The Pantser Plots: Part 3. #AuthorToolboxBlogHop: 7 things I learned from planning as a pantser

Throughout October I’ve been planning my NaNoWriMo project. As a pantser this is a new experience for me, but I wanted to experiment to see if planning improves my writing.

This month my #AuthorToolboxBlogHop post will cover what I’ve learned from planning, and a few useful tips. The hop is hosted by Raimey Gallant, details of which can be found here:

Click to browse other hop participants.

So without further delay, here’s seven things I learned from planning:

1. Planning can be fun:

There’s no feeling more awesome than getting excited about a project. Planning, or finding images that help visualise characters and locations, can be fun, inspirational even.

Merlin and Arthur best pics
My Merlin and Arthur: In a modern setting. (Images from Pinterest)

It can also be distracting. I spent hours on Pinterest looking at pictures. My guys are going to be so cute! *crazy fan girl moment.*

Tip: Don’t do all the fun stuff at once. Break up plot struggles with image searches! 

2. Planning is hard work:

Now I’ve pulled my crazy fan girl together and locked her up, let’s talk about a serious aspect of planning. It’s hard. I have a short attention span and am easily distracted, but serious planning involves a lot of work and a lot of thinking.

I’m used to writing whatever comes to mind and seeing where the idea takes me. It was hard to think about characters, world building, and plot before I’d written scenes. I usually develop my characters by writing about them.

Preptober progress
Here’s how it’s going so far.

Not all my characters have come out to play yet, and my plot is a problem. I can write short stories with these characters, yet I can’t plot my way out of a paper bag. I’ve sat and stared into space a lot too, but at least I’m doing that now and not in November!

Tip: Try to structure your planning. Having a checklist makes it easier.

3. Planning can make a project less daunting:

I’ve planned five chapters so far, but I can already see how a structured plan will help during NaNoWriMo. I’ll have (hopefully) figured out the plot before NaNo, and won’t have to worry about getting stuck or waffling until I find my way in November! 

Waffling is exactly what happened last November with Dragonspire. I’m now stuck in the middle and can’t write myself out of it. I hope a plan will improve the quality of my writing, stop me getting stuck, and allow me to finish a first draft!

The only novel length piece I’ve finished is fan fiction. Finishing stories is hard!

Tip: Plan your story from beginning to end, no matter how hard it is!

4. You don’t have to plan *everything*:

I quickly came to realise that planning everything would overwhelm me. When I’m overwhelmed I don’t function, so I listed important things to plan and things I’m willing to leave out if I run out of time.

I won’t beat myself up if I don’t get to those things. I’ve managed to write with no plan at all before, so if some parts of my plan are incomplete it’s not the end of the world. If there are details I’m stuck on, I’ll leave them. I don’t have to plan everything before the big day.

Tip: Know your limits. If a long to do list is overwhelming, keep it brief!

5. Simplification is OK:

Sometimes I’ll think of a major plot point, but have no idea how to resolve it. During planning it’s okay to write ‘Arthur saves Merlin.’ You don’t have to know how.

If I got tied up in every detail, I’d never get anything done. Does age matter right now so long as you have a rough idea? Is hair colour essential to the plot? No. Of course not.

Tip: Focus on planning essential details.

6. Planning is time consuming:

Planning is taking longer than I expected. I’ve spent a lot of time staring out the window trying to figure out my plot. I’ll need to lower my expectations when I set my word count targets. I write in 15 minute blocks with 5 minute breaks: 1000 words per hour is realistic. I can sometimes write over 500 words in 15 minutes, but I’m not consistent.

Tip: Set realistic targets. Things usually take longer than you expect!

7. Planning can kill the Pantser?:

The jury’s still out on this one. Normally I write scenes as soon as I think of them. When planning, I’ve forced myself to write single lines summarising a scene. The pantser in me feels stifled. I hope these lines trigger my creativity during NaNoWriMo, but we’ll see.

If I know how a story ends, can I still enjoy writing it?

Another thing that worries me: Planning requires me to think about the end. If I know how my story ends before I start writing I fear I’ll get bored. Perhaps this explains why I’ve found plotting so hard? Tips for planning as a pantser appreciated!

