Planning Ahead

If you didn't know, I'm a planner. (Also, if you didn't know that it means you're new, so welcome!).

I love planning. I know everyone's different, with their own process that works for them, and so I can't tell you how to write. But listen. If you don't like your process, if you feel like your stories lose direction halfway through, if you find yourself quitting on stories because they don't go anywhere... you might try planning.

You might even like it.

So first of all, I'm neurotic (totally selling you on this planning thing, aren't I?). When I'm in a draft, I can't skip scenes, I hate retconning the beginning, and I have recurring nightmares about getting to the end and finding out it's stupid.*

But when I'm planning, I can do all those things and it doesn't bother me. Maybe because revising an outline takes like a hundredth of the time it takes to revise a draft. Maybe because I'm insane. I'm not sure.

I've seen people say they don't like planning because it takes all the surprise and creativity out of writing - as if there's no reason to write the draft once we know what happens. But see, there's so much surprise and creativity that happens while I'm planning, but it happens faster. It's like taking a week to discover the story instead of a year.

Does that mean the draft is a chore once the planning is done? Heck, no!** I'm obsessive about planning, but even I don't plan every little detail. I know who wins the fights, but I don't know how. Someone convinces the protagonist to change their motivation, but I don't know what they say. Characters I didn't realize I needed appear sometimes. Sometimes my outline even changes.

I know, I'm such a hypocrite.

And even if I know exactly what happens, down to the details of who hits who and how hard, there's still the surprise and creativity of figuring out how to say it. It's not like I ever think, "Oh well, gotta write this scene now. Sigh." The scenes I've thought the most about are the ones I'm most excited to write. Always.

So for me, planning doesn't remove any surprise or creativity; it just shifts it around. At the same time, it gives me some element of confidence that the weeks and months spent drafting are not wasted on a story doomed to crap out on page 212. It lets me know, in a relatively short amount of time, that the idea is sound (even if I fail later on execution).

Like I said, everyone's got their own process that works for them. Planning might not be for you. If you're not sure, maybe try it out on a short story or even just a chapter. Outline it down to a sentence or two per scene and see what happens. It might be better than you think.

*I still do those things, but planning helps minimize it - all the more as I get better at writing.

**Well, yes, sometimes. But I've never met anyone for whom drafting isn't a chore at some point, planner or no.


Natalie Whipple said...

I really love your enthusiasm for planning. I do think it's important. And when I get stuck in books, I don't hesitate to whip out the notebook and start scribbling.

Actually, I just did this for my WIP, since I'd made it through Act I and then realized I had no clue what happened next. Plotted out to the midpoint, and very excited to get there.

Tana said...

I love planning too. It's fifty percent of the enjoyment for me.

Hepius said...

I have to plan. Flying by the seat of my pants always leads me to disaster.