Thursday, September 26, 2013

Seat of your pants.

Writing on the fence - Norman RockwellI've often heard it said, by many modern great authors and writers, that the way to write a great novel is to quite simply... just to write. To plunge yourself into action of writing, and that, with practice and time, somehow you will become a great author. I really hesitate to criticize this thesis, seeing as so many good writers would oppose me here. However, given the quality of modern literature, I honestly think there might be something wrong with this approach.

Imagine this; you're an officer going into battle, and your general tells you not to plan at all, because planning is cowardice. He tells you to fight like a madman and hope for the best. You would probably protest. You might even call him an idiot, blockhead, fool, dummy, moron, nitwit, imbecile, cretin, ignoramus, muttonhead, dunce, pinhead, ninny, dumbbell, nincompoop or twit. Not that I claim to be an expert in either military tactics or strategy, but something tells me that capering headlong into a battle with nary a care in the world--tends not to work so well.

I know there is something to be said for impromptu writing, and some of my best friends seem to come up with wonders on the seat of their pants, but I am not one of those people, and my writing tends to take a lot of thought. I need time to sort out my ideas before I put my hands to the plow, or else all my work ends in befuddlement. These blog posts are usually the child of my unspoken, daytime rambles. Now, far be it from me to suggest that everyone should write the way I do; however, isn't there something to be said for planning? 

A lot of the great novels and classics had planning put into them. Some works, like Lord of the Rings, had almost an inordinate amount of planning. C.S. Lewis first conceived of the Narnia Chronicles in 1939, but he didn't finish writing The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe  until 10 years later. Most authors, until relatively recently, seemed to consider planning an essential part of the novel process. This seems to have been largely replaced by the seat-of-your-pants-style. 

 My point is, it's okay to put some time and effort into your novel to make it good. Be patient! There's a place for planning and intellectual effort in your book: it's beforehand. You don't have to feel bad if you're not writing at this exact moment. That's no excuse not to work on your book. You just don't have to work on the writing right away; plot matters too.


  1. I wouldn't personally say there's anything wrong with the approach, but something wrong with the conclusions of the people who use it. Some (perhaps even many) authors are all too quick to decide they have arrived and become that great author and in their excitement fail to critique their own work quite harshly enough.

    Me, I'm something of a hybrid. I can't come up with creative ideas just sitting down and trying to plan them out. That always turns out something very dull for me. BUT, if I get an idea and just start writing it, then from that little bit of actual writing I can begin to extrapolate where the story might go. I come across lots of interesting ideas this way. Then I usually scrap my first effort and build off of the good ideas that came out of the hybrid brainstorming/planning and try them out in a new story. Each time I do less and less planning and more and more just writing and eventually I have a solid foundation to work with and I can plan, albeit vaguely, from there.

    I'd hate to try to write without any planning. I'd also hate to try to write with lots of planning. If I bog myself down with details that I have to write, I lose interest. There's no more freedom. As I go along and reach point G in my grand scheme, a vastly more creative idea comes to mind that upsets H and onward. Then I'm lost. I have to plan again, only to have the same issue come up later. It gets frustrating and before I know it my work is poor and not worth all the planning I put into it in the first place.

    So you see, it's not so much about planning vs anti-planning, it's about some people need to always leave that creative window open and take things in slowly, and other people can open a creative door, take everything in, and close it behind them. I'm the first kind of person and I think that's a fine place to be.

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