There’s a lot of stigma about how we should write. But the stigma typically runs two different ways on any subject. You either plan or you just write your story without writing anything down. You either write your story in order or you jump around. You either write fantasy (regardless of what actual genre it is) or you write real life.
None of these are true. I’ve seen these in play everywhere. What I want to talk about are the stigmas of planning your story. Many people that I talk to (that aren’t writers) think that writers plan out their stories, write them, and then edit them. And they’re not wrong. But they’re also not right.
I plan a lot of my stories. I find that I have the most success when I have some sort of plan to work with. However, I do also try to make space for changing my mind on smaller details. Your plan is the ‘first draft.’ It is the story before it is a story. It is something that you have to think hard about before you try to turn into your story. It is a guide and a ruler for you to measure your writing against. Sometimes it helps when you’re trying to make goals about what to write for a day or whatever.
But the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. I have a sci-fi story that I’m writing. It is edging into the territory of sci-fi/fantasy, but that’s only because I’m not far enough in the planning process to figure out the sci-fi solution yet. I decided this month to start work on this story. I wanted to write 5 ‘acts’ which are broken down into seven ‘arcs.’ All of these numbers are arbitrary. In the end, when I finish writing the draft and start editing, all of those markers will disappear and I will reorganize the story into chapters. But the important part is that I am actively writing this story while I am planning it. I am working on the third act in the planning process, but I’m writing in the first act. That doesn’t sound like a very writerly thing to do.
I’m sure that there are people out there, even among the people I know that would think that this decision sounds a little funny. How can I write this story when I don’t know what’s going to happen later? Well, that’s actually part of it. I finished the second act, got stuck, then started my June commitment to writing 1,500 words every day. From working on that draft, I was able to see things in the story that a plan will never see.
But things changed more. I’ve started changing the format, how I want to handle the story, all of the perspectives that I want to include. This is changing the way that I look at the plan, the way that I look at the story, and the way that I look at the time I am spending on it.
I never intended to change so much. I knew from the start that my format would be weird and difficult and wonderful in that way. But I also thought that it was going to be a later on problem. Then it became a right now problem.
The wonderful thing about drafts and writing is that it allows you to play. That’s what I’ve decided to stop shying away from. My first draft is only mine. No one else will see it unless I want to share a little bit. This is my second plan. This is where all the ideas are starting to come together.
Playing with a draft and messing with the structure isn’t something that has to be done outside of the ‘normal’ writing process. There is no ‘normal’ when it comes to writing. Just do what you have to to get the story down on paper, then move onto the next draft. And keep moving until you can change no more.