A Tea Party filled with an assortment of food, a charcuterie board, jam, bread, sweets, a cake, books, a tea pot, and tea cups, various fruits
Tea Party

Tea Party (Q&A 3: Plans, Pants, Plants, and NaNoWriMo)

More Tea Parties | Content Warnings

Hello again! It’s our third tea party and we’re so happy you could come! It’s the end of Camp NanoWriMo! Did you participate? Have you ever? No worries if you have or haven’t—we’re talking about planning or… not… this week. Grab a drink and join us!

Do you consider yourself a pantser, a plantser, or a planner?


I’m a plantser mostly! Do I outline like crazy before I start writing? Yes. Do my characters listen to my outline? Ha. Ha. No. Basically I have a rough idea of what the story will be like, but it’s rare that the final draft looks like anything more than a distant cousin of that outline. 


I guess I would consider myself a plantser? At some point, I realized at least having a guide helped me speed up the process. I don’t necessarily need to know how I’m going to get there, but I need to know where I’m trying to go.


I’m definitely a plantser! I need attainable goals in order to finish projects, and outlines help me with this by offering plot points to work toward. I tend to keep my outlines kind of vague, though. Sometimes, the more I have things figured out, the more I lose interest, and I don’t want my brain going “All done!” before I’ve even made it to Chapter Two. I also change my mind a lot as I write, so it’s great to have a flexible outline.

What does your pre-writing process look like?


My pre-writing usually starts with a spark of inspiration. It could be a song, a trope, or a character that inspires me. From there, characters usually come first. Then a problem. Next I start to outline what the middle, end, and beginning look like, in that order usually. Oh, and lots of pizza, chocolate, and Twizzlers are necessary in the pre-writing process. 


I use a lot of cooking metaphors when I talk about this. Please bear with me, ha ha. Basically, I let an idea just simmer on the back burner while I think about it and piece it together especially if I have other projects that are more important at that moment. Sometimes it fizzles out without becoming anything because I realize it wasn’t really worth pursuing, and other times it boils over until I can’t contain it anymore and I have to pay attention to it.

Once it’s on the front burner, I start outlining it. My outlines aren’t necessarily very fleshed out—it depends on how much I have figured out. The important plot points have to be figured out at this stage though. Sometimes I’ll start working on a draft then, or it’ll go back onto the back burner if I feel like I still need to work on either some other projects or another aspect of this particular story.

Oddly enough, I had a course in college where one of the profs had us draw out our pre-writing process lol. If I can find it, I’ll post it on my twitter.


As soon as I get an idea, I jot down as much of it as I can while it’s fresh in my mind because I have a terrible memory, and it will be gone forever if I don’t. The idea could be a snippet of dialogue or a super brief story synopsis. Occasionally, it’ll be more, but I usually start with just a spark.

After that, I’ll pull up a blank outline with some story beats and fill in what I can so far. I tend to not worry very much about the parts I can’t fill in yet (I’m a plantser—those are a problem for future me). If I get too stuck, I love mind mapping. Then I look at the characters and figure out who they need to be in order for the plot to work best.

Next, I do research. I’ll research characters’ jobs, story settings, and any other plot related details. For example, I did a lot of science-y research about stardust for The Faery Bargain, and I brushed up on some Shakespeare. Research also really helps me with character development, so I might go back and edit a few bios as I learn more. Lastly, I keep a bulleted list at the end of the outline for any ideas I get that don’t quite have a specific place to go yet.

Have you ever tried an alternate planning style? What made you realize it wasn’t for you?


I’ve tried to be a pantser and a planner, and neither worked well for me. Having no outline made me lost and confused, and I’m pretty sure I’ve written characters with five different names anytime I tried pantsing. (It makes the revising part really hard.) I’ve also tried forcing myself to stick to the outline, but I found the dialogue especially reads much more forced, since I’m pushing them into a certain direction. 


