To Plan or not to Plan…

Andrew Norriss Guest Blog for Young Writers on Monday 9th March 2015

To Plan or not to Plan…

The actress Sarah Miles has a story of how she wanted to find out what her husband actually did when he disappeared off to his study for hours each day. He was Robert Bolt (world famous screenwriter) and she knew he was busy ‘writing’ but… what did that involve exactly?

So she got a ladder, climbed up to the window of his room on the first floor, and peered in. There he was, sitting at the table with his typewriter, and she watched as he typed for a bit, then stopped, pulled the paper out of the machine, screwed it up and threw it in the bin. He put in fresh paper, typed a bit… then took it out and threw it away. She stayed there half an hour and that was what he did. Again, and again.

I could have told her that’s what she’d see. Because that’s how I spend most of my day. Except I have a computer and a delete button instead of paper and a bin. It’s how all writers work. They write stuff, look at it, throw it away, and then write it again. And again. And again…

It always makes me laugh, when I see a ‘writer’ in some Hollywood movie sit down, type the words ‘Chapter One’ and just start bashing away until they’ve done 500 pages which they send round to a grateful publisher. I mean… that’s not how it works! A book has to be constructed. Before you start, you need a story arc, you need to know who your characters are, you need to know how your main theme will build to a final crisis, you need… you need a plan!

At least, that’s what I thought.

It was only when I started meeting other writers that I discovered there were some – not many, but some – who did no planning at all. They had an idea and, just like in the movies, they sat down and wrote, blindly trusting that their intuition would lead them through the narrative to a satisfying conclusion.

Listening to them talk, I was intrigued enough to think that it might be worth trying it myself, just to see what happened. I had had this idea about a girl – I called her Jessica – slowly realising that the reason everyone is ignoring her is that she’s dead. I had no idea how she’d died or what was going to happen to her, but… what would happen if, instead of working out a plan, I just started writing?

So I did. I sat down each day and pretty much wrote whatever came into my head. No planning, no story arc, no worrying where this whole thing might be going…

And the weird thing was that it worked. Sort of. The story that came out is pretty much the one you can read in Jessica’s Ghost and… and I liked it. In fact, I thought it was rather good.

…The only trouble was, it was very badly written.

Which is why, if anyone had peered in through the window while I was working on the umpteenth draft of Jessica’s Ghost, they would have seen me, sitting at my computer, writing for bit, then deleting it, and then doing the same thing again.

And again.

And again.

***

Many thanks to Young Writers for originally hosting this piece as part of the Jessica’s Ghost Blog Tour. Do have a look at their brilliant website which has advice, resources, recommended books, author interviews and encouragement for writers of all ages, and teachers and parents too.

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