NaNoWriMo 2021: Plotting & Pantsing

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is just 2 weeks away! I have been participating in the challenge of writing a 50,000-word novel during the month of November since 2009. I have only “won” twice. The difference between the years that I won versus the years that I didn’t is how successfully I balanced planning versus pantsing. If you are not familiar with the latter term, “pantsing” means writing by the seat of your pants, and in its most extreme form means not relying on any pre-planning such as story idea, character development, or outlining in advance.

I have always thought of myself as a “pantser”, but when I really look at my track record with NaNoWriMo, I realized that my most effective method – the one that resulted in completing the challenge twice – was merging a combination of the two writing methods. When I used the most extreme form of pantsing, I found myself on day one of the challenge struggling to invent a plot and believable characters. I could not connect with the story and wrote myself into a dead end, which ultimately lead to abandoning the challenge.

When I did win the challenge, I had an idea of characters and a general plot ahead of time. While I did not write down any notes or outlines, I spent a good amount of time prior to November thinking about the story. As I wrote during November, I didn’t have as much trouble with writing myself into corners, and as I got to know my characters, they drove the plot forward. Another key was not stopping to edit while writing. I knew that I could do that at a later time.

After the challenge ended, that’s when I spent time editing and revising November’s draft. The result of those two successful NaNoWriMo efforts were the first two books in my now published Lucy Vaughn Mystery series.

But this year I’m trying something new. What if you need more help balancing planning and pantsing? You might want to check out a program called Plottr. I first learned about Plottr this year from an Idaho Writers Guild workshop, but I just purchased my copy of the program this week. It allows you to plan out characters, places, a timeline, and an outline all in one place. I’m still discovering all that the program offers, but I have had a lot of fun with some very basic pre-planning. I haven’t outlined anything detailed since I still want to use my imagination as I write, but it has allowed me to think about some things in advance that I hope will make it more likely I will finish the challenge.

I won’t know until the end of November whether my new approach of merging plotting and pantsing helps me win NaNoWriMo 2021, but I’m excited to find out!

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