1st Time NaNoWriMo Observations: Pansters vs. Planners

So like a good little NaNoWriPar (National Novel Writing Month Participant) I’ve been following my local activity threads on the NaNoWriMo website. The first thing I notice is that there are few first-time participants like myself and these seem to me much younger than me. Oh well. C’est la vie. I didn’t get into this to hang out with any particular crowd. Our Municipal Liason (ML) is the owner of a local book store in her tenth year of doing NaNoWriMo. In an event where it seems that one is considered a winner simply by finishing, this seems to be big deal. And believe me, finishing, is no easy feat. We are talking 50,000 words in 30 days (November 1 – 30). Around 300,000 writers will participate and about 10% will actually finish. Pray for me people. Pray really, really hard!

An interesting dichotomy has garnered more of my attention as of late that is basic to writing and yet nonetheless fascinating. It is the division of the “pansters” and the “planners” otherwise known as “plotters” (suddenly I’m hearing the battle of the pugs and the poms from the musical Cats in my head). It’s not a new concept and much has been written on the subject. Basically, some writers write by the seat of their pants, throwing everything out there and seeing what ends up sticking during the rewrites, yes plural, meaning several. Obviously if you throw so much spaghetti at the ceiling, you’re going to have to clean it up. Others, opt for a more organized approach, these are the planners. Planners write outlines, make meticulous character development charts, create complicated story trees, map plot points, and basically leave as little to chance as possible. There are pros and cons to both approaches making neither one necessarily right or wrong except in the eye of the person doing the actual writing.

Pansters experience the divine art of creation through sheer imagination. A panster doesn’t think about where the story is going, how many scenes it’s going to take to develop each chapter, whether or not he is hitting plot points at the right time or if the character that just appeared out of nowhere is actually necessary to the story or what kind of ice cream she likes. Pantsters just write. In fact, the less thinking there is, the better. This allows for a purer channel for the story to come through and pantsters live on a kind of faith that their characters will come through and introduce themselves in all their idiosyncratic glory when the time is right. Of course this means tons of work on the tail end in the form of re-writes, but allows for a free and flexible flow of creativity. Sometimes pantsters don’t even know how a book is going to end until they are quite a ways into it. Hence the pantster runs a high risk of getting hopelessly lost in the big, scary forest of a story of her very own making <shiver>.

Planners/Plotters on the other hand, plan as much as possible on the front end of a project. They are the ones busy making outlines, developing story trees, mind-mapping and using any number of other ingenious organizational tools to map out a book long before any actual writing begins. By the time a good planner is finished with her planning, why, the book has nearly written itself. Unfortunately, writing this way doesn’t leave a lot of room for creative flexibility and when new material shows up that doesn’t fit into the paradigm of the world already built, it often must be scrapped or tabled for use somewhere else rather than be explored. However, Planners usually have little to do once the first draft is written as they’ve already planned out the entire thing and know how everything is going to turn out.

Who are these pantsters and plotters? Well, I’m about to drop some heavy duty, maybe even surprising names on you here:

Pantsters

Stephen King –

Preeminent “King” of horror, notorious pantster

Ray Bradbury –

Science fiction writer extraordinaire, pantster

Kim Olgren –

NaNoWriMo participant, multi-genre writer and blogger, pantster (okay, maybe not that big of a name…yet)

Planners

Charles Dickens –

Master Storyteller, planner

Edgar Allen Poe –

Yes, really, despite spending most of his time in one intoxicated state or another, planner

J.K. Rowling –

as with many fantasy writers, planner

Most writers fall somewhere in between the two. pantsters might use some plot points or a loose outline and many planners are not nearly as structured and rigid as the tools of the trade may indicate. However, I’m learning that many pantsters and planners are quite passionate about their particular approach to writing.

If you are a writer, which method do you prefer? Are you a pantster, riding the wave of the story and seeing it through to the end? Or are you a planner/plotter, putting things together with an end already in mind? Why does your particular method work so well for you?

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Demons, and Heros, and NaNoWriMo…Oh MY!

