One of the other great myths of writing is that all writers can just sit down and start a novel and write it through to its conclusion. And while I have to concede that this has been done, it has only ever been done by genii of such a rare order that the magnitude of chance required that you might be next means you would be far more likely to win the lottery the next 5 times that you played it.
The rest of us mere mortals require plans. The range and depth of your planning will vary according to your temperament, experience and intentions. And the best part? You don’t even have to stick to it.
Plans require intellectual rigour. They require that you really engage with your subject, with the story you want to tell. Plans are the first sign that you are serious about taking that dream down out of the sky where it lights your way and making it real, right here in front of you.
That’s why so many people are scared of plans. They rob the sky of the light of dreams. But they forget that plans also light the way ahead of your feet, taking you to new spaces where you can see new stars lighting the sky.
They say every story has a beginning and an end. It’s true. They do. But you get to decide where that is. So do that. Try it out. Decide: where does this story start? Then decide, where does this story end? What do I want to be the conclusion of this tale? What point do I want to make, story to I want to unravel?
It’s hard to know which road to take when you don’t know where you are going. That’s why having an end in mind is the best way to start. When you leave home, you know where you are going. How you get there is up to your mood, your resources or sometimes even the weather. But you know where you need to go. It’s the same with a story.
In its telling, in the middle, the end may change. That’s OK. It got you out the door. It got you to stop talking about writing and actually write. Let it go. But start by putting that marker down in the sand. Take aim at something.
Once you know where you’re going to start and where you want to end, you have to start moving. You have to choose: The Red Pill or the Blue Pill? Turn left out the door or right? You can plan this too if you want. Some people do.
Ask yourself: what needs to happen if I start at 1 and need to get to 20? If I leave out some things, will 20 still make sense? What is the logic of the journey from the start to the end?
You can figure out 20 steps. Put them in any order that makes sense to you. Then write your way through the steps. Or not. Or you can just write into the space between the beginning and the end. It might come out straight, it might need some rearranging.
While you’re doing this, you might not always recognise what you are doing, or what you are saying. Unexpected, unrecognised things may come up. That’s OK. You’re writing. Not publishing. This will still be checked, rechecked, worked, corrected, re-thought. While the weirdness is happening, follow it. Don’t lift your head from the scent and ask questions that you can’t answer anyway. Just keep on going.
Sometimes things will finish up and you’ll wonder what it is… it’s not yours. That’s not what you think. Well, maybe it is. You wrote it after all. But don’t worry. Let it lie and stew a while, you’ll figure it out. Just don’t throw it away because it doesn’t match some preconceived idea of what you thought you wanted to do. Maybe you just can’t. Maybe while you were going you changed your min without noticing. Weirder stuff has happened to you before I am sure.
What happens next? I don’t know. What did you plan? Stephen King advises all writers to put a finished project down for a while and to come back later to re-read it. Don’t even re-read and correct while you go he says. Write, do not edit. Editing comes after writing. But come up with a plan. Without a plan there is all too often no writing. You can break up with the plan too. That’s OK as well.