, that first-time-right structure means a LOT less re-writing, later.
  2. If you’ve got a plan, you’ll usually do the ‘creative writing’ part a lot faster, because you’ve already done the hard work figuring out where the story’s going and how it will develop. That’s vital for any writer on a deadline.
  3. Plans act as a ‘bad first draft’. You can shake out the wrinkles from the story before it’s written. Guess what – that means more productivity to time.
  4. With a plan, if you dry up at one part of the story you can jump to another. Maybe things will flow better there. Then back-fill. It’s a productivity trick made easy by word processors. And planning.
  5. Plans force you to have the whole story in mind before starting – which means you can focus on the closer details when writing, instead of struggling with strategic direction.

Plans don’t have to be hugely detailed, of course – as we’ve seen, a skeletal plan is often enough to act as a guide, and you can go off and do the fun free-form creativity around it.

But what happens when you get the proverbial Good Idea half-way through? One that just HAS to be written into the story?

Well – there are things to do there, too. Strategies that might not derail productivity – you know, the NaNo word count. More about that soon.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015


13 thoughts on “Five reasons why you need planning in NaNoWriMo 2015

  1. NaNoWriMo is good practice, but I find it doesn’t work well for my personal work-flow. However, doing it once did help me learn how quickly I can write high-quality material, and the importance of taking time to step back and plan out the next section rather than rushing through. – I wrote the ending one book in a few hours, but it’s taken months to untangle and make into something that’s not a stinking mess.

    1. To me that learning curve is the exact purpose of NaNo. I don’t do NaNo, because I’ve been writing professionally for 30 years and what NaNo offers is an introduction to exactly the skill demanded of that work. (When I started, there wasn’t a NaNo, but I did do formal tertiary courses on writing – and the writing I did outside that was the effective equivalent as an exercise. I still have the typescripts somewhere, although naturally they will Never See The Light Of Day if you get what I mean).

  2. Matthew, since we are on the eve of NaNo 2015, which will be my 11th turn at bat, I’ve devoted some thought to planning vs. pantsing.

    First, I don’t disagree with any of your points. The first point in particular I thought was well put and relevant.

    However, I feel that “pantsing” is an important part of a fiction writer’s education, or rather, self-education. Writing is all about self-education, after all. My writing rules are simple: butt in chair. Fingers on keyboard. Write until you come to “the end”.

    Learning who you are as a writer, though, is like learning who you are as a person. In many ways I see it as a second childhood. You don’t know who the hell you are, and sometimes you have to try on a hell of a lot of costumes until you find the one(s) that fit(s). Pantsing is a good way to do that.

    Is it professional, though? Professional, in the sense that if one wants to achieve a desired effect, if one wants to write for public consumption?

    Ummm…no. Pantsing is the education that results in those pages you keep in a manila envelope, not the ones you show to an agent or a publisher.

    There is a point where you learn pantsing isn’t enough. I’m not sure that it’s something you can teach. I’m inclined to believe that writers come to it on their own, after pain and heartache and rejection and figuring out what they want most in the world.

    What do you want? That’s the question, really, isn’t it? Do you want to have fun, putting one word after the other, playing like a child in a sandbox? Because there’s nothing wrong with that, is there? It’s fun, it’s creative, it’s art in the purest, crudest sense of the word.

    When and how do you decide that isn’t enough? That art has to be deliberate as well as spontaneous? Gosh, if I knew that, I could write how-to books for a living.

    I know where it started for me, and that was NaNoWriMo 2011. I decided I’d write the story of two brothers, Jack and Charlie Davis, pilots in the USAAF. Only the story began in the summer of 1938, despite the really cool prologue I wrote, where Colonel Charlie Davis flew his B-29 on one of the Tokyo fire raids.

    See, it didn’t occur to me on November 1, 2011, that I had 50,000 words to go from Manila in 1938 to Tokyo in 1945. But after I spent 16,000 words and the Davis boys had been in Manila for about a week, it occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, I’d made a wee miscalculation. This, despite the fact that 2011 made the seventh time I made it through NaNoWriMo as a finalist. (That isn’t a boast. It isn’t actually THAT hard to string 50,000 words together, if that’s all you’re trying to do, which is sort of the point, isn’t it?)

    The subsequent 34,000 words are the basis for a novel. That novel will be around 106,000 words. I spent a lot of time researching, outlining, planning, rewriting…a lot of time? How about four years?

    The first 16,000 words? They’re now backstory. Maybe they’ll be a novel someday. Maybe not. I add to the characters and events here and there, sometimes just for fun, sometimes to understand this character or that one. Sometime because I like the place and time I created, and I want to play.

    Hey. They’re MY toys, after all.

    Could adequate planning have prevented this? Sure! But only if I knew what I wanted to do from the beginning. Point is, I didn’t. I hadn’t reached that point in my education.

    Sometimes to know what your story is you have to throw out a lot of ideas, some of which you realize, in retrospect, aren’t related to the story whose vague glimmer shines from the back of your mind.

    I think that as you develop as a writer you develop the faculty to understand the story. Not as an intuitive, inchoate notion, but as a whole. You can’t plan without knowing that; but you can’t be a true professional until you’ve reached that point.

  3. Simply had to share this; most everybody needs to start somewhere and this is going to help a lot of people

    1. Experienced writers can often ‘wing it’ because they have made the structural techniques part of their soul. For the rest of us – and for many experienced writers – planning is the way. As you say, often it need be only a sentence.

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