Not so long ago I was in the midst of finding a new job and trying to solve some nasty medical issues while my daughter and two precious grandkids moved into our house doubling the headcount overnight. Fast forward five months and now I’m feeling healthier than I have in a long time, all the “kids” are still here, I found a full time job, and I’ve joined NaNoWriMo. What? Nanowhomo? Nanowhatnow? I know, I’m beginning to see it too, I may just be a glutton for punishment. Before all this I spent four years working full time while going to school full time to earn a degree that has recently become absolutely meaningless to me (no, I will not discuss the financial implications of this).

I have always been a somewhat introspective person and it only took one simple question to turn my whole psyche, not to mention my world, upside down. I hate it when that happens! So now that you’re dying to know how one little question turned a grounded, down-to-earth, professional, level-headed, practical gal into a mental, gelatinous pile of goo I’ll tell you what the seemingly innocuous inquiry was.

“What if there is no retirement?”

That’s it. Six simple words, “What if there is no retirement?” Did I freak out because our 401k is nonexistent after stints of unemployment for both me and my hubby? No. Did I lose it because I had just realized there will likely be no Social Security when I reach “retirement” age? Nope. It was much more horrifying that that. Something went off in my soul. My heart felt stifled, I couldn’t breathe for a moment, and for once, my ego had absolutely nothing to say. In that moment of pure clarity and suspended time I realized something big. No, something HUGE. Suddenly and large part of my life lost all meaning entirely, which left an opening for a true and passionate calling. No matter how terrified I was, there it was, plain as the nose on my face.

I couldn’t keep doing what I’ve been doing only to get what I’ve been getting and I certainly didn’t want to live… be…die…”retire” living the life I was living. Suddenly Peter Gibbons voice is in my head from the movie Office Space and I’m thinking every day I have to go into the office is the worst day of my life. Guess what? It is, and there’s nothing I can do about that right now. However, I can’t undo what I’ve seen and it’s funny how being really sick forces you to take a look at your life and figure out what your real priorities are.

Enter NaNoWriMo.org. Before this major epiphany I had resigned myself to being “okay” with the slow and constant drudgery that is my life with maybe an occasional vacation, but now that I know what I know, it has become slow torture leading to certain death. Think I’m overdramatizing? Show me someone who has heard his or her true calling and I’ll show you someone who would wither and die on any other path. I had begun writing a novel several months ago but it has been slow going as I learn a new job and juggle a house full of six people while trying to find the time to write.

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. It is put on by The Office of Letters and Light. You can go to the website NaNoWriMo.org for more information. What NaNoWriMo participants do is write the rough draft of a novel, all 50,000 words, in one month from November 1 to November 30. Gah! Yep. This writer is going to attempt a 50k novel in 30 days working full time with six people in the house! Go me! This is my first time at NaNoWriMo, so I’m doubly nervous and excited. If you are a writer and have always wanted to write a novel but procrastination, fear, or whatever other excuse you’ve made has stopped you, maybe you’ll want to check NaNoWriMo out to get your feet wet.

Once I realized that every day was going to be the worst day of my life until I could get out of the cycle of going to a j-o-b every day I had to move. I had to set things in motion to be and do more, to create a life with more meaning and to give meaning to what I do day in and day out.

All that said, I am ever so grateful to my employer for giving me the means to pay the bills and I work for some wonderful people who will still be wonderful without me pushing papers around for them once I’m ready to become free. Even the caterpillar has to take it on faith that it will become a butterfly because it basically becomes caterpillar soup in that chrysalis before a beautiful butterfly is formed and bursts from it. I am stepping out in faith that out of the soupiness of what’s gone before, I’m changing into something different, something beautiful and someone who can offer the world a little something more. The demons of the past will meet the heroes of the future on the field at NaNoWriMo. Stay tuned.

How about you? What was your epiphany? Your wake-up call? Are you still trying to figure out what you want to be when you grow up? I felt that way for a long time. How did you know when the defining moment had arrived?