Haphazard scribbler or methodical planner?

I always find it fascinating to read or hear about how writers set about creating a novel. Since starting this blog I have begun to get a glimpse, from comments left and tweets I received, into how differently everyone approaches their writing.

Much as I might, every-now-and-again, try to be ordered and methodical about my  approach, I find I invariably start with a crucial scene. The scene will probably have been knocking around in my head for weeks, or possibly months. I’ll have replayed it over and over, tweaked it, explored the characters and probably inhabited each character’s mind to see things from their point of view. (To outsiders this looks like tons and tons of daydreaming). Then I might write it all down. Invariably the scene won’t emerge onto the paper as I imagined it. The paragraph or chapter will get many, many rewrites as it become surrounded by other chapters. One day, having served its purpose as an initial spark of inspiration, it might be discarded altogether. (Sad, but even the most liberal minded writer must act as hard-hearted dictator, massacring hundreds of words in pursuit of their vision.)

This initial chapter (if it survives the sporadic culls), might end up at the beginning, the end or somewhere in the middle. Subsequent chapters, the way I go about things, will probably follow a similar pattern. The second chapter I write may contain completely different characters and take place years before or after the initial one. It really all depends where my imagination takes me.

This describes the initial uprush of creativity which is, for me, the most exciting phase of writing. If I’m really into a project I’ll get almost obsessively consumed by coming up with scenes in my mind. Somewhere in the background of my subconscious, I imagine, my brain starts working on the method by which the central thread of the story will weave through from beginning to end. At some point I will make myself sit down and  write out a timeline, or attempt a synopsis (or something approaching it).

As my piece of works grows I’ll probably return to the timeline, write back stories for my characters, research topics connected with my story, compile lists of continuity errors, missing time and places where elaboration is needed. This requires me to periodically reign in my imagination and force myself to become restrained, objective and methodical. It is not my favourite part of the process but is absolutely essential.

My technique is what I would describe as haphazard. I know I should start by outlining my story, planning my chapters, starting at chapter one and moving on from there. I would love to know if anyone actually does do this?

How do you approach a new piece of writing? How does it differ if you are writing a novel, or script or piece of poetry? Are you methodical or haphazard? As you have evolved and improved as a writer have your techniques and tendencies changed? Don’t be shy, post a comment 🙂

5 thoughts on “Haphazard scribbler or methodical planner?

  1. Zen says:

    I’m definitely a haphazard scribbler. I’m too impatient to actually sit and plot out the entire story before starting to actually write. Even when I did plan out things, I found that I always tend to stray away from what I’d originally pictured.

    • plantageneta says:

      Yes, it’s quite interesting where your imagination takes you. I tried and tried to write a children’s story but it always veered off course and started getting dark. No I just go with the flow and see what comes. What kind of writing do you do?

      • Zen says:

        Well… I write fantasy novels mostly, though currently I’m working on something titled The Muse Bunny, which is more on the side of magical realism and humour. =]

  2. jlgentry says:

    I’m a pantser, too. I usually envision the first scene of the book and then it is a rollercoaster ride of discovery until the end. I write chpters/scenes out of sequence because I just go with what th emost powerful image is. Then I ask how they got there, and that lets me fill in the gaps. I try not to re-write anything in the first draft, just keep going and ignore bad grammar, stupid scenes, wrong time of day/week/year, or even name changes of characters. The first edit cleans all that up, but editing is a different frame of mind than writing.


    • plantageneta says:

      Hi JLG, thanks for your comment. I’m with you on just getting it all out, ignoring bad grammar etc. I had to look up ‘punster’, never heard of it before – where does that come from? When I googled it I realised it appears to be quite a well known/used word. My view is that if I try to get everything perfect in the first draft I’d never have time to get out all my ideas and quite possibly I’d forget a lot of them.

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