In Defense of Noncommittal Planning

Many of my writer friends are extreme planners. Just the thought of starting anything without at least an inkling of where it’s will eventually lead is out of the question. On the other hand, I have other writer friends who relish the ambiguity of starting something, without knowing what will come of it.

Personally, I lie somewhere in the middle. As an improviser, I know that wonderful stories can unfold without any planning at all, and yet as a writer, I like to churn out list after list, timeline after timeline, to accompany my work and to keep myself on track. And though I am a definite proponent of using the principles of improv as guidelines for most aspect of life, I don’t consider this inclination towards planning to be a character flaw. This is because as I am planning, I am fully aware that my plans will most certainly go awry, and that’s okay. It’s all part of the process. Rather than being married to my lists and timelines, I think of them as a saucy mistress whose purpose is to make me feel safe and secure, but no fidelity is expected of me. Does this make me a promiscuous writer? If so, my timelines have never complained.

I recognize that everyone has their method, and that every method is valid. This is the one that works for me. Planning gives me a sense of direction, and that gives me confidence. When that direction changes, I accept this, re-assess my plan, modify it to fit. Of course, I’m referring to longer projects, such as my novel, which has gone through a thousand transformations since I began it. The ending has changed time and time again, and now that I’m working on draft two, this constant metamorphosis has only intensified.

I still do not know how the changes I’m implementing will affect the outcome as a whole, and that’s fine with me. If I chained myself to my plans and followed them word for word, the whole process would be completely devoid of surprises, and the joy of discovery would be lost. And if I’m bored writing it, imagine how my readers will feel! Reading and writing are both acts of discovery. Discovery of new worlds, discovery of new ideas, discovery of the self; these are the things that make life interesting.


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