When it comes to writing, I’ve never been very good at planning.
It’s not that I haven’t tried. On the contrary, I must have racked up hundreds of hours trying to outline pieces of work over the last few years, producing quick, bullet-point plans for smaller projects and more thorough, detailed plans for more complex pieces of work – even devoting whole days to it in the hope that the actual writing stage will then be wonderfully smooth and free of problems.
Unfortunately, no matter how much time and effort I invest, it never seems to work out that way.
I always start with good intentions – I do. I tell myself I’ll be disciplined, that I’ll stick to my plan and that I won’t stray. But the thing is, my mind doesn’t stop when I start writing. I inevitably think of changes I want to make, things I want to add, things I want to leave out and different ways of putting everything together, and the result is that my carefully devised plans tend to be abandoned incredibly quickly.
Despite my appalling success rate, I usually still make some sort of attempt to plan my out my projects. I just feel I should, and even if I don’t end up sticking to my original decisions, the process does get me thinking more generally about what I’m trying to achieve – and that’s always a good thing.
However, with my book, things happened a little differently. You see, unlike many writers, I didn’t have a ‘lightbulb’ moment of inspiration that prompted me to start writing. I didn’t set out with a Big Idea in my mind; instead, my book was born out of lots of separate pieces of work – pieces I’d written over the course of several years for no purpose other than to satisfy my need to write. I was simply reading through them one afternoon and I found myself thinking that they might work as part of something bigger. I very much fell into it.
As a result, I sort of by-passed the traditional time for planning. I already had perhaps 10,000 words when I started thinking about a book, and although I only had a very rough idea at that point of how they might all go together, I didn’t really want to stop and work out all the finer details; I just wanted to carry on writing. So I did.
Almost 30,000 words on and I’m amazed the lack of planning hasn’t caused more problems. There have been moments when I’ve wobbled, yes, but I haven’t had any major issues. However, recently things have started to feel decidedly unstable, and I’ve been growing increasingly wary about carrying on simply hoping that it will all fall into place. I may have managed to produce shorter pieces with very little planning in the past, but a novel is just so much more complex, and I really, really want this to work.
I’d originally given myself a target of 700 words for today, but it’s already early evening and so far I’ve managed a big fat zero. Am I sorry? No. Not in the slightest. Instead of pushing on with the writing, I’ve finally spent some time just thinking about my story, considering the ins and outs of it and how it’s all going to fit together – a sort of late, slightly backwards planning session, if you will – and I’ve ended up making a fantastically colourful calendar for my novel. I’ve been marking on important events, trying to decide exactly where my scenes will fall and how I’m going to develop the plotlines in-between, and although I haven’t finished yet, it’s already proven an incredibly worthwhile exercise. I can see my story as a whole now. I can see where I’m starting and where I’m finishing, and looking at it as a finite period of time is not only making the task feel more manageable, but it’s also making my story feel infinitely more real.
Perhaps I should have done it earlier. Perhaps I should have tried to plan more, to work everything out at the start rather than letting myself get carried away writing and then having to piece bits together. As well as making everything feel more organised, my ‘calendar’ exercise has been highlighting all sorts of niggling continuity issues (a conversation on a Saturday that refers to ‘school tomorrow’, being one…) as well as a couple of bigger, more significant problems, and spending time planning might have prevented those from cropping up. Then again, with my track record, it might not have done, and I’ve definitely enjoyed being able to go with the flow. I think it’s been good for parts of my novel, too – I feel like it’s given my story the chance to develop more naturally. No, it may not be a perfect strategy, but this ‘half-time’ arrangement does have its plus points, and with ‘real’ planning apparently not my forte, it’s currently feeling like a reasonable compromise.