The website for NaNoWriMo (which stands for National Novel Writing Month), awards badges throughout month as you unlock achievements. You also have the option to award some to yourself. One that I like to choose each year describes what sort of prep work I have done. There are three options: planner, pantser, or plantser. According to NaNoWriMo.org, these are the definitions of each:
- Planner: You believe in rigorous preparation. On November 1, you'll have an outline--or at least lots of helpful notes.
- Pantser: You believe in hardcore spontaneity. On November 1, you'll have a blank document and your imagination.
- Plantser: You believe in the best of both worlds. On November 1, you'll start with a comfortable mix of improvisation and loose structure.
I have never considered myself a pantser, at least not for novels. If I don't have a road map or at least some semblance of an outline, my blank screen becomes a daunting and I become paralyzed with indecision.
For certain projects, I am definitely a planner. I was more of a planner when I was younger and would spend countless hours dreaming up character names, drawing character maps, describing character traits, designing world maps, and writing detailed outlines. However, the more comfortable I came with letting my imagination run a little free while writing (and once I realized I would never finish a book if I didn't start writing at some point), I learned to jump in with less planning done ahead of time.
I am more often than not a self-declared plantser. I need to have a rough outline of the story I want to write, along with a few main characters ready to be explored, but then I let myself discover the story as I write. I have found that I can start writing a first draft with a pretty rough outline and idea of a story, but when it comes to a second draft, or even starting over without completing my first full draft, that is when I head back to the drawing board and really dive into the story and spend time creating more detailed plot synopses, character profiles, and build my world more completely.
That's not to say that I do not do plenty of thinking and research ahead of time to provide myself with inspiration and knowledge to pull from as I write. Especially when it comes to writing about nature. I make notes of the things that I find fascinating and pull from those as needed while I write. When it comes to prepping for NaNoWriMo specifically, I find joy in creating a word count tracker, designing a cover for my project, and maybe even creating a character mood board or two. Examples of some of these designs are shown below.
Overall, I truly am a plantser. The more I delve into my drafts, the more I refine my story notes and world building, but when it comes to getting started, all I need is a bit of imagination and a sketched out map on a coffee-stained napkin.