Quotes / Writing Advice

to plan or not to plan

I’ve got a story idea up my sleeve that I want to spend the next month nutting out and preparing to write. The thing is, I’ve never been a planner. Even when I was little, typing 20 page stories after school, I never planned.

But I look into my crystal ball and see that my novel is going to a lot bigger than 20 pages. I’m going to have to plan it out. I’m new at this. Help.

Usually when I get an idea for a short story, I can see it’s bare bones and I flesh it out without really knowing what it’s going to be. There’s part of me that wants to keep this up, to know the basic idea and just run with it. In ‘On Writing’ Stephen King says,

“I am, after all, not just the novel’s creator but its first reader. And if i’m not able to guess with any accuracy how the damned thing is going to turn out, even with my inside knowledge of coming events, I can be pretty sure of keeping my reader in a state of page-turning anxiety. And why worry about the ending anyway? Why be such a control freak? Sooner or later every story comes out somewhere”

which I think makes sense. I don’t want to be spend the next month pain-stakingly plotting out every single thing that’s going to happen in every single chapter. Why not let myself be surprised, why be a ‘control freak’ like Mr. King says?

Then when I’ve convinced myself to screw the plans and just get on with it, I find myself stuck. I don’t know what I’m doing. I get anxious. Do I really want this? Maybe I’ll just leave it for a while and think about it later. The lack of really knowing my characters, or the world I’m creating, is a problem. It scares the shit out of me to be honest.

So where’s the happy medium? If I plan too much I could get myself into a straight-jacket situation, where it’s so rigid that I have no room to move.  On the other hand, I could plan too little, throw myself into the deep end and drown. Swimming lessons are important.

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9 thoughts on “to plan or not to plan

  1. I’m writing a novel at the moment, and I was the ‘control freak’ King mentions; however, that didn’t work. I mean, a novel is its own beast and I just had to let mine do its own thing, but somehow tame it a little so that readers won’t be frightened by it. As I’m writing it I’m becoming a lot more flexible. I have a definite place I want it to end and a few things that NEED to happen to get it there, but the rest, like 90%, has been spontaneous. Good luck and happy writing, it’s a wonderful thing! It’s an organic thing and is extremely malleable.

    • I think you’ve hit on an important point: that writing is organic. I need to remember that it’s got to be natural, and not too controlled. Thanks for reminding me! And good luck with your writing too :]

  2. My advice is to give yourself a skeleton. Leave the meat of it to be developed as you write, like you’ve done with your short stories. A skeleton, to me, is knowing who your main character is and what the story is generally about. You don’t even have to deal with plot yet. That can be meat. My second piece of advice is to come to peace with the idea that you will scrap some of what you write. You may flesh out a chapter that takes your story in a direction you don’t like or that doesn’t make sense the next day – scrap it. Keep it in a folder somewhere because you’ve probably got some good lines you may want to resurrect, but it’s okay to take a step backwards in order to move forward.  I hope this helps!

    • I agree, I need a skeleton. I think my main problem at the moment is that I haven’t got all my bones in the right places yet, and I don’t fully know what my story is about. And hearing someone say I don’t have to worry about plot yet is such a relief! Thanks for the wise words!

  3. Plan! I’m not a creative writer, but planning is so helpful, regardless of what you are writing. By collecting all of your ideas in one space and gradually fleshing them out, you will basically be left with your own self-help document for whatever you’re writing. It really helps me step back from whatever I’m working on and see it as a whole – this helps me notice flaws or inconsistencies. The only obvious danger is that you do not want to sacrifice your sense of creative direction, but I do think that a plan does not have to limit any writer’s sense of inspiration.

    • There’s a need for balance between planning and, like you said, not sacrificing your creative direction. At the moment I’ve just about got all my planning for my novel done – I haven’t gone overboard but the planning helped me see what I really wanted to write about, and work out where I really wanted to go with it. There’s definitely a place for planning in writing, but hopefully I’ve found the right place to stop and just let it go.

  4. Pingback: Telling Truths | little rockets

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