Image Credit: Images created in Book Brush using Pixabay images.
I’m a great believer in planning out my writing for various reasons.
- Planning out what I write when means I don’t miss deadlines. This is vital for posts such as this but also for short story and flash fiction competitions.
- It ensures I make the most of what time I have to write on any one day. I use the limited time I have on my busier days to write short pieces. This ensures I make the most of the time I have. I have still done something creative (which always makes me feel good, writing can be addictive so be warned!) and I can save longer periods of writing time for my longer works.
- I can easily swap writing plans around. Life does throw a spanner or several in the works at times. It pays to be aware of this and to have a Plan B in place. I suspect this doesn’t just apply to creative writing!
- I use my writing times in two ways – one is to create something new and later edit it. The other is to carry out marketing which can be creative and fun but is time consuming. In planning out what I do when, I cover both aspects of the writing life.
- Planning out my writing means I don’t miss competitions I want to try. I have done that, long before I started planning my time out better, and have always regretted it. Not any more. I say regret it because some competitions come up quarterly, annually etc, which is great because I will get other chances to try these, but others are one-offs so miss those and that’s it.
- I know what I’m doing when I get to my desk so end up being more productive.
- I look forward to what I’m going to be working on for any one day.
- I don’t waste time wondering what I’m going to write next because I already know. That is a superb way to beat the procrastination fairy who is no help to any writer but with whom many writers are acquainted. I have been in my time. Not any more!
Does Planning Kill Creativity?
I would say it doesn’t. My experience has been it encourages creativity simply because I achieve more thanks to planning.
When it comes to planning out the story or blog post, I outline. Those outlines are based on what I need to know. Outlines will vary between writers because we all need to know different things.
I don’t need to know my characters’ entire back stories (a novelist would). I do need to know enough about my characters to picture them in my head, to hear the kind of language they would use, and I even have some idea of their social background.
I wrote a flash fiction piece for an exercise which included the line “he took the Garibaldi.”. I wanted to subvert a cliche and did but I could have taken it further by saying something like “he took the Lidl’s Rich Tea.” Tells you where he shops, what he gets, likely income levels, just by mentioning one supermarket.
I could’ve changed that again with “he took the M&S chocolate covered Rich Tea.”. I am indicating likely class there. Lidl’s wouldn’t be good enough for that character.
To make the most of this, I need to know something about my character first. This is where outlining helps. Here, for example, I would know my character doesn’t have a lot of money, which tells me something about where they would shop. Just a little planning here and I had a character to put in a story.
I’ve mentioned before I interview my characters. I ask a few pertinent questions to reveal attitudes, what I need to know about their background and so on. Doesn’t take long. Gives me an idea of my character and off I go to write their stories up.
As I write in the short form, I have to keep coming up with characters and situations so I ensure I have various ways of inventing these. Some forward planning helps so much.
Planning as a Procrastination Technique
This is a danger. You can keep planning and then never write something up. Or you leave something not finished and never return to it.
I showed my own procrastination fairy the proverbial door some time ago because I outline and then I write. Once I’ve written, I rest my piece for a while and draft something else. I come back to my first story, edit it, and if happy send it out. For me a piece of work is not complete until I have either sent it out somewhere or reserved it for a future flash fiction collection.
For non-fiction it is even easier to not use planning as a delaying tactic because all of the blogs I write for, including here, have deadlines. For CFT I imposed my own on myself (Fridays!) but I have found it so useful to do that. I plan my writing week around getting my CFT post done. Once done, I can get on with other work. But for all my blogs I don’t consider the work finished until it is out there.
No dithering, Allison, then. Plan, write, edit, get the piece out there, on with the next. All I can say is it works for me!
Many writers dislike planning, feeling it could spoil spontaneity. It doesn’t have to. I don’t plan out everything. I just work out enough to get me started and to know there is a story or blog here, the idea is strong enough. This gives me room for spontaneity to happen as I am writing my first draft. It happens all the time.
Here, I knew I would be writing about planning and would be discussing why I love this. I didn’t know I would be sharing my biscuit related writing exercise above until I wrote it down and realised it would illustrate a point well. The idea to write about planning was the starting point. That starting point in turn triggered my brain to think along the lines of what can I do to show my point here.
All of this is another reason why I love going to workshops and places like Swanwick. I cannot know what the course tutors will set as a writing exercise. I know they will set something. I just write to their prompts at the time. I take the view, later when I’m home again, I will look at those pieces and then plan how to improve them. So planning still comes in.
Just sometimes it is after I’ve got a draft down because I will want to see what I can do with my draft. If I can get it out somewhere, I will. I also need to have some idea of a potential market but as I improve the piece, I can see what I can do here. It is the starting point which is important and it pays to work out how you would be able to trigger ideas, what would your starting point be.
Writers often talk about thinking time. This too is planning. It may not be written down but the writer is already working things out.
Sometimes plans don’t work. Sometimes a character will show me something of their nature which hadn’t occurred to me when I was outlining them. I’m always thrilled when this happens. It proves my character works and has “life”.
What comes out here usually shows me other aspects of their personality I can bring into my story, deepening the characterisation. That has a major impact on the story itself and all to the good. You want your readers to feel what your characters do, to root for them to succeed or fail as appropriate.
Somewhere along the line a writer will have to plan out how they will get their characters to do this to their readers but the process should be fun. A little planning can help take the pressure off the writer and make the process more fun. I find this. I like to know where I’m going with a character and their story.
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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