Best laid plans

 Work count: 234                           Reading time: 1 min                 

Abraham Lincoln once said: “If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six sharpening my axe.” How long he had to chop down that tree and how long he’d spend sharpening that axe varies from source to source but you get the idea.

Many creative writing experts advocate sharpening the axe before starting page one. So in January this year I took my 2010 NaNoWriMo novel and applied the snowflake method to it. Over many hours I distilled the story into a single sentence and then expanded it layer by layer. At the end of the process, character charts and spreadsheets gave me a detailed flight plan of where I was headed.

That exercise taught me one important thing: the part of my brain that imposes structure on the world is not the part of my brain that unearths the stories and finds the characters.

So I started this month’s NaNoWriMo with a character, a vague plot idea, and the determination to finish. I’m up to 34,000 words now and every time I sit down to the keyboard it’s another day in a kayak. Some days I paddle in still, boring water. The rest of the time – most the time – I’m shooting the rapids, wondering where I’m going to end up next.

How do your stories emerge? Through careful planning or by a leap into the deep end?

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Photo: Joe Michl