Rebecca Tinnelly: To plan or to plunge?
Pool writers together, give them some wine and the odd snack, and soon enough (five minutes, tops) they will begin to discuss the process. The writing process. The process that keeps us employed, that fires our hearts, that gives us our own unique zest for life.
How do you do it? Where do you find your inspiration? How many drafts do you write?
Questions will be batted back and forth, each comparing their own internal answer with that being orated by their comrade and soon enough, the titular question will arise. Do you plan your novels before you start writing, or do you plunge straight in? I have yet to meet two writers who go about this in the same way. The strident planners will chapter plan thoroughly before settling down to write, often spending weeks meticulously detailing the arc of their plot, the narrative structure and character development. Others are quite, quite opposite. They plunge straight in, their grubby little fingers desperate to plink-plunk-plonk out the words on their laptops. They will worry about details such as structure, arc and development after the first draft is complete; once the story, the essence of the work, has been set down. What I have learnt most from asking this question is that it’s often the case that each book is prepared differently. I myself know this very well. I plunged straight into my first novel, rewriting it so many times I nearly lost count (fifteen). My second has been planned in great detail, the full plot having been discussed with my editor long before I began to type it out. My third novel is almost fully formed in my mind, though I haven’t written a word of it either as a draft or plan. I am ruminating like my fine bovine friends in the fields behind my house, chewing the cud of the story and letting the various concepts compost in my imagination. This change from one technique to the next is fairly common. A flexible approach to your work is as necessary as being open to receiving criticism, or being able to bounce back from inevitable rejections. Time constraints, for example, may make a detailed plan absolutely necessary so the novel itself is quicker to write. Jumping onto the other foot, a story may take hold of you so fiercely, with such urgency, that you know you cannot possibly wait a second to formulate a plan, a direction, for your narrative: you must simply write it. There is no right or wrong answer, merely a matter of preference and conditions, and for many this causes a problem. As writers, we love nothing more than to inflate our neurosis and crack open our fragile artist’s ego by comparing ourselves with others, be it in our sales record or, as is the case here, our approach to the craft. The real question we ask is not, ‘How do you plan your novel?’ it is, ‘Am I planning my novel correctly?’ ‘Am I doing this right?’ Take comfort then in the very fact that there is no correct answer. You cannot incorrectly plan a novel from conception, or not plan it, as the case may be. Every approach is different and, more crucially, none is perfect. The first draft will be rewritten, regardless of the preparation. It will be re-planned, it will be torn apart and put back together again. You will possibly lose track of how many times you have rewritten it. What is important is not how you write but rather that you are writing. – By Rebecca Tinnelly