Best laid plans

I haven’t written anything for over two weeks. To some extent, I can justify this by having been slightly busier socially over the past fortnight than I usually am, having attended birthday parties and wedding receptions and even fitted in a visit to my parents. However, deep down I know that’s a cheap excuse, because there were many occasions when I could quite easily have made time for half an hour with the Work In Progress, and instead decided to clean the oven or watch another episode of Pretty Little Liars.

While I might have nothing tangible to show for the last couple of weeks, that doesn’t mean my brain has been idle. Far from it; in fact, one of the things that keeps me persisting with the WIP is that ideas for it keep shooting into my brain at the most random times, and I feel that if I’m still feeling so inspired about this story about four years after I first thought about it, then there must be something worthwhile in it – for me, even if not necessarily for the rest of the world.

I’m trying to ensure that I don’t waste any of these ideas, so I’m trying to scribble them down as they come to me, assuming it’s practical at the time. Last night, I even happened to be within reach of my laptop when I had a sudden flash of inspiration, so I opened up my long-neglected “plot ideas” document to add this latest nugget.

As I looked back over the other things I’d written in that document, I was surprised to see how many I’d forgotten, neglected or otherwise ignored while working on my WIP. For example, one of the big ideas I’d had very early on was that the main character has two best friends who don’t really get on with each other. They’re civil enough, but the only thing they really have in common is him, so they’re always a bit awkward and stilted around each other. I like that idea, and I haven’t entirely given up on it, but certainly so far I’ve found it rather hard to write convincingly, so there are whole, giant sections where the two of them  are laughing away like old pals, just because I wanted to get on to the bit of plot I was really interested in, and I reasoned I could come back and fix that in the edit.

It wasn’t just that, either – I found several paragraphs going into great detail about a main character, describing his physical appearance and various aspects of his personality, only to realise that I’d forgotten most of them and contradicted these original plans several times already.

I’m unsure how I feel about looking back over my notes. I don’t really want to be a slave to them, because sometimes you come up with your best work when you just follow the things that flow into your head in the moment, even (or especially) when they take you in an unexpected direction. But at the same time, I made those notes because those ideas were important to me and, crucially, looking back at them now, I can’t help feeling that these bare bones I wrote down before I started work are actually better than the stuff I’ve been writing so far. So I’m torn: I don’t really want to go back and edit at this point, because I wanted to get much further into the actual plot of the story before I even thought about that, but I feel I’d be making more work for myself further down the line if I don’t correct the mistakes now, because I’m going to want to make sense of the whole thing together sooner or later, and if I start sorting out the internal inconsistencies now, I’m cutting down my workload in advance.

I’m considering a compromise at this point: this weekend I’m planning to do what I’ve intended to do for a very long time, and actually work out a timeline. I’ve had one in my head for ages, but it’s rather vague and foggy, and I think it’d do me good to get down on paper the rough arc of the story, so that I know which points I need to hit and at what time. I might also do a brief outline of each chapter for much the same reason. This seems like a sensible approach: it’ll give me more of the structure that I clearly need to avoid the waffling and the meandering that’s plagued my WIP so far, but it’ll also give me a fair bit of freedom so that if I want to send everyone off to Margate for the day unexpectedly in chapter nine, I can still do it as long as I remember that somewhere in the same chapter Louise’s puppy is due to run away and Cousin Mallory is due to arrive from Texas. (Disclaimer: these plotlines are for demonstration only and are unlikely to appear in finished story. Although that’s not to say I definitely won’t use them, because Cousin Mallory from Texas could be quite fun.)

Word count (last two weeks): 0 (must try harder)
Total so far: 13, 781

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One thought on “Best laid plans

  1. Kat Sommers says:

    Hmm, I have the same problem with notes. Some of mine are mental, but some are really good. I go over them from time to time, and if they’re good enough for a scene, I add them to my spreadsheet (yes, spreadsheet) of possible scenes.

    Getting that scene thing right is the hardest. You know the conflict, but how do you get two or three characters to represent it? What situation would show it off? What could your two friends be doing that would demonstrate their devotion to a shared friend but antipathy to each other? Organising a stag do? I dunno. It’s the hard bit.

    The one thing I would say though is try to resist the temptation to edit! It’s so tempting to improve what you’ve written (I know – I have real trouble with it), but you don’t know what needs to be taken out or expanded upon until you’ve got your story stretched out in front of you, in a big messy line. Then you can scratch stuff out, or deal with Cousin Mallory (what’s his problem anyway? *Sheesh*).

    In the tradition of blog comments, this is all stuff I preach and don’t practise. All I can tell you is how I manage notes. I make them, and create new docs if I’m ready to extend them there and then, and file them in folders for each section of my story (eg ‘intro’, ‘turning point’, ‘crisis’). Otherwise they’re all in notebooks waiting for draft two, the rewrite.

    It’ll be a lot of work, but I think ultimately experimenting with the first draft and relaxing about its quality will set you on sturdier ground for the second draft. Hemming and hawing won’t.

    (Sorry, I’m no expert. These are just my reckons.)

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