Everyone does it different.
Well, that's not helpful, I thought.
But the more I studied the profession, the more I came to realize that they were right. Everyone writes a story in a completely different manner. There's no singular path to this art, which is part of the magic. As such, we're free to find our own ways from dreamer to doer. For me, those "ways" were ingrained in me from my previous career and have helped me overcome many writing-based speed bumps. Consider them nothing more than one person's take on how to plan for arting:
1) Make a Plan:
"In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable." -Dwight D. Eisenhower
Planning is, at its core, one of the most crucial skills a writer can learn. Some people have the ability to write 100,000 words from the seat of their pants, but for many (myself included), we need a plan. An outline. A guide to get us from Point A (the blank page) to Point Z (the celebratory glass of wine after typing The End).
Planning also helps you think through the "What If's". The first time you do this, you're just spit-balling. "What if my computer dies? What if my plot stinks? What if there's a chandelier on stage?" But each time you plan another story, you apply the lessons learned from the previous attempt. Eventually, your plans become a little more refined and a little easier to follow.
For me, it starts with an over-arching concept. What is the point of the story? Who are the main characters? And, most important, what is it I want the reader to get out of this by the end? From there, I do some reserve-engineering, asking myself "what was required to get us to here? Okay, how about before that?" And so on. Once the basic plan is in place, I'm ready to fire up my writing program and start hammering out the words.
2) Understand Your Plan Is Just That:
"No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy." - Helmuth von Moltke the Elder.
Always have a good Plan A. Then have an even better Plan B. Make sure Plans C and D are roughed out as well, just in case. That was the advice I was given many moons ago and some of the best I've had to date. It helped me in my military career and has helped far more in my writing career.
Plans are great. They provide a solid foundation to operate from. But they're not set in concrete. Sticking to The Plan without an ounce of deviation may not always be the right answer, in combat or in writing. All the plotting, outlining, and framework in the world might not be enough to fix the fact that the plan itself is awful. Or that something popped up you hadn't planned for.
Normally I can get through the first chapter before enacting a massive change that makes Plan A completely obsolete. A character's name changes, a plot point becomes too outlandish or forced to work, an antagonists' motivation simply doesn't make sense. Stories, no matter how long or short, are living organisms. They adapt, grow, and mature the more we work on them, slowly evolving from bare bones to a full realized tale. Being willing to break from The Plan is vital for allowing the story to go where it needs to, which leads to the third critical artistic planning item:
"I'm a Marine. We don't plan, we improvise." - Sgt James Dunn, Most Wanted
Combat, like writing, is fluid. Both demand an ability to adapt and overcome situations that weren't in The Plan. For writers, adaptation often comes in the form of inspiration. Sometimes it hits early on. Other times its "midstream". One moment we're happily following The Plan, the next, we're down some rabbit hole of an idea. The next thing we know, everything leading up to that scene needs to be completely reworked. Being able to, and more important willing, to adapt when inspiration hits is crucial.
4) Lose a Battle to Win the War:
"What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals." - Henry David Thoreau
Not every story is meant to be a best seller or a novel or even a completed manuscript. Sometimes they're merely stepping stones to the next level. Ask any author and they'll admit to having a ton of half-finished manuscripts that will never see The End.
But you know what? That's okay.
Each one of those stories helped refine their skill. They're the hammer and anvil that shapes the artistic sword, honing the author's understanding and ability. Each story started with a plan, sometimes a half-baked idea at best, but a plan none the less. And each one was ultimately trunked because it was a losing battle. But stepping away from that story, an artistically tactical withdraw if you will, is sometimes necessary. Not only does it allow you to focus your energy elsewhere, but you take the lessons learned from the trunked story and apply them to the next manuscript, then the next. Each time you get better at the process, hammering out imperfections, smoothing the blade. Then one day you look back at those early attempts and realize just how far you've come, how sharp your skills are now in comparison. And all because you planned, failed, and planned again.
Like Eisenhower said, plans aren't the crucial element with writing, but planning is. The process of developing a plan, then being willing and able to completely deviate from it are hallmarks of both successful tacticians and writers. Each time you sit down to write a story, you apply the lessons learned from before and use them to further refine your skill. Plan often enough and ultimately what you get isn't a perfect plan, but an artistic story that's the result of the planning process.
Joshua Roots is a car enthusiast, beekeeper, and storyteller. He enjoys singing with his a cappella chorus, golf, and all facets of Sci-Fi/Fantasy. He's still waiting for his acceptance letter to Hogwarts and Rogue Squadron. He and his wife will talk your ear off about their bees if you let them.
His Urban Fantasy series, The Shifter Chronicles, is available wherever digital books are sold.
He's planning to do...something...eventually....