Writing Tips – To Plan or Not to Plan

I’m not much of a planner when I write. Actually, that’s not strictly true. I love to plan. There’s nothing more satisfying than fleshing out an idea. My fingers itch to make a dot point plot list or to write in depth character sketches for every single character in the novel. (Even the ones who get bumped off in the opening scene or only serve the protagonist one cup of tea in that thirty second trip to a roadside cafe.) I spend my daydreaming visualising scenarios and while I lay in bed at night waiting for sleep, I mentally journal the plot’s entire backstory and how the main character’s mother’s sister’s uncle’s dog once pooped on the front lawn. I love a good plan. Nothing is better than spending all that time planning, organising, imagining. Once the idea’s on paper and I’ve had a few strong dreams which turn out to be vital plot points… it’s time to write. Yes!

Or not. Back when this was the norm for me, I actually struggled to write the story. I felt crushed by the mountains of information I had produced. I refused to alter character traits or switch plot points because I’d already spent so much energy conjuring them up in the first place. I would threaten violence on anyone who suggested a change because haven’t you read the appendix attached to the prologue’s prologue?! I needed a five-subject notebook just to remember what colour my main character’s eyes were and how many stuffed animals she took to bed a s a child. I suffered. My writing suffered.

The fire which fills my veins upon conception of an idea – that’s what I wanted on paper, not the lacklustre result of months of tedious note taking. I just didn’t know how to make the magic and it took me years of wasted time and boxes of cute matching stationary to work out the solution. The discovery was more so an accident, if I’m truthful. I had become so tired of trying to shuffle and rewrite portions of my novel to make it ‘fit’ the plan I had set that I allowed myself a rare (read, never happened before) break to sit at the computer and contemplate a novel I had conceived in my subconcious the night before via an epic nightmare. Instead of throwing myself head long into the plan, I decided to write out the dream itself, as best as I could remember, with the main character in my place. This was intended to be used as part of the planning later on (I didn’t want to lose the original feeling of the dream) but after I had written it I loved the way it flowed, the way it felt. I showed it to a few of my writerly friends and before I quite knew what had happened, that old novel was in a drawer (still not sure which one) and I was writing anew.

I finished that book without a single to do list. Not even a synopsis. In fact, when I was considering submitting it for publishing I found it very hard to condense my thoughts into a synopsis, where prior to the exercise I’d had trouble expanding the synopsis into a novel. In the end I decided it still needed a little work and I set it aside, focussing instead on the next new novel, which I am still currenlty writing. Don’t worry, I am a finisher – it’s just that the more I write and the less I plan, the more I am discovering my true voice and potential as a writer and the more I improve. Those other two novels that are waiting for me… one day, I’ll go back to them. The first one in particular will be rewritten from scratch (I’ve already dreamed parts of it) and will be barely recognisable save for the protagonist. Once upon a time the mere idea of such a thing would have haunted me but now, thinking about it as I type this, my tummy is rolling with butterflies. I love it. I love the thrill of having a whole new story ahead of me, waiting to be discovered, winding beyond my original vision as the characters breathe life into it. I don’t kick story ass, it kicks mine. I am wholly and completely at the mercy of the words and they flow from my fingertips as though they are not mine – which I truly believe they are not. In reality, they belong to the fabulous character that was born in my dreams and is waiting not so patiently to roll out through my fingers and onto the page.

What about you? Do you plan, or do you let it flow?

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3 thoughts on “Writing Tips – To Plan or Not to Plan

  1. I have always been a flower – I mean someone who goes with the flow- but I usually only get so far before I feel guilty in not having a plan. I’ve got a vague storyline but I’m not quite certain where to take it. I know I should have ‘events’
    happening but I get a bit stuck trying to work them out. I get bogged down in either mundanity or I’ve dreamed some scenes that fit somewhere in the story timeline – but I’m not up to that bit, so I can’t write it… In the end I just come up with a whole lot of excuses and simply stop. Having a finished product has been eating away at me since I first learned to write. I would tear the sheets out of my exercise books and fold them in half to make my ‘ book’ shaped manuscript; my pencil and rubber were my next best friends. I started writing “the Mystery” when I was seven. It featured all my family and a break in to our house during the night. We were all creeping around and hiding behind the massive sideboard that my grandfather owned. I can’t even remember what the ‘mystery’ was. The story came to a screaming halt when Dad showed it to some visiting friends of the family-they thought it was the funniest thing ever and razzed me something shocking. I was so embarrassed that I destroyed it; and my writing went under the bedcovers. I’ve since wtitten (and sometimes destroyed) heaps of partial stories. I was never able to overcome my embarrassment enough to show anyone. I had a box full. At some point i gave the entire box to my daughter- the impractical parent- lots of juvenile ramblings with no basis in research or accuracy. Still at it – just put bits in the puter now. I recall one story I spent a lot of time on. It was a fantasy romance, as much of my later stuff was, and three of my favorite character s were dwarfs named Ganoden, Zirkolnee and ? . Have never been able to remember the third guy’s name. There was a prince and a princess and monsters hiding in the rocks near the border pass… I think I chucked that one out too. And yet it sticks in my mind…*sigh*
    Too bad I’ve let ridicule beat me….

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