Should You Plan Your Manuscript?

Generally, there are two extremes for how writers go about writing. Maybe you’ve heard the phrase ‘plotter or pantser’ and wondered what it meant. Basically, a plotter (or a planner) plans before they write, while a pantser “flies by the seat of their pants,” doing little to no planning. For a quick look at the pros and cons of each method, check out this link.

Screen Shot 2017-06-01 at 3.22.28 PM
From National Novel Writing Month’s website

I believe there is a lot of wiggle room between the two extremes and dislike the negative stigmas attributed to each group. Plotters/planners simply break the creative work into two stages, planning and writing. There is nothing confining about working from an outline. As it’s creator, you can change it or ignore it at any time. Pantsers might not construct tight, well-paced narratives on their first drafts, but that’s easily fixed with a good amount of revision. (For a great in-depth look at both types check out this article)

Here’s the thing. I hate editing. It’s tedious and usually puts me in a bad mood. When I see major problems in my completed manuscripts, I’d rather do massive rewrites than meticulously go through line by line fixing it. Alright, I might be exaggerating a little, but here are two examples that make me think I’d rather be a planner:

  1. I participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time last November and didn’t want to get stuck halfway through. So, I made a short list of the major events in the story, an outline if you will, and came up with all my character and place names before November 1st. Without really trying, I ended up speedwriting the whole thing in the first two weeks. Check out my post How to Write 40k Words in 10 Days for more info.
  2. For the manuscript I wrote earlier this year, I did all the planning in my head. I didn’t write a thing down. A few weeks in, I got stuck. I knew what was coming next but didn’t know how best to get there. After a few weeks of hardly writing anything and hating everything I wrote, I challenged myself to quickly write 10k words and was able to get the ball rolling again. tumblr_mt7hyenaaf1qkmiy9o2_250New characters were invented that became key to the story, and suddenly, I found myself writing about surfing and Aussies. Talk about pantsing it! Unfortunately, the shift in the story from that writing-sprint forward means a LOT of revision will be necessary to make the whole thing more cohesive, well-paced, and keep other characters from disappearing for long stretches.
  3. This is really 1B: part of point one but placed in chronological order. When I went to edit my Nanowrimo story, I was surprised to find that it didn’t need a whole lot of editing, definitely not much in the way of developmental editing. Writing the story quickly made the whole thing inherently more cohesive and less prone to plot holes. Even though I added new scenes that I hadn’t planned for in my original outline (pantsing in the midst of the plotting), the structure of the story was still great. I really could talk about how wonderful this manuscript is all day. I don’t see it as self-aggrandizing because I know my most recent manuscript really, really sucks compared and will need tons of editing.

THEREFORE, I  have been leaning toward plotting over pantsing lately. (1) The writing goes faster when you plan. (2) The revision process is lighter. (3) The entire project goes smoother and faster, and (4) you end up feeling more satisfied and more accomplished when you’re done.

We all know what it’s like to think we are terrible writers who should just give up. For me, editing my crappy writing is the easiest way to get into that mindset. So if I can avoid those thoughts, why wouldn’t I?

I believe there is a happy medium for every writer and every project. What works for one manuscript, might not work for another. What works for one writer, might not work for another. But if you hate editing, struggle with writer’s block, or want to write faster, give planning a try. You might love it.

If you want to try planning/plotting/outlining your next manuscript, here are some great video resources to get your mind rolling in the right direction:

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fcnholmberg%2Fvideos%2F1406151746113144%2F&show_text=0&width=400

If you don’t want to watch the entire Dan Wells lecture (five vids about 10 minutes each), definitely watch video four, starting exactly 7 minutes in, where he starts talking about subplots. Follow it into video five where he gives an example of weaving plot and subplots together. It’s AWESOME.

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7 thoughts on “Should You Plan Your Manuscript?

  1. Having tried both ways, I definitely prefer to operate closer the plotter end of the continuum than to the pantser end. Having said that, I can’t plan everything before I start writing because I get bogged down and never get around to starting, plus some of my best ideas comes from little sparks of inspiration that appear as I write. With my next book, a sequel to the current one, I think I’m going to try writing a fairly comprehensive plan first and then speed-writing, perhaps in chunks of 25-30k words, or a quarter of my intended total length.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That sounds exactly like me! I don’t think it needs to be one way or the other, and I agree, it’s no fun to over plan. I LOVE those sparks of inspiration that hit while drafting! They make the manuscripts richer I think because you’re realizing something about what you created and letting it guide you. And yay for speed writing! I wanted to write a whole post about it because I think it’s awesome. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post! I used to be a full-on pantser but these days I’m a happy medium. I like to know where I’m going but not exactly how I’ll get there. The unplanned surprises that happen on the way are often my favourite moments. Weirdly, though, once they’re written they often seem so essential that perhaps I’d unconsciously planned them all along.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s awesome!! I definitely think somewhere in between the two extremes is the best place to be 😉 And that feeling when it all comes together perfectly is amazing!! Maybe your subconscious IS secretly helping you along! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I am still trying to find the balance between plotting out and improvising. I know someone who writes out half of her novels, and then goes back and plots the rest out. I have tried plotting things out a couple of times, but was unsuccessful in finishing the novel. By the way, I love, love your surfing Aussies.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yay for loving the surfing Aussies! 😀 Thank you!

      I think each manuscript might need to be approached differently too. I mean an action movie and a coming of age movie are very, very different. Writing those two stories should entail a completely different process too. An action/adventure driven story would benefit from extensive planning and plotting to keep the pace good, but a character driven story might suffer and feel contrived with too much planning.

      Liked by 1 person

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