The Benefits of Not Planning

by Jennifer Perov

Many fiction classes emphasize the importance of planning out the writing. In my classes I’ve been prompted to do storyboards, character sheets, beat sheets, outlines, and various other tasks that, though workable for some, hindered my progress. I am what Cathy Day calls, a “pantser.” The meaning: I don’t like to plan; I write without much structure, and that works for me.
People who know me well probably find this ironic. In my daily life I’m organized, scheduled, I hate clutter, and I hate breaking routine. When it comes to writing though, I’m the complete opposite. I plan the bare bones and let my imagination run wild, filling in the gaps with whatever scenario I find that works. The method is overwhelming to some, but why does planning only the basics work for me?
It keeps my mind open
When I outline every step of the way, I feel like I already know what happens. I’m less apt to try new ideas or characters, and my settings remain stagnant. The element of surprise leaves me, and in turn, it leaves the writing.
It allows me to play
Going along with the idea of trying new ideas, with only a skeleton of my writing planned out, and by that I mean basic beginning, a murky idea of the middle, and a less defined ending than most are comfortable with, I am not afraid to try a whacky idea. It may or may not work out in the end, it could be completely wrong for the story, but it’s important for me to try it. Nothing feels set in stone this way, and that is what sparks my creativity.
I don’t feel “married” to my story or outline
After massive amounts of time spent planning the characters, settings,and details of the story, I’m less likely to change my idea. I’ll stick to a story that bores me to death before I make myself feel that I’ve wasted hours of my life.
I have a very short attention span
I’ve been compared to a goldfish; two seconds and my mind is on a new path. So, if I plan every detail of my story, I already know what’s going to happen, and the element of fun is lost for me. I lose interest in things fast, and to keep myself intrigued, I have to have some element of surprise, even if that means not knowing the outcome until my character turns that corner.
I don’t feel my characters have freedom
Like I said, planning works for some, but with me, I don’t feel like I give my characters the freedom to do something unexpected. Instead of letting them act naturally in a scenario, I’ll mold and force them into what I have previously planned, just to get them to the end I’ve already decided upon. Once again, that element of surprise and freedom is important to me.
After all that, I have to say that some planning actually is necessary, but for me, less is more.
[Editor’s Note: For an alternate view on the importance of planning, check out today’s other blog post by Miranda Wuestefeld.  Tune in tomorrow to hear Alec’s advice on turning a script into prose!  -Lauren Burch]
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One Comment on “The Benefits of Not Planning”

  1. Lauren Burch says:

    Like you, I've always been a panster. I need some idea of where I'm going before I can write, but if I try to plan things extensively, I feel trapped by the guidelines. I appreciate this post so much because what works for one writer doesn't work for all writers, but people (myself included) so often forget this. Not everyone needs a plan to write a great story, and that's something more people should hear.


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