I know I’ve talked about how I’ve slowly evolved from a pantser into a planner (although still not an outliner), but I’ve been wondering recently if making that switch from pantser to planner has actually made it easier for me to write books. The short answer: Maybe.
Here’s the long answer. There are things that planning out books before I write them (by which I mean having a working synopsis and character goals/turning points before I dive into drafting) has helped me with.
Back in my pantsing days, I would often abandon projects when they got too hard. But now that I have a plan for the story, I find that I can push myself to keep going because I know where the story needs to end up, even if I’m not sure how I’ll get there. (And, of course, writing on deadline is a big motivator, too.)
-Making Fewer Missteps
My first book, My Very UnFairy Tale Life, had to go through several HUGE revisions because I’d had absolutely no plan when I was drafting it. I’m happy with how the book ultimately turned out, but I spent most of my revision time undoing what I’d done in those earlier drafts. Now I spend less time undoing and more time improving what I have.
-Seeing the Bigger Picture
I used to really struggle with figuring out what my characters wanted, what was driving them, and how that all related to the overall plot. Now I make sure to figure all those things out first before I get too far into the drafting process. (I won’t launch into another infomercial for The Anatomy of Story, but seriously, I would be lost without it.) That doesn’t mean my initial plans are always right, though. Sometimes I get partway through the manuscript and realize that the character’s wants and needs aren’t working, and then I have to go back and rework them.
ON THE OTHER HAND…
Does this all mean writing books has gotten easier? As I said above, maybe. My confidence in my ability to finish projects in a timely manner has increased, partly because I’ve proven to myself that I can do it and partly because I know that if I get stuck, I have certain tools that I can use to help me keep going.
But the process hasn’t really gotten easier; I just spend more time focused on different things now. Instead of forging ahead and writing aimless chapters that I’ll probably have to cut later, now I try to think through what I’m going to write before I write it. Surprises still pop up all the time, which is part of the fun, but it rarely feels like the book is completely out of my control.
Then again, the past few weeks, I’ve been struggling with a revision that simply wasn’t coming together. Finally, I realized that the plan I’d had for the book had been flawed from the beginning. I had to go back and think about how to make things stronger and more dynamic. Then I wound up scrapping a lot of scenes and putting in several new ones. I was reminded that you can make missteps anywhere, no matter how organized you are.
Bottom line: You can plan as much as you want, but writing is an art. Sometimes you’ll get stuck or have to backtrack or want to cry into your chocolate. I don’t think there’s any way around that. But I’m honestly glad I’ve become more of a planner because, as I said earlier, it gives me more of a sense of control. And in something like writing, which is done so much by feel and intuition, it’s nice to have at least one solid thing to cling to.
How about you guys? Has planning ahead made writing any easier?