The hardest thing a planner will need to learn in the beginning stages of writing is how to deal when things don’t go the way you wanted them to go.
This could mean a variety of different things, such as having your writing time interrupted or applying for a writing job you don’t end up getting.
But it happens on a much smaller scale, too. There are people who plan out their novels from opening scene to final line, for example, who stop writing halfway through because everything has gone off the rails and they can’t figure out how to get it all back on track.
I don’t think I’ve ever written a book that ended up going in the exact direction I originally planned on taking it, at least in some way or another. I once started writing an innocent action adventure novel featuring a likable side character that ended up revealing they were a serial killer. That was not what I planned. I do not like surprises, especially ones that involve murder.
But do you know what? That story ended up turning out okay. Because no matter how tempted you might be to stick with your plans and resist the urge to change them, there’s something surprisingly thrilling about saying “oh forget it” and letting your story do the telling.
It’s very freeing, to lose control. Which isn’t something you’d expect to feel the moment you realize your characters are the ones in charge and not you.
However, learning this lesson was probably the best thing that could have ever happened to me as a writer. As rigid and stubborn as I often am in most areas of my life, I become a completely different person when I put on my creative writing hat and step into the “zone.” I’ve learned not to try to control everything as a writer, because the reality is, you can’t. It’s not healthy for you and it’s only going to limit and hurt your stories.
I am a better writer because I learned to stifle my need to control everything.
It’s something many aspiring writers might benefit from, if they’re willing to make this change.
Planners must learn to adapt in all aspects of their creative crafts. Not just in the ever-shifting publishing world itself, but within their own realm of personal storytelling.
Don’t get me wrong — there’s nothing in the unwritten book of rules that says you can’t outline your entire book so you have some sort of direction for where you want things to go. But you also have to realize that your brain may come up with different — often better — ideas as you sink deeper and deeper into a project. This is a GOOD thing, and it’s good to accept that things are going to shift and you’re allowed to shift right along with them.
You’ll be much better off, in the long-term, if you loosen up and free yourself from your need for things to always go as planned. The best stories are the ones that surprise the people writing them. You can write a great story sticking to a basic “beginning middle end” outline while letting your spontaneous creativity fill in the gaps.
Outlines are helpful for motivation and for when you get stuck. But it’s OK not to follow them. It’s OK to decide you don’t want the story to turn out that way after all.
You can always change it back if you don’t like it, too. In many ways, you do have control — control, at least in the sense that you can decide to let that story go off the rails and not follow any sort of plan at all.
Well … good luck. You might need it. :)
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.