To Plan or not to Plan?

Do you plan what you are going to write about before you actually start? Or do you just put fingers to keyboard at each writing session and let your inspiration take you along for the ride?

I must confess to being a meticulous planner but I sometimes worry that this is a stumbling block in the writing process. If I insist on coercing my brain into a particular pattern of activity then am I preventing my self from thinking freely?

This issue came up recently on a popular Irish internet forum and several people mentioned that they generally just sit down and write and that if they tried to plan too much they would never get started at all. Admittedly, anyone I know who writes in this way tends to throw out about 90% of their first draft but then all first drafts, even well planned ones are going to be a bit crap. I imagine that if planning too much means you’ll never get started then not planning is probably the way to go.

Yet, writing in this context – without a strong plan – would be unthinkable to me. I tend to spend a long time bullet pointing and outlining plot, story, character, content etc and, in many ways, I love the planning part. Cork-boards, index cards and bullet pointed lists make me feel like a detective trying to solve the ‘story’, putting the pieces of the puzzle together. I like to think I’m flexible enough that if I start writing and then part of the plan doesn’t work that I’ll go back and edit it (in fact that’s another part of my process – I edit as I go) but I sometimes wonder if my process is restrictive because it sets me down a particular path that it is harder to deviate from than if I just free-wrote.

I’ve tried free-writing in the past. When I was working on my creative writing diploma back in 2008, a twenty minute free writing session was part of nearly every class but I often found that my work would nearly always turn into self pitying diary entries rather than clear focused writing, although I must say that the process itself was always very cathartic. I much preferred the constructed exercises where we would think about character and form and plot.

The answer is probably that it doesn’t matter whether you plan or don’t and that if outlining works for me then I should stick with it. However, I can’t help thinking that I’’m missing out on something bigger and that in putting the pieces of the puzzle together I fail to see the sum of their parts.

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