Buckleys Cough Syrup is to Colds What Planning is to Writing

The amber bottle sits on your kitchen counter like a poisoned chalice. You twist open the top and pour,hands shaking, the dark liquid onto the concave silver utensil. You lift it to your tightly pursed lips. The burning in your chest screams for relief and the pain in your throat feels like a thousand tiny ninjas have sliced it up like coleslaw. You pry your lips open, insert the spoon and pull the “poison” into your mouth. You swallow quickly. Your body shakes, convulses and shivers. Ugh! But…slowly the dark liquid does its magic and the throat is soothed and the chest is cooled. It’s true. It tastes awful but it works.

The same is true of planning.

You have your daily planner highlighted, you’ve penned in a number of dates with your keyboard, you have purchased a pile of gold stars to track your progress and you have your butt in the chair and your fingers are poised over the keyboard and…nothing! I am not surprised. Hold on. Don’t click the off button just yet. Hear me out.

You have planned out when you are going to write, but you haven’t planned out what you are going to write. So you are only part way there. You have heard the saying, those who fail to plan, plan to fail. Therefore, in order to succeed you must, say it with me, plan. Don’t say that last word like it’s some horse pill or a tablespoon of Buckley’s cough syrup that I am forcing you to swallow.  Yes, I hear you, not everyone is a planner. Yes, yes, you don’t want to have to plan out every little detail of your story. And some of you are yelling at me that you don’t plan what you are going to eat for lunch let alone plan an entire novel. I know. I understand. I do. So take a deep breath in and out. Shake off the fear that is has its talons dug into your back and hear me out.

There are those of you who that can sit down with only a vague idea of a story and write and write and write and write until they come to the end of a novel. For those of you who know who YA author Alice Kuiper is (author of The Death of Us, Forty Things I’d Like to Tell You, and Life on the Refrigerator Door) than you would be happy to know that she is not a planner and she is a successful author. Her partner, the man she shares her life with and children with, Yann Martel (author of The Life of Pi) is not. And from a story Yann shared with me, Alice tried to be a planner and it just didn’t work for her. But she tried it…that’s what I am asking you to do. Try. You may be surprised to discover planning works, or at least a version of planning works, for you. And, then for others you may be like Alice and come to learn that planning is just not for you.

J.R.R. Tolkien was a planner.

J.K. Rowling is a planner.

Yann Martel is a planner.

And these are just a few I know off the top of my head that use planning as a tool to help them write.

There are essentially two lines of thought when it comes to planning, or at least as far as I am concerned.

1. You plan as much and as in as great a detail as you can from the beginning of your novel to the its resolution.

2. You plan a basic outline of your novel. The start, some of the points in the middle and the end. But all the little parts in between you write as you…write it.

Those who adhere to the first method of planning, the Full Body Planner I will call them, sit down and write the entire plot out. They may even have full character sketches, setting details, maps, character diagrams and any other bits of details that they need to have on hand to help them go from the first word to the last word of their novel without delay, or with as little delay as possible. Tolkien was this kind of writer. He spent countless hours, days, weeks, months planning out the language, the places, the story line before he wrote. Yann Martel spent two years researching and planning out his acclaimed novel. And the “behind the scene” effort, worked.

Those writers who practice the second method, the Skeleton Planner as I will call them, sketch out the rudimentary parts of their novel. Where and how the novel starts, the plot points that move the story along, leading to the climax and then the resolution of the story. They have a few of the main characters established, but other than that, they discover the rest of the story as they write toward each plot point. They have, in all likelihood, done a lot of research before hand, I know I certainly do. They, like the Full Body Planner, have investigate the era in which their story takes places, they have fact checked on some elements and they have a crude character sketch established of their protagonist and antagonist. But, they tend to fill in more detail about these individuals and supporting characters as they write.  I personally use this form of planning. It gives me a guide to direct my writing and yet allows me some inspirational elbow room, if you know what I mean.

Whatever method you try…I ask you to just try it. What could it hurt? If you have ever written yourself into a corner where you can’t figure out what to do next or you are coming up blank…perhaps planning will decrease this (and dare I say cure it?), thereby allowing you to reach your goal and finish that novel. All you need to to do is try one of the above methods. Will you be a Full Body Planner? Skeleton Planner? Or a No Planner? Aren’t you curious to know? I know I would love to hear what you discover and once you do, come back and tell me all about it.

So, go ahead. Take your medicine. Shiver, convulse and shake, but swallow it. And then, maybe, just maybe you will discover that planning tastes awful, but it works!

Until next time!




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