Team Plan or Team Wing It?
February 20, 2011 § 9 Comments
It’s practically required for blogs about writing to discuss the topic of closely planning or outlining your novel. Everyone’s done it except me, and I hate to be out of fashion, so I’d better catch up.
To plan… or not to plan? This seems to be one of those issues where is little middle ground. People are either strongly for Team Plan or violently in favour of Team Wing It. Moreover, and rather worryingly, advisors on writing sometimes represent Team Plan as the Only Way To Go. I’m going to declare myself for Team Wing It here and say ‘BALDERDASH’ to that.
Before I go any further with this discussion it is necessary to introduce you, readers all, to one of the many, many neuroses that live out their narrow little lives tucked away in the corners of my brain. That is: I am obsessive about planning. If I’m going somewhere, I want to know exactly where it is. I want Sat Nav and a map and a printed route that will take me right to the door. I want to know how long it will take to get there and back, how long I’ll expect to stay in between, and what I’ll be doing there. If I’m going to cook anything new, I want a detailed recipe. If I’m writing an essay, I want a close plan for nearly every paragraph. I always plan.
…. Except when it comes to writing fiction. Why? Who the hell knows. Maybe it’s because writing fiction requires soaring flights of fancy that, at least in my case, seem to be rendered impossible by knowing exactly where I’m going. In every other area of my life, I’m afraid of getting lost. If I’m writing stories, I need to lose my way, follow my feet and see where the road goes. It’s liberating, surprising and rather exhilarating to simply turn three characters loose, give them an issue to deal with and watch what they do.
It took me a while to realise this, because I was following both my usual preferences and trying to bear in mind the expertly advice. But then I left the beaten path and got thoroughly, gloriously tangled up in my own imagination and at last, I do seem to have the ability to keep a long project going and going. And the experience is amazing: full of surprises and exciting flashes of inspiration. Yes, I have plot holes big enough to drive an 18-wheeler through, but editing is my friend. I’ve made sure to leave a trail of bread crumbs behind me, and when I get to wherever it is I’m going, I’ll be able to retrace my steps and smooth out the journey.
So. I’m not saying expert advice is useless, here. Let’s be clear on that. Seeing what the experts have to say is a whole lot better than sitting in a dark room by yourself, trying to discover fire all over again. But an important point to bear in mind is that no one can tell you exactly how to write. Try the rule book, and then throw the rule book to the pigeons. Try Team Plan; try Team Wing It; spend a while wandering about somewhere in between. Find the approach that works for you? Great. Stick with it and see where you end up.