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.

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§ 9 Responses to Team Plan or Team Wing It?

  • Catherine Wallace Hope says:

    I wholeheartedly agree that trying both is a good plan. 🙂 I have found that something in between is what works best for me. Plan, but let things change when they want to.

    • Charlotte says:

      Good old compromise usually works so well with everything! That sounds like a great flexible approach. I suppose really, the important thing is whatever gets you both started and finished. Really tricky to manage both of those sometimes.

  • I’m a recent convert to team plan. But I agree each person needs to to what works best for them. Great post on a topic many folks struggle with.

  • My question is: do you already know where your narrative is going to end up? If you really know the ending, I might suggest just letting go, losing yourself in the adventure of it all. If I only knew where my stories were going to end up, I’d have a more successful time of writing that screenplay I’ve always wanted to finish.

    • Charlotte says:

      Good point there, Scott. One thing that’s been interesting to me, though, is that once you really get involved in the process of writing the story, future chapters almost write themselves, because you start thinking quite deeply about who the characters are and what makes sense for the story. I’m hoping an ending will write itself by the time I get there, too, and it’s looking promising so far. Maybe have a go at getting started with that screenplay, if you have enough ideas to make a beginning, and see where it goes? Could be fun and a bit exciting.

  • Andy says:

    I see you’ve been able to catch some internet in those woods and backwater lands you’ve gone off to! I am glad 🙂 And I too am an obsessive planner – I think that is why I’ve never gotten down to writing something substantial (that wasn’t part of coursework), because I always had to plan everything out first and gods know how long that might take. I will try to throw it all out the door, however, when we embark on our pre-NaNiRiMo (I can’t for the life of me remember how to spell that) challenge next month!

    • Charlotte says:

      Not so much of the internet. These posts were written before I left, and scheduled to publish at intervals during my absence. I really like that feature! Also I’m glad to hear we’re still on for The Challenge. It’ll be great. It’s liberating!

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