Adventure is the result of poor planning, according to Colonel Blashford-Snell. For me, a lack of any discernible plan is a way of life. When I go for a walk, I rarely follow the path and I hardly ever take a map. I just strike out into the distance. And get lost.
I'm not saying this is the best way, but it is the way I am. And it's the way I want to be.
Does that mean that, as a writer, I'm a dedicated pantster? I'm not really that either.
What I'm trying to say is that spontaneity is a vital ingredient for me. I love writing. I look forward to it. I'd write all day, every day if I could.
That said, I also think of writing as work these days, and I want my work to be professional and written to a very high standard. I'm not in the least bit arty farty about my writing. It cracks me up when people refer to their writing as “my art.” I could never be that self-important and pretentious. It's work, it's a craft, it's the application of a set of skills, and yes, it's creative so it could be described as an art form, but why dress it up with a fancy label?
I'll tell you exactly what fiction is about – storytelling. And this underpins everything.
In order to tell a good story, it's nice to have an idea of where the tale will end, and whether any twists and surprises will crop up along the way. So I do make very rough outlines. These are scribbled on paper, muddled up and sometimes misplaced until I don't need them anymore. It's not a great system, but it's what I've got and I'd rather be honest about it. I've tried loose leaf paper in files, but that annoys me. I like a spiral bound book or two, or three, or four, or…OK I don't know how many books I'm using right now. Here's a photo of my writing drawer with just some of them:
I've also had to do quite a bit of nifty thinking around the sequences of events for The Darkeningstone books, because there are always several plot threads going on at once, and each one is set in a particular time (spanning over 5,000 years). That wouldn't be too bad, but the plot lines interact with each other, so the sequence is vital. That leads to this sort of thing:
But it's all still just scribbles. I don't feel obliged to stick to any of it. We all like to think aloud sometimes, but I do it on the page and with a pen in my hand. And when it's working well, writing and thinking are the same thing to me – I can't separate them. When I'm roughing things out like this, I scribble down the questions and problems as they occur to me, and I jot down any answers I come up with. More often than not, I need to go away and think about the problems before I decide on an answer that's good enough.
I think I hear you asking: How does this guy ever get anything done?
I don't know – really I don't. It just seems that the story coalesces in my mind as some sort of collage from the notebooks and scribbles. I've tried using the synopsis feature in Scrivener to plan out a story, but I change things so much as I work that the notes get out of date and become misleading. My spiral bound books may be quaint, but the newest notes will always be at the latest pages used and I can ignore the older stuff quite easily. And it's great to be able to work without a keyboard and screen. I often take my notebook outside or upstairs. It's great to get away from my desk.
Could I be more productive? Yes. And I do try and improve my process as I write. Do I want a formula to obey? No thanks.
When all is said and done, I want to push myself creatively as far as I can. Painters have their sketchbooks, I have my rough scribbles. I feel that too many people push out novels as if they were knocking out flat-packed furniture, each one complete with a set of instructions, a bag of screws, and an assembly diagram. I much prefer to maintain the joy of discovery and I like a little creative chaos. I also like the problem-solving aspect of dealing with plots and characters. I'm always asking myself whether a character would really do something, and I don't get to that stage until I've scribbled and thought and crossed things out.
That's all I can think of today. How do you feel about planning? Do you use guidelines or do you like to free things up?
Throw me a comment and let me know.
Thanks for reading. There's more of this sort of stuff here: More Writing Journey Posts
Let Me Entertain You
When you join my readers' group, The Awkward Squad