I used to just be a straight pantser, actually! When I was a kid, I just dove straight into a story, just having planned what was in my head. I stalled often because I was writing to a destination I couldn’t see. I learned it’s better for me to write towards an ending. I used to want to be a planner, too, when I was younger. But if my outline is too detailed, it just feels like writing the story twice and I lose interest ha ha.

What really helped me find my way was when I had a story in my head that I HAD to get out. It was boiling over and taking over my whole mind. So I just started writing the outline and then went to drafting, and I found I could add so much more to the story when I knew where I was going and how certain things would line up. It just helps me create a more full, more rounded story.


I’ve tried all of them! With pantsing, the problem was that, since I change my mind so much, I would end up with a lot more words getting cut. It would take more time to finish projects, and losing so much work was a little demotivating. I’d also be more likely to have a weaker story overall by the end of the draft. It was really fun to dive in and write without having to think so much first, though.

With planning, I would either get so obsessed with figuring out every detail that I would take way too long on my outlines and never actually get to the writing part, or a shiny new project idea would come along, and, well… It’s shiny…

Have you done NaNoWriMo/Camp NaNoWriMo? What did you think of it?


I’ve done NaNoWriMo a few times! I really like pushing myself and having the challenge of a novel draft in 30 days. I thrive on pressure (and I mean thrive as in having anxiety and feeling like the world will hate me if I mess up and don’t make the deadline), and NaNoWriMo forces me to prioritize my writing at least once a year. It’s a great feeling at the end of the month when I look at how far I’ve come and what I can accomplish when I push myself. Just, no one try to talk to me in November, or I might cry or throw things or both. 


I’ve done NaNoWriMo several times and Camp NaNoWriMo a few times! I think it’s loads of fun. I don’t remember when I started doing it, but I think it really helps cultivate the habit of writing every day. I don’t write every day, but I write most days, and that’s pretty much my goal. There are so many perks that come with it, too.

I just think it’s neat.


Not officially. I’ve always been too shy to register on the website, but I do try to set at least a few writing goals during NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo months. It’s really helpful—especially when I have friends that are participating, too. We all become this really wonderful support group. For me, the community aspect makes participating in any capacity 100% worth it.

Do you have any NaNoWriMo tips?


What helped me was having a document app on my phone, so I could write while on the subway or during breaks at work. I also found that when I couldn’t figure out what to say, I would start describing the scenery. It added word count and forced me to think about setting, which I’m really bad at. Also, towards the end, I realized that writing didn’t have to be sequential. I could add more scenes that would go in the beginning, skip the scenes I was stuck on until another day when my brain was ready, and create random scenes that would never make it to the final draft but helped me figure out characters more. I reminded myself that NaNoWriMo is about creating and prioritizing writing. It isn’t about perfection. Instead of stressing and editing and rewriting, I could just write freely, ignore my mistakes, and remember the joys (and frustrations) of creating something entirely new.


Sure, don’t go back and edit. Wait until after November to go back and do that, ha ha. Keep whatever you get on the page. Go with your first instinct about where to go. But actually, even if you change your mind, don’t delete what you wrote and just pick up where you want to change things.

Just keep everything you write during this time. The time constraint and mild panic is what makes it fun for some people, and you can get some really great things out of it. Orson Welles said, “The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.” Basically, restriction breeds creativity and innovation. This is true for the tension you feel in a time crush NaNoWriMo.

If deadlines and word counts aren’t your thing, that’s cool too. You can still benefit. You can try to take this time to cultivate the habit of writing every day (or most days, like me), even if it’s just a little bit. You can foster a relationship with other writers and get some great pep talks from the NaNoWriMo staff! It isn’t about “winning,” it’s just about challenging yourself in different ways and having some fun.


Set boundaries! Writing is often a commitment that you make to yourself, and sometimes it can be hard for other people to accept that the time set aside for it is a real priority. It’s really important to let family and friends know that this time is important to you and this goal is important to you. That way, instead of a distraction, they can be a part of the support group, too!

Thanks for joining us again this month! Are you a planner, a pantser, or a plantser like all of us? Do you have any NaNoWriMo tips? Let us know in the comments or @jaamwriting on Twitter!

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