What I’ll try to do for NaNoWriMo:

Avoid planning once November starts. I hope my planning will be good enough to avoid any research tangents or distracted staring out the window moments in November!

Make sure my notes are consistent on the 31st. I have contradictory notes so far (three different ages for one character!) and I need to sort it out.

When things get overwhelming I’ll retreat for a bit and take a break, to a bubble where nothing can touch me but the magic of my WIP. There’s no room for doubts in this space.


Expect things to go wrong: Even with the best planning, things could go wrong. I may end up with less writing on some days and not meet my targets. I need to prepare to be flexible.

I hope my finished plan will allow me to get on with writing during NaNoWriMo, without stopping to think about what my characters will do next. Next week I’ll introduce my plan and my project. After that, updates and inspiration will be weekly in November.

How about you? Are you doing NaNoWriMo? Are you a Pantser or a planner? Do you find planning hard? What do you think we can learn from NaNoWriMo?


    • I’d recommend trying it. It’s so interesting to approach a story in a different way, and so far my fears of getting bored with the project haven’t come true. There’s always Camp NaNoWriMo in April next year, which is a bit more flexible as you choose how many words you want to write 🙂


  1. No. 4 and No. 5 were so spot on and something I definitely needed to read, at this moment in time. I’ve been outlining a novel that desperately needed an outline to get anywhere off the ground, but I still have a couple of questions that I haven’t figured out the answer to, and I’ve used that as an excuse to not start writing the book yet. Yet just because I don’t know those things doesn’t mean I can’t figure it out as I write. Or, I can’t go back and edit the book once I get it sorted.

    So now, the goal this week is to get a chapter written, knowing that if I do so, I’m not abandoning my outline, but I’m just moving forward when more outlining prolly would be overkill. Thanks for the reminder and good luck with your first experience with plotting and NaNoWriMo!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad the post helped 🙂
      It’s so easy to get caught up in every detail, and that can make a project overwhelming pretty fast!
      Thanks, I can’t wait for November now!
      Good luck with making a start and with working out the answers to those questions as you come to them 🙂


  2. Years of corporate experience (oh! how we love to develop strategy presentations and show off!) has made me into a planner – or it is just as likely that I was always a planner and therefore did so well in my corporate life.
    In novel writing, I plan loosely, however. It is important to remember when planning that drafting and editing is a time-consuming process during which we as individuals are likely to grow. There is no telling if our mindset will remain at a standstill and we may just wish to add new elements and messages through our characters as we write along.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I feel I’m the opposite: All of my workplaces have been chaotic, as is the norm in small businesses. I had to constantly think on my feet and change tasks at a moments notice 🙂 Probably why I’m normally a pantser!
      Thanks for the tips 🙂 I’ll be sure to be flexible with my plan, especially when it comes to later drafts.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Don’t be too fixated on having the perfect plan — they always change! As you write in November, just see the plot you worked on now as a guideline to get you through. It’s okay when things change — your characters might grow and the story might change organically, deviating from what you’ve plotted but still being the same story, only better. As for endings… Have a general idea of where you want the story to stop even if you don’t know the how’s and why’s (to keep things interesting for the inner pantser).
    Good luck!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post! I think we work in similar ways (nothing proves it better that I also have the picture of your Merlin pinned on one of my inspiration boards :D) (btw, your story sounds very interesting!)
    I’m also a pantser and I can’t really change that sadly… but now at least I started planning my novel in my head so I know roughly what I need to write. Also, I found very detailed info on my characters (well done, past Fanni!)
    I dowloaded the free version of Scrivener and also I haven’t had the time to really experiment with it, I think its flexibility will help me to structure and plan.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks 🙂
      It’s awesome that you have the same picture pinned. I had a lot of fun looking for images to inspire me. I’m going to introduce my story properly just before the start of November, glad you like the sound of it so far 🙂
      I’d worry about forgetting things if I planned in my head. I used to write down things as soon as I thought of them, even though it was usually pages of scenes!
      Good luck experimenting with Scrivener. I’ve downloaded YWriter (A free alternative) but I haven’t tried it yet either. I’m so used to using lots of word documents.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I really like your tips Louise. I used to be a panster by default but I am also an easily distracted person so it didn’t work for me. Now I am a planner. I plan the whole thing out but I don’t think it ruins my excitement because the characters steal breathe their own unique dialogue moments and derail scenes all the time. I am also flexible. I think we have to be know matter our daily task. Have a great rest of your day 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I ‘m doing Nano this year, and I’m a pantser. I plan some in my head, before I write, but that’s about it. I take notes while I’m writing – about things I might need to add later. I do find it hard to plan ahead of time, although I do enjoy creating novel aesthetics and I agree it can be a real time sucker. 🙂 I love Nano, because it always motivates me to get writing.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I tried this two years ago. It was a complete disaster. I couldn’t stick to my outline. It wasn’t detailed enough so the plot points didn’t line up with the word count markers. I kept having new ideas. The main character’s gender switched about four paragraphs into the first page, which had huge implications for the romance I was planning…
    Good Luck this November!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I looked at pictures of actors for my characters. Slightly drool on a few. 😂 I’m doing the same thing. I know how it starts, how it ends and what happens up until halfway through. I started to count chapters to have an idea of how fast I need to go to get there, but nothing too specifics either. I like to have some leeway to write as things come. Hope it’ll be enough.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Looking at pictures was by far my favourite part of planning 😀
      You sound like you have a good outline so far 🙂
      I have the first 7 chapters planned, loosely. Some leeway to write as things come is what I’m aiming for to keep the pantser happy!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ahahah! I love looking at pictures for sure. As far the outline, I have objectives for each plot, but like you, I don’t write too much because I rarely finish a chapter as I intended and it’s usually better. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Some ideas that crossed my mind as I read. Don’t like having a firm ending? Write out 5 to 10 possibles. And remember, no matter where your story goes you must let it go and fix it later. Make a note on a pad or send yourself an email so you’ll remember then move on.
    If you write off your plot line–leave it for now and go back to your plan. You never know going off the rails might be a good thing, but you’ll focus on it later.
    Good Luck. You can do it!

