According to NaNoWriMo lore, you are either a Pantser, (fly by the seat of your pants) or a Planner (the outline is EVERYTHING).
My first few years of NaNo, I was a textbook Pantser. Then, I found a method of outlining and planning that didn't feel stifling, but actually engaged my creativity. (Highly recommend K.M. Weiland's Outline your Novel for any Pantsers looking to stretch their comfort zone).
I have had my foot in both worlds, and even though I have learned the art of planning, I still tend to lean towards pantsing and love the adventure of beginning a piece of writing without knowing exactly where I will end up. There are virtues and pitfalls to both. So let's talk about them!
Here is a handy and oversimplified infographic for reference:
Pros and Cons of being a Pantser:
Let's start with the often misunderstood world of the writer who flies by the seat of their pants.
It could be argued that writing without an outline encapsulates the very essence of what NaNoWriMo is all about. It forces you to put away that inner editor, to write with abandon, and to embrace the rocky edges and uncertainties of a first draft. It can free you from the paralysis of perfectionism, and discover new things about your story and your writing.
Having no trodden path to follow can be a little scary, and even the most adventurous among us can get tangled up in the weeds. Be ready for anything to happen, including your story doing a complete 180 when you are already half way through the draft. We'll eventually find our way out of the brambles, but it makes for a very messy process when it comes time to edit. Editing a pantser's first draft is not for the faint of heart!
Pros and Cons of Being a Planner
You know what to expect, you have a road map. What could go wrong? The great news is that you have already built up some momentum by thinking about and planning out your story. Now you get to delve into the juicy parts and make it all come to life. Stuck? No worries, just consult your handy outline to jump start your writing. Editing will be that much easier with your outline, character sketches, and research on hand.
No matter how prepared you are, the act of writing a novel in 30 days will always take you on some unexpected twists. What happens when your story doesn't seem to be working on the page the way it did in your imagination? Being too rigid with an outline can also make you miss opportunities. Sometimes the unexpected is exatly what breathes life into your story or fills that gaping plot hole.
The good news for all writers
NaNoWriMo is a great opportunity to get out of your comfort zone and make your writing a priority. If you're a pantser by nature, try some creative ways to plan out at least some parts of your story before hand. You don't have to make a full outline, but how about clipping pictures for inspiration of your characters or setting? If you're a planner, leave some room for the unexpected. Treat your outline like the pirate code (more like guidelines). If your story starts going off the rails, don't panic! See where it takes you. You can always take it out later, but it just might lead you to something amazing that you could not have foreseen.
Let November be a journey of discovery and growth for both you and your novel!