Is planning helpful?

When reading writing blogs, I see a whole lot of information about the methods of planning stories etc, or the best ways to plan but not a whole lot of discussion as to whether it’s a worthwhile exercise…

So I gave it some thought and did a cheeky little pros and cons list. This will mostly apply to story writing (of varying lengths) but there will be some small things relevant to poetry mixed in.

Pro’s

  • Clear ‘goals’– a set destination, or path to follow can help your work flow in the right direction. As to how minutely you dictate these ‘set points’ depends on your personality as a writer, personally, I don’t like to plan things too thoroughly.
  • Continuity- planning can help to create a consistent theme, or help pin point the right moment to foreshadow a future event. This is especially important if you create plans that pertain to each character I.E. their personality and character development. Planning like that can help to achieve consistency. Additionally, if your setting the piece in a made up or fantasy world, planning can help create a consistent ethos/ culture/ religion/ environment within that world. Human beings love rules, unfortunately.
  • A Clear Picture– I have found that planning can help to clarify places where my plot has drifted into a vague, murky, non direction. It has even helped me to solve the endings of things that I have begun free hand, so to speak, which I have gotten stuck with until I sat down and worked out the plot points. I have even gone so far as to draw (and by the way I cannot draw, at all) places I think are of significance to the plot, or characters in order to better describe the picture in my head.
  • It follows a way of thinking we were taught at school– this is sadly true but the whole world of ‘show your work’ at school, the world of spider diagrams and draft versions that are to be marked and essays explaining the decisions you made (that last one applies to both artistic and scentific branches!). That world has narrowed (most) minds into a certain way of thinking and processing ideas, even ones that are purely creative because no creative subjects in (U.K schools at least…) are taught without this kind of thing being forced to accompany it. If you’re planning to treat writing like work then sometimes mapping it out is the best way to kick start your brain.
  • It creates order– that creative ‘aaahhhhh’ moment when you’re caught in the whirlwind of your imagination and the pictures in your head is wonderful but it can amount to total rubbish. Nearly all forms of writing follow a structure (remember? Humans like rules), even free verse poetry has it own set of things we normally include, whether people like to admit it or not. Creativity is chaos and a structured plot, world, characters or theme will bring order to it. Plus, if we’re being honest, writer’s are sticklers for order- however creative we’d like to think we are- our every sentence is dictated by grammer, spelling and punctuation. By design we naturally follow a set of rules.

Cons

  • It’s a great way to procrastinate– sitting down and planning something can give you that satisfied, ‘I’ve done something productive’ feeling, whilst in reality you have achieved almost nothing. No words have been written, that word document or note book page is still blank but you have done something, so it’s okay.
  • It becomes less organic– as I said before that creative spark moment does need some planning to tame it but I’ve found the opposite effect can be achieved. It loses it’s shiny sparklyness. You can become obessed with hitting a plot point, so much so that you will just being filling the space with fluffy babble in order to reach the next bit. I’ve found that it can cause me to ignore my instincts about where something I’ve written should lead to next, in order to force it in a direction that now no longer works with what I have created in the sparky moment.
  • Forced continuity– contradictorily to what I have written a couple of paragraphs above… consistency is great but not if it is forced. That whole Chekhov quote ‘If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.’(source) is a great example of something that would be subtle foreshadowing. The same goes for character continuity, creating repetetive characters traits/ tropes, such as Hermione’s bossiness or Ron’s swearing/ general being a dickheadedness, which don’t really have a purpose for character progression until the final books (I.E Ron cares about the house elves being involved in the final battle and therefore, becomes less of the everyman bigot type, thus showing others can be so too). Don’t put things in for the sake of it being there, it must, shall we say, blend with the wallpaper.
  • Time consuming– if like me you have a full time ‘real job’/ a family to care for/ life in general getting in the way; it is hard enough already to find the time to write. In order to have the time to do this I have written this blog piece at 1am, after finishing work at 11 this evening. Planning will inevitably take precious time you could spend writing and if you’re not the type of person who finds it particularly helpful, then you’re time is better spent actually writing. Alternatively, if you’re someone who struggles with planning but wants to do it, it’s something that genuinely takes practice. Structuring your story etc can be extremely helpful if done effectively but learning the way that works for you will take time. It is a skill and, possibly, a necessary one at that.
  • It’s worth depends on how you think- to put it bluntly, sitting down and working out the specfic details of a piece of writing will not work for some people. Some people just don’t think that way. Some people will find it ruins their ability to be creative entirely. Some people will get too fixed on structure or plot points and lose all focus on the peice itself. Yes, it is something that takes practice to do effeciently but learn to do it the way that works for you, even if that means not at all. Don’t let some advice blog (even mine!), book or pinterest article dictate the way your brain processes these things. If a vague couple of scribbles in a notebook are enough, then so be it. If a point by point break down of how you want it go helps, then fine. Whether or not it is worhwile depends on your personality and way of thinking, which is something that happens as you develop as a writer.

Now me…

Personally, I use a little of both. At university I found that the detail to which I had to plan my thoughts, drafts and inspirations irksome and tiring. All the naturalness of a story can be ruined when it has to be accompanied by a ‘rough draft book’ (which is marked and cannot be rough in any sense of the word) and a 1500 word essay justiying my every decision.

It took a long time after uni for me to regain that ‘spark’. Now, I let a story begin naturally, sometimes typing several pages, or even completing a piece before adding any sense or structure. Sometimes, I do take an idea and do myself a dumb little spider diagram and then write without a structured plot from there. For my biggest project (20,000 words and counting, eeep!) I do have a point by point structured plot, with focused descriptions of important characters traits and appearances and doodles of how important locations should look. It is set in a fantasy real so that world needed it’s own rules. However, when I’m actually physically writing a scene, I find certain things I planned to put in it will not work at that point so I will scrap them and try to put them in elsewhere or not at all (as if it’s not useful in that moment, then will it ever be useful?).  I have even changed the entire story around thoughts and ideas that appeared spontaneously when I was actually writing. A.K.A that moment in writing where you surprise yourself by doing something genuinely clever.

I like how planning a creative writing piece gives me directions but I do not enjoy rigity as it seems contradictory to the whole point of it.

Some examples of my planning ⬇️

Now stop procrastinating by reading this and get writing!
**cough, cough, follow me first though please**

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