Swoon Author Sandy Hall: To Plot or to Pants? There Is No Right Answer!


Fun fact: I didn’t always understand the point of planning. The first dozen or so times I sat down to write a novel, I would dive into it with little to no preparation. I’d have some scenes in mind and a great idea for a first line and that would be it. And then I would wonder why I never finished anything.

Some people are built for writing by the seat of their pants and some are not. It took me years and many failed writing attempts to come to terms with the fact that I would never be a pantser. For some reason, I always thought that planning before writing constituted cheating.


Planning does NOT equal cheating.

Since then I’ve learned that writing with a road map makes it so that every time you sit down, you don’t have to rethink everything. There’s something to guide you, to show you the way, particularly through those rough patches. And with a road map it’s a lot less likely you’ll drive off into the abyss.

Once I got it through my silly brain that planning might be something to try, my librarian side surfaced and I went into research mode. I was like a whirling dervish of novel planning research.  And when I learned all about the variety of office supplies you needed to plan novels, I knew planning was for me. I dusted off my Staples Reward Card and got to work.

I’ve used lots of different methods and I’ve had success with most of them. With all that research, I had a lot of different ideas and theories. I have found that what’s worked for one novel doesn’t necessarily work for ALL novels.

The first novel I wrote, I used a planning notebook. It had a page for each character, scene ideas, maps of the setting, and lists galore. I found that I really liked having all the initial planning stuff in the same place.

When it came time to write A Little Something Different, I tried the same method, but it just didn’t work the same way. The notebook wasn’t as useful for that story.  So I went back to my research and decided to try index cards.

And they were a wild success!

Sandy Hall index cards

Index cards were the perfect planning tool for that story. It made it so each scene got a card and a note about what would happen in the scene. I could keep track of POV characters and where Gabe and Lea were throughout the story. It was definitely the most organized planning I’ve ever done.

Since then I’ve tried to use index cards and haven’t had quite the same success, so I started trying other planning techniques.

Sandy Hall spreadsheets

Starting with spreadsheets.

They aren’t nearly as much fun to look at as the neon colored index cards, but it’s a serviceable planning method. And I love how organized I feel filling in all the columns and rows. Like I’m taking a test and I know all the answers. I like having all of my thoughts laid out this way. And spreadsheets are more portable than a huge stack of index cards that work best when laid out on a table.

For the record, after I handwrite the spreadsheets, I put them in a Google doc so I have them with me all the time.

I’ve also tried mind mapping. (This isn’t a real mind map, just an example. Because of course while I was writing this post, I couldn’t find any of my real mind maps.)

Sandy Hall mind mapI sit down and write all of the ideas I have for a story and then try to connect the dots. There’s a couple of great apps and websites that I’ve found that make it fun, but due to my passion for office supplies, I usually end up doing it with colorful pens and paper. Apparently the more I make novel planning feel like a game, the more likely I am to finish said novel.

All in all, there are TONS of different ways to plan your writing. The options are endless and this list is definitely not exhaustive. If there isn’t anything here that floats your boat but you still want to try planning, keep looking! There are lots and lots of resources out there and lots of people all over the Internet discussing their methods.

Or maybe you’re a pantser at heart and just need to get started.

The good news is that there’s no right way or wrong way to plan a novel. There’s only YOUR way. Find what works for you and do it.

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Sandy Hall


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