It being New Year, and a time of resolutions – even during a dismal and lengthy pandemic – I am making several, and one in particular about writing.
For those who have read my post a few weeks ago about ‘Planning for Pansters’ this will seem a bit of a repetition, because it is all about making a plan before writing a novel.
Still, having learnt my lesson the hard way – my urging in this post, ‘Do as I say, not as I did,’ might prevent at least one writer from making the same mistake that I have over the last few years.
So here we are: – I resolve not to rely solely on the inspirational side of my brain to get me through writing a novel.
I did get away with writing without a plan seven times – with each of my novels so far, in fact – but at the cost of many thousand wasted words and prolonged writer’s block – and only by the tips of my fingernails.
Generally, I have never written out any sort of plan. I would have an idea for a novel, would know something of the characters and their roles, and know the beginning and the end of the novel, but never the middle.
This wasn’t deliberate. In fact, I would resolve each time to draw up a plan. I always envied those methodical, organised writers who even take their planning to the point of having index cards on various aspects of the story, down to one on each of the characters.
Yet, somehow, I never got round to writing down even an elementary plan. Instead, I would give in to the creative side of my brain (my what?) which, whenever I had an idea, wanted to start writing at once, without any sort of preliminary plan at all.
All seemed to go well at first: then, invariably, at some point between a quarter and halfway through the story, I would find that I had come to a dead end. I wouldn’t know where to go from there: I would try and write out various developments, and none of them seemed right, somehow. Then I would realise that I had taken a wrong turn somewhere further back in the maze of plotting. I would have to retrace my steps, and that meant jettisoning a lot of writing.
In ‘The Villainous Viscount’ I had to throw out 20,000 words, and in ‘Georgian Romance Revolt’ I had to jettison 40,000. I had to throw out a fair number for ‘Ravensdale’; I can’t remember how many exactly, but it had to be above 5,000. I wasted about 10,000 words with ‘Alex Sager’s Demon’ and ‘ThePeterloo Affair.’ I probably wasted 15,000 words with ‘Where Worlds Meet’, the sequel to ‘That Scoundrel Émile Dubois’. As for ‘That Scoundrel Émile Dubois’, my first novel, I wrote four versions in all.
While we are not all temperamentally suited to writing a detailed plan down to keeping a set of index cards, I have finally been convinced – quick on the uptake, or what? – that it is never a good idea to write without a rough plan.
I don ‘t mean a detailed one, but one outlining the main plot points. After all, you can even write and devise a plan in tandem with writing parts of the novel – therefore, keeping both the creative and the rational sides of your brain occupied and satisfied.
I urge all novice writers, defiinitely don’t do as I did and write out the first draft without one. While that might be said to be a way of planning in itself, it is a highly wasteful one.
Here I’m going to repeat myself again and as before, recommend this excellent piece on the relationship between the inspirational and the critical side of the brain, and how to get them to work in tandem. .
And I’ll recommend this one is on minimal plotting for those like me who detest the very thought of it.
After that, it only remains for me to go put into practice what I’ve been pontificating about, and to wish all readers of this blog a Happy New Year. May the next one be very different from this 2020 Year of the Coronavirus Pandemic.