Thursday, August 9, 2012

Writing Takes Planning

Well, work starts up for me again in a bit less than a month.  The plus of teaching is the three months off in the summer, but it is also the downside, since by the time the third month rolls around, I’d be happy to stay on vacation forever.

Anyway, regrets aside, I’ve been making writing plans.  See, when I’m working for real, I have to schedule my writing somewhat strictly to make sure it gets done in the midst of a million stacks of grading.  I’m sure others of you who work a day job to pay for the writing habit know what I mean!

The kitten feels my dilemma: eager, but held back!
However, I’m at a bit of an impasse right now.  My fellow artists in any genre surely know the delight which comes with working on a fresh creative effort.  In an ideal world, we would finish one perfectly realized project and spring gaily on to begin the next.  As I’ve observed before, the world remains decidedly not ideal, and so we end up yearning to go on to something new, while still being saddled with all the correcting and editing and perfecting of the old stories. 

What I’d love to do is ignore those insistent editing projects and start my new novel, but I can’t.  My sense of duty towards my old novels holds me back.  Both The Art of Dying and House of Mirrors still need considerable love and tenderness before they’ll really be done (or at least done for now).  The other factor is that in the next novel I want to tackle themes like the history of the Coeur d’Alene tribe of Native Americans, alcoholism, divorce, father-son relationships, bereavement and police work. With such an impressive roster…I probably need to do some research before I start.  Don’t worry, though:  even if I am a method writer, I promise I won’t fall into alcoholism myself – I can only hold about two drinks, after all! 

So this is what I’m thinking.  The Art of Dying lacks about 35 pages until I’m done paring it down to a cleaner story, and then I also need to do a preliminary edit of the last four chapters of House of Mirrors.  If I could finish those two things by the end of summer, I would count myself lucky and successful.

Then those same two works both need to be reread from beginning to end, the former mainly for typos, and the latter for plot inconsistencies, stylistic problems, extraneous material, etc., etc.  If you’re a writer, you know the drill for editing, I’m sure! 

Writing must be taken as seriously as climbing 900 steps!
Considering these factors, I’ve decided that I will hold off on plunging into a new novel for at least five months.  I’d like to start it with the new year, in fact.  Theoretically, as long as teaching is not too crazy, that will give me plenty of time to edit the two other novels and to do at least some of the research I need to make the new story credible.  At the same time, that hiatus will not be so long that I fall out of the creative mentality and feel reluctant to start writing again.  Also, to make sure that doesn’t happen, I’ll indulge in some poetry and short stories, I’m sure. 

Now, you may wonder why I’m disclosing my writing plans.  Partly, it’s to get them sorted out for myself by writing them down.  The more important part, though, is because recently I wrote about how to deal with writing plans which ‘gang agley’ (thank you, Robert Burns).  It is true that you have to be flexible if you want to be a writer who has a life, so that all the different elements don’t become scrambled and exasperating.  At the same time though, I do think planning is needed – but a specific kind of planning.

I’m not really addressing writers of short fiction or poetry here.  While I do both myself and thoroughly enjoy them, I don’t have to worry excessively about planning them, because they are naturally adapted to be fitted into a spare moment here or there.  With long writing projects like my novels, though, some view of the future development of the work has to be made.

Strategy guides the novel like a good machine
We’re all so busy.  We have work and family and relationships and budgets and wardrobes and food and sleep and hobbies and probably a thousand other things which occupy us.  And yet some of us still want to keep writing novels on top of that.  Since that’s the case,  in order to make sure that our creative impulses survive in the middle of all the other business, we have to be able to strategize. 

Make a long term plan (make it extra generous too, because from experience I can tell you that if you give yourself 9 months to speed-write a novel, it will probably stretch out to 15).  Don’t beat yourself up if the long term plan doesn’t quite work out, but also let it guide you to keep writing and working and producing the art which you love.  That’s the method which works for me - and hopefully for others - when it comes to fitting the production of novels into everyday life.  


  1. Continued wishes for success. (I) Being sort of semi-retired... doesn't mean one should let time slip away. While I've got that plan list in my head - it is good (I suppose to write it down) because when you share your goals with someone (even if it is an unknown eye on the great wide web) you at least, I think feel more accountable.
    Oh, so you say where is my list... maybe next week :)

    1. I definitely agree that writing down a list for someone else to see, or even for yourself to stumble across occasionally, makes you feel more accountable. It's helpful if one tends to be a procrastinator, like me ;)