CP: To Plan or Not to Plan

This post is part of the Creative Process series, in which I will whine, cry, and philosophize about my life as a fiction writer. In the worst case scenario, fellow struggling artists will be heartened by my constant failures. In the best case scenario, a best-selling novel just might be written. 

This morning, I passed the 20,000 words mark on my novel. It feels like quite an accomplishment, but I know I have a long road ahead of me yet. Thankfully, though, with each passing day the writing gets easier. Although the old adage “practice makes perfect” may not be completely true, practice definitely does make things easier. That’s the thing with discipline, I feel. When you look at someone who is incredibly driven, motivated, and disciplined, you are intimidated and think that you could never do what they do. However, it’s not necessarily any harder to be them than it is to be you. Like any sport, it takes constant training to live a disciplined lifestyle, but once you get there, maintaining a high level of discipline doesn’t require more effort than maintaining a low level of discipline.

In any case, today I wanted to write about approaches to novel-writing. Specifically, should you or should you not plan the entire novel before you write it? Or, at the very least, should you know the general structure of your book? You see, I hated English class all through high school because our teachers forced us to brainstorm, write outlines, create character descriptions, etc. I would always bullshit through those “required” steps. Oh god, the thing I hated the most was having to write multiple drafts. In order to get a “good” grade, I’d purposely sabotage my first draft, hand in the real first draft as the second draft, and then revise the first draft slightly as my final draft. Throughout the years, I have gradually accepted the importance of revision, but it will never become my forte.

Now, without a horn-rimmed-glasses-wearing English teacher breathing down my neck, I do absolutely no preparatory work for my blog posts and short stories. I write them the way one writes poems — I start with a feeling, put pen to paper, and let it flow. So far, this technique has worked wonderfully for me and often I come up with better ideas than I could have ever planned. However, is it possible to write like this throughout an entire book? I’m somewhere around 1/5 into my novel and I haven’t planned anything as of yet. But I worry that when I’m halfway through I’ll realize that it’s a complete mess and my ideas are scattered all over the place. I also worry that when I ultimately finish, there will be no overall structure. Finally, I worry that I won’t be able to finish because I’ll just write in circles.

However, since the other old adage goes “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, I’m going to keep using my Blundering Fool Technique for now. Isn’t there a quote from some famous author that writing a novel is like walking through a pitch-black tunnel with only a lamp to guide you? In my interpretation, he or she means that it’s impossible to plan for more than what you can see immediately before your eyes.

Calling all novelists: do you plan out your writing? If so, to what extent? If not, do you find yourself having to do more revisions as a result?

À la prochaine,

R

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3 thoughts on “CP: To Plan or Not to Plan

  1. Pingback: CP: From Ashes to Phoenix « Rebecca Cao

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