That is the question.
A writing colleague and I were talking the other day about whether we should or shouldn’t plan our novels. I said I felt as I’d heard Rose Tremain say she’d felt: that if she plans, the subsequent writing bores her and if the writing bores her, it will surely bore readers … .
But I also knew as I spoke that there was a deeper resistance to planning in me and it is this: planning is the rockface, not the romance. Planning is the dangerous hard work from which I might fall off and injure myself (ie, the piece will prove itself to be nothing but piss and wind) and I am afraid that planning will destroy the romance of the words themselves. However I also know that if I write off in any old direction it takes twice (or thrice) as long and I get despondent. My colleague said: Novels and stories should come from deep places, from the soul, should be inspired, ie, romantic, but it’s difficult to square that with planning, let alone keeping an eye on the marketplace. (Hurrah, I said to myself .) But she also said: ‘But I am coming round to the idea of putting a structure in place, just a little something, for the inspiration to hold onto. It’s a bit like letting a climbing flower grow feely but putting a wire in front of it and saying, “This way, I want you here”.’I think her analogy brilliant. She is right. I also came up with one of my own: I need the bedrock of planning to provide a solid base for the romance (the soul) of what I write. Serendipitiously I found this, here, when idly searching for ‘bedrock and soul’:‘The substrate here is woodsy humus and soul pockets over bedrock … ‘ which says it all, really, even if unintentionally. But I shall leave the last word on planning to one of my favourite writers in my favourite book:
You may think novelists always have fixed plans to which they work, so that the future predicted by Chapter One is always inexorably the actuality of Chapter Thirteen. But novelists write for countless different reasons. … Only one same reason is shared by all of us: we wish to create worlds as real as, but other than the world that is. Or was. This is why we cannot plan. We know a world is an organism, not a machine. We also know that a genuinely created world must be independent of its creator; a planned world (a world that fully reveals its planning) is a dead world.