First off, if you have not read Jenna's first piece of advice, you should check that out. Both of us will be giving out some advice monthly via this blog.
To Plan or Not to Plan? Shakespeare probably did not plan that this quote would be used so often, and in so many variations—many of them by college students. To Sleep or Not to Sleep? To Skip Class or Not to Skip Class? (I'm sure you get my point.)
National Novel Writing Month (affectionately referred to as NanoWrimo) started nearly two weeks ago. How am I doing? I've got less than 100 words, though I switched my novel twice and have been juggling school. With all of these papers and projects, even thinking about tackling a 50,000-word goal seems daunting. It makes sense that adding planning to the mix would take away some of that stress.
But the question is: Should we plan?
Yes and no.
Yes. It does help to get all of your ideas regarding plot, character, tone, etc. out on paper (or screen) to see what you have. It's like a road map for your story. Sometimes there are inconsistencies, blank spaces, and also major gaps that you leave blank for what seems like the longest time. And that's okay.
Something I love doing is typing up all of this information for one of my stories and seeing it all listed out clearly. (This may just be me, as I really love making lists for some reason or another.) Nonetheless, it helps to see some sort of picture of what you have. This is like planning out a paper before you start writing it. (You know, that thing your professors recommend, rather than turning in your first draft twenty minutes after printing it.)
No. You can have fun with it. When I was in the tenth grade, I planned to finish writing a novel during the summer. That was about five or six years ago, and I haven't written much for that particular novel since. But, I have added ideas that have made the story much better, and I know that if I do finish it, I'll be happier than I would have had I stuck with my plan to finish writing it a long time ago.
I think having no plan whatsoever is the trickier option because you have less of an idea of how the story will end—and even begin. You can still plan after you've started writing, but I find that those new ideas you get are really rewarding when they are very unexpected and out of nowhere. It's that ah-ha! moment you get that puts a smile on your face, yet at the same time makes you say, Oh, my readers are going to hate me for being tricky and adding in something like this.
Overall consensus: do whatever you want, but realize that you do not need to plan out every single thing from the get-go. None of us (I hope) planned out every single class we were going to take, when we were going to take it, once we first stepped foot on Towson's campus.
So, plan for weeks for that novel you've had since middle school. Use a random generator to come up with a plot and then start writing five minutes later. Do what makes you excited, and remember that Method and Madness can go hand-in-hand. (Yes, I stole that from Hamlet too. But it's also a book I needed for my Fiction Writing class. See, the things from your classes end up being useful!)