I’ve had a bit of a revelation this autumn in terms of how my creativity works. For the majority of my creative life, I’ve resisted doing much planning of stories, and avoided too much time pressure. I did once write a novel in 6 weeks (for money) but it took so long to recover afterwards, it wasn’t worth it. The whole ‘write a book in a month’ thing that is NaNoWriMo leaves me cold. This, I have realised, is because plotting is better for me when I do it less consciously.
If I sit down and lay out a plot, the odds are it will take a fairly obvious shape. I’ll think about beginning, middle, end, action, tension and resolution. I’ve tried doing it this way and there’s a very high risk I’ll get bored and never finish the first draft.
If I go the other way, the slow way, something else happens. I usually spend a lot of time before I start writing just thinking about the setting and the main characters. I get to know them. I explore their first person voices in my head until I know how those voices work and what sort of people I’m crafting/summoning/channelling. Then I let it go from there. It’s not a smooth process, it takes as long as it takes, and sometimes there are gaps. I don’t always know why I’ve written things. However, if I let go and trust the process, what invariably happens is that apparently random things will slowly weave into a coherent-ish sort of story, where the narrative emerges and has an odd shape of its own.
I wouldn’t get to that kind of story if I tried to plan it.
The human mind is a complicated thing, and much of our thinking isn’t done at a level where we can see it. Our ability to calculate, to find patterns, and to experience inspiration, all happens beneath our own radar. To do something in a fully conscious way is to only use a part of what we’ve got at our disposal.
I use the second draft as the time for conscious, deliberate crafting and the application of skills and knowledge. I find it works better that way, shaping the raw clay my unconscious mind generates. There’s no point, I have finally realised, trying to make my creativity flow at a predictable rate in tidy ways. If I want to be inspired, I have to go with what works, and my inspiration goes at its own pace, or not at all.
November 5th, 2016 at 11:36 am
I think non-fiction writing is a dog that you can train to come at will, and fiction is a cat that you feed and pet, but is its own master.
November 5th, 2016 at 9:45 pm
I like this theory!
November 5th, 2016 at 1:02 pm
I don’t plan either. I like to let my imagination wander and find my characters come to life on their own that way and the story takes shape. I feel stifled if I try to plan, and the writing loses it’s flow. I know just what you mean.
November 5th, 2016 at 3:45 pm
I tend to have a plan so I have direction then allow whatever wants to be written to completely override it. When it all goes crazy I plan again and so onward I go.
November 5th, 2016 at 8:21 pm
yes planning a narrative has never worked for me, it is exactly as you put it that our thinking works out of sight….I imagine it like ferns in the damp twilight in a wood slowly uncurling unseen, only stirred by the air from a deers nostrils or a moths wings….if you attempt to think it all out then you’ve drained it of life, concealment nourishes the best stories until they are ready to come out
November 5th, 2016 at 9:34 pm
I need more deer nostrils in my life 🙂
November 7th, 2016 at 1:30 pm
Robin, I couldn’t have put it better myself. And I need deer nostrils too. 🙂