When it comes to any creative project you can name, there are some of us who plan meticulously so that everything is perfect first time and there are those that rush in and spend the time perfecting things later on. Both methods have their merits and their pitfalls. Sometimes it is necessary to do a little bit of forward planning – if you’re painting on a canvas in oils, you can paint over any mistakes, but with watercolours, slip up bad and you’re in trouble. At other times, it helps to get hands-on as soon as possible. If you have never used clay before, you’re going to have to have a few practice-runs before you get the final piece so you might as well get on and get your fingers dirty.
When P D James talks about the way she writes her detective novels, she explains that she has the whole thing planned out to the last detail before she sits down and writes. She does however, admit that even then things don’t always turn out the way she imagined. Minette Walters on the other hand openly confesses that she never plans anything and three-quarters through a book she’s writing she won’t yet know who did the murder (or whatever). The books of James and Walters are quite different – although they often appear on the same shelf in the library – and I think if you’ve read some of each author, you can probably see how each method lends itself to the sort of story each author writes, at least to some extent.
The point I’m trying to get to is that it strikes me that, when it comes to fiction, planning is an entirely personal thing. For me, I always rush in with stuff, but then there are certain points where I have had to stop and organise myself better with, for example, a timeline of events to help me keep a hold of the order of things. Next time I will probably be much more organised.
There are only a few tips I would give from my experience.
- Like the advert says, Just do it. There is an argument that claims procrastination is part of the creative process, and indeed there are many times where anybody else would think you are doing very little when in fact you are making leaps and bounds of invisible progress. However, for every person who has actually written a book – published or not – there are probably a hundred people who have written two pages or have this really good idea that they’re waiting to come together. The creative process – any creative process – is a bit like love. There is a certain amount of magic involved, but you’ve got to do your fair share of work in order to keep the magic going.
- Whatever happens you are going to have to edit and re-arrange things a little – probably quite a lot. So don’t worry about getting every word right the first time. It is far more important to believe in the characters and events you are describing. Realistically, a first draft should attempt to be a good story badly told. You can worry about the telling later. At the end of the day, people can forgive lazy, clichéed and uninspired writing if the narrative is compelling enough. Unless you are Laurie Lee or Virginia Woolf you will not get away with beautiful prose slung around a poor or non-existent story.
- Be prepared for the long haul. I am very fortunate in that my impairment has adjusted me to the concept of having to pace myself and achieving goals over a long period of time. Clinically, I am described as having poor mental stamina, but in another sense I have a lot. Most popular authors produce one book every year and that’s when they’re healthy people working full-time at it. So whatever your circumstances, it will take time and you need to be prepared to stick it out.
- When approaching the next book, I am going to keep a ring-binder containing;