The Writers Circle: Planning or Pantsing

TWC
One of our goals here at Today’s Author is to help all of the writers among us to do what we love to do: write. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by talking to each other and learning from each other.  Our Writers Circle series is designed to do just that – provide a chance for us to discuss writing, editing and publishing questions.

This week’s topic is:

Today we’d like to discuss how you begin new projects.  Do you always make a plan before you start writing the story? Do you fly by the seat of your pants and write whatever comes to mind? Do you use some sort of blended method?  Is your strategy different for longer works than it is for shorter works?

Discuss this topic here in the comments or head on over to the forums to start or engage in a more thorough discussion.

A Pantser in Need of a Plan

It’s day six of NaNoWriMo 2013. Things are not going real well for me so far.  There are several things that are causing this to be a struggle for me this year, some work-related, some life-related and some creativity-related. The work and life issues are “normal”, in a way at least.  But the creativity issues are new and different for me.

The issue is not a lack of ideas for what my 2013 masterpiece should be. Rather, I actually might have too many ideas. There are six brand new novels in my head at the moment, along with one or two “version 2.0” ideas for previous novels.  And they all want to come out all at once.  Which, as you might guess, means that none of them are coming out smoothly (or at all).  I have actually started three novels in the past few days. I got about 2200 words into the first, 1500 into the second and 1148 into the third (so far).  I haven’t yet figure out how to smoothly integrate these three vastly different stories into one so that I can count all of the words toward my 50,000 word goal, but perhaps a method of doing so will come to me soon. Is there a market for a sci-fi-mystery-steampunk-comedy-romance novel set in a fantastical world filled with magical creatures who like coffee and candy corn? Hmmm…

Anyway, the biggest issue for me with NaNoWriMo 2013 has actually been one I’ve never experienced before.  I’ve mentioned the fact that I am an unabashed “pantser” when it comes to writing.  I take a blank page and just start writing, never knowing exactly where I’m going (or even starting) until I get there. I have always written like this and have been successful with it. This strategy comes with a certain level of needing to trust that the “how’s” and the “why’s” of the plot will just kind of work themselves out. And again, they always seem to do that for me.  But for some reason, as I’ve sat down to write each day this month, I am finding my creative mind trying to proactively think about these “how’s”, “why’s” and “what’s”.  It goes something like this:

Me: Okay, so, there’s this awesomely powerful and evil wizard and he needs a sidekick/apprentice but doesn’t like any of the young wizards that are available to him. So he goes out to the real world and picks Sally to be his new minion and she will do his bidding just so that she can learn how to be a magician from him so that she can ultimately defeat her mentor.

The voice in my head: Okay, that’s great! But what is the evil bidding this wizard wants little Sally to do and how does Sally know he’s evil and why is he going outside of the magical realm and what will the end result be when Sally ultimately takes him on.  Oh, and isn’t this a bit too much like “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” or “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” or something?

Or:

Me: So, the land is suddenly cast into complete and total darkness for 13 months, as has happened every 150 years for all of recorded history. The evil marauders from the northern Darklands invade, again, as they have done every 150 years… enslaving the good people of the southern lands, stealing their food supplies and drinking their treasured coffee.  The Chosen One among the good people of the south will rise up, as he or she has done each time this has happened, to push back the invaders and restore peace and harmony to the world.

The voice in my head:  Okay, but what causes this darkness and why does it repeat every few generations. If it repeats so often, wouldn’t the people of the south have, oh, you know, built up defenses against the invading forces? I mean, come on… they should be smart enough to anticipate that this is going to happen by now? And if they’re dumb enough not to anticipate it… well, maybe they don’t deserve the coffee they treasure so much. Oh, and, isn’t the premise of this just a little bit like “Nightfall”?  Just sayin’.

Or:

Me: Okay, so there’s this vampire and—

The voice in my head: Just stop there, dude… the world doesn’t need another vampire story right now.

I’m not saying that I think any of the ideas I have is necessarily destined for the best seller’s list any time soon, but this has never stopped me before. In fact, I’ve never really cared about that when I write.  So why is it that now – when the point is to get words on the page whatever they might be – why  am I now suddenly overthinking it and not just writing? I really don’t have an answer for this, but this feeling of doom is the reason why I do not plan my stories out in advance.  I’ve always felt that if I were to attempt to be a planner, I’d get to a point in my outline and get stuck, then abandon the project completely.  And that’s where I feel I am with these novels right now: stuck and ready to abandon them.  The trouble is that my mind is in this cycle now where it will not allow me to just start writing without thinking about the details of the inciting action or problem or the details of how or why it will be resolved.  Unfortunately, I don’t know how to actually think about these things in advance!

So that’s where I am and here’s where I ask for help:  I know a lot of writers are planners to the same extent that I am completely not a planner.  So, how do you do it? How do you look at your worlds/plots/characters and determine – before you really know them – what they will do and how they will react and why they will do things? Do you have any advice for someone who has never figured out the “how’s” and “why’s” in advance? I’d really like to hear from you about this. Also, if you are doing NaNoWriMo this year, how have your first 5 or 6 days gone so far?