    Anna from elements of emaginette

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I like your tip about not having to plan everything. I consider myself an extreme plotter (new hashtag? #extremeplotting), but even I don’t plan everything. I know from experience that fresh ideas are going to come up organically throughout the writing process, and I have to be ready for them. Besides, if you know every little detail before actually writing the book, what’s the fun in that?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks 🙂 I started out trying to plan every detail, but I quickly realised it wasn’t necessary (and that I was driving myself insane!)
      #extremeplotting sounds like a great new hashtag 🙂
      I’m glad to hear fresh ideas come up in the writing process even with a detailed plan. That should help keep my pantser side happy!


  11. I love your tips for planning! I’m a planner, but my plans almost always go out the window once my characters start to speak… I learned the “Keep it simple” rule the hard way.

    Good luck with NaNo! I hope all your planning makes for a smooth transition!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. As a plotter who occasionally pantses, reading your thoughts was especially interesting. I like the note on pacing – I usually save my image searches as a reward that I dole out when I’ve been very good, or when I’m really stumped.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks 🙂 I find pacing myself and breaking my writing into manageable chunks is the best way to keep me motivated. I’m easily distracted, so I write for 15 minutes and then take a 5 minute breaks as rewards!


  13. Hi! I am a total plotter. And I always know my ending before i even start the story, but it doesn’t make me feel bored 🙂 I am excited to see how I’m going to get there! I agree with all the things here!!


  14. Whether I’m a plotter or pantser usually depends on the WIP itself. Sometimes the plot is too complex to wing it. I think I’ll definitely have to outline for my NANOWRIMO WIP :p

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I’ve consistently been drawn to planning and outlining. For me it’s like a security net. If I find myself struck dumb, with no idea what to write, I can just follow the outline, fleshing it out into full scenes, but more often it’s like a sounding board. I start from the outline, and then I start to wander, using that initial effort as a guide of sorts. “What’s wrong? Well I feel like it’s just a pair of characters talking about nothing. Okay, what if one of them just silently listened, and that became a conflict?” Even if I’m wrong, how I’m wrong gives me a new direction to take.

    Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

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