Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Planning to Write is Not Writing. Agree or Disagree?

Planning to write is not writing. Outlining, researching, talking to people about what you're doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing. E.L. Doctorow

Overall, I disagree.
Yes, yes, yes, there's the cliche of the fellow sitting at the bar, chatting away about the Great American Novel he will one day write. If that's what Mr. Doctorow meant, then I agree with him.
However, consider:
Planning to write: All writing starts with an idea. One cannot develop an idea without a plan, even if it's simply my plan for staying up late on Fridays into Saturdays and up late again Saturday night to write fiction. Now, for life reasons, that plan does not always happen, but without planning for it, it would never happen.
Ditto for my work-related writing. I'm an obsessive list-writer and daily-schedule maker, jotting down the projects I'll tackle and in which order, etc. The fact that I revise that list multiple times each day doesn't make that list any less helpful. It only means I can adjust my tasks - and my expectations of what's possible in any given work day - accordingly.
And if "planning to write" doesn't count as writing, our weekly staff meetings to review what we will write are worthless. And they're not. So there.
Outlining: As a kid, I hated outlining, ye olde 1, 2, 3, with subheadings of A, B, C that felt like the death of every school writing project ever assigned. I never outlined my feature stories, and I did not outline Bryony, and whereas novel one was a delightful topsy turvy, near falling in love adventurous experience, my subsequent writing has progressed more smoothly since adopting outlines.
What changed my mind? My kids, actually. When I began writing Visage, they wanted to read it a chapter at a time. I did not write Bryony in order. So to meet their request, I had to write an outline, not the type of outline from my school days, but one that worked for me. This had several advantages.
One was the ability to utilize small modules of time and still be productive. Outlines take less time than actual prose, so I could get my basic thoughts onto paper (yeah, okay, "paper") and flesh out those thoughts "paint by number" style when I had more time.
Two, that fleshing out was much easier with my basic thinking done.
Furthermore, by outlining an entire story and then outlining that story by chapter and then by outlining that story by scene and taking the time to review my notes, I could immediately spot any plot holes, character inconsistencies, dead spots, and ridiculous or ineffecive twists.
When I saw how well this worked for novel-writing, I applied it to my features writing. To this day, the hardeset part of my job is the ten minutes I take to write that snappy lede and outline the rest of the story. The rest is, well, writing. But with an outline, I already know what I'm going to write.
Researching: Sorry, Mr. Doctorow, but part of world-building IS research. How do I replicate a Victorian ball if I don't research it? How can Henry Matthews spring from the page if I don't understand nineteenth-century dandies and their manner of dress? How will Dr. Rothgard's experimental treatments seem real if I don't understand some basic hematology? Even the boat scene in chapter twenty-four of Bryonywould look ridiculous if I didn't learn how one safely enters, exists and steers a rowboat. Spaghetti would be woefully out of place at a Simons Mansion banquet, unless I could devise an extremely good reason for placing it there. The construction of chapter twenty-seven in Bryony necessitated hours of glorious research (Boy, did I have fun!!!). 'Nuff said.
Talking to people about what you're doing: This one is a two-edged sword. Too much talking might translate into too little writing, as it may give one a false sense of accomplishment. However, a bit of sharing - with carefully selected people - also keeps the writer accountable and on track. When I was writing Visage and Staked!, I had three very attentive readers that, every weekend, nudged me toward the computer to produce the next installment. They even took over the cooking and household chores. Now, that's an engaged reader!
Tomorrow: I'll copy and paste some of my outlines and notes, decipherable only to me.

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