Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Best Laid Plans


Writing is a slow process. From idea to draft, from early drafts to later drafts, from query to agent, from contract to publication. That doesn’t mean things can’t move faster, just that they so often don’t.

Patience is a quality you need to cultivate if you are going to survive this field. I understand all this—even if I don’t like it. One thing I like to do is make plans to distract myself from the futility of waiting (I’m type A all the way).


Regardless of whether you’re a plotter or a pantster, I think being able to plan is a crucial act of writing, even if it’s the just-in-time variety pantsters employ. We have to be able to hold large amounts of information in our heads and then turn that information into something that’s not only literate but adheres to a recognizable structure. This ability is explored in part by Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographerby Peter Turch—a book that’s geared more to thinking about writing than actual writing, if you know what I mean, though in this case that’s not a dig.

Planning, making mental maps, using words to formalize what has only been nebulous or intangible thought… these kinds of activities take a lot of time, and can be the very means to work through the periods of waiting that always seem to crop up.

These activities for me often include:
--Planning out my next project
--Determining what I need to do on the blog
--Prioritizing story drafts across projects, critiquing for my writing groups and CPs, and research time

I also create contingency plans in my head.

Sometimes I create contingencies when I’m plotting out a novel and need my research to corroborate the action. I want X to happen in my story, but if the research doesn’t support X, I’ll need to go with Y. Or Z. Or maybe X will work but another set of conditions need to be considered. By planning out what needs to happen, and what alternatives could also work, I’m able to work through tricky plot issues and stay on target with my story.

Or in the case of submitting, say I have a handful of short stories under consideration at markets. However, most markets have no simultaneous or multiple submissions policies in place. Because of this, I have to consider what is the best order to submit them. Usually factoring in some combination of

1. Impact (higher tier/exposure over lesser markets)
2. Response time (quicker over slower)
3. Fit (always hard to judge)
4. Deadlines

For example, let’s say the average response time at a market is a week. And there’s a deadline for stories with a theme similar to my story coming up in two weeks. I would probably submit my story to the market with the 1-week deadline, under the assumption that if it gets selected (great), but more realistically I might get some feedback that would help me to submit to the themed market in time.

I’ve also created contingency plans in my head for what happens if something big and exciting happens. What then? I don’t recommend this last one. For starters, I can make a gazillion plans and all that mental effort goes out the door with one rejection. Sure, a contingency plan will kick in then, and I’ll remain optimistic for another few weeks and then… Well, you can see how this cycle could last forever.

So planning can range from the highly useful (as in the case of story plotting and time management) to busy work (micromanaging story submission orders) to entirely unnecessary (winning the publishing lottery).

But writers write. And in the case of this writer, I plan as well.

Happy writing (and planning)!

3 comments:

Laura Marcella said...

Sometimes planning my novels and stories takes longer than actually writing them. Having these plans often makes the writing go so much smoother.

That book looks cool. I'll have to check it out.

Happy reading and writing! from Laura Marcella @ Wavy Lines

Elizabeth Twist said...

Planning is good, in terms of career trajectory, especially since everything does take such a long time to come to fruition. It's a weird game, this writing thing.

Martina at Adventures in YA Publishing said...

I'm a planner too, kind of. My process has evolved to include something I used to call am outline, which I now realize is really a discovery draft. I can't do straight narrative: it has to include dialogue, because that's what comes out naturally and then gives me my characters. What happens after that is where the planning kicks in, I use Cheryl Klein's bookmap template. Love it!

And yes, lots and lots of patience. :) Mostly with myself. Thanks for the lovely post!

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