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Every Writer Needs a Plan, Right?

The inspiration for my three novels, Dancing Priest , A Light Shining, and Dancing King, was a song. The story was gradually written in my head, and only there, for four years. When I began to pound the keyboard, it poured out – gushed, actually – for almost 250,000 words. Eventually, I shaped the equivalent of two novels from that original manuscript and had enough to write the third. But the story arc for the series was set by 2006.

Along the way, the outlines, drafts, and ideas developed for five more novels using the same characters, ranging from a 4,000-word treatment to a 70,000-word manuscript. Somewhere in there two entirely different novel ideas popped up, one becoming a 60,000-word manuscript and the other a 1,000-word summary. And the ideas for three more novels in the Dancing Priest series have been rattling around my head, following the same process as the original – creation in my mind as I go to sleep at night.

Did I mention the 30,000-word novella?

This is not exactly what I would call a deliberate writing plan. Including the three that are published, this would mean a total of 14 books.

It makes my head hurt just to think about it.

I look at these manuscripts, these words, and the characters waiting in the stage wings, and I’m not sure if there will even be another act. I’m working on the fourth novel in the series, but I’m plagued by all the usual doubts.

My plan will likely be something like “just plow right on ahead.”

For most of my professional career, I worked for a company where this absence of planning would have been anathema. Planning means control, and whether they realize or not, all corporations were created with the idea of reducing uncertainty by creating or extending control. Control your market. Control your environment. Control your raw materials. Everything is a process and has a plan. Measure the results of your plan. Repeat.

Corporations took a function like mine – communicating with the great, messy, unruly, uncontainable, obnoxious, and unwashed public – and expected it to control that environment. (“Tell the reporter not to ask that question.” “Tell Twitter to remove that tweet.”) Result: #totalfail. The communications revolution we’ve been living since the creation of the worldwide web has, if nothing else, proven that no one can control anything. In fact, it’s not about control any more, if it ever really was. (Watch what happens when you tell corporate executives that it’s not about control; it’s about letting go of control. Result: #careerfail.)

The way I’ve written my novel manuscripts likely compensdates for the writing rigidity I experienced at work. Now I let inspiration move me. In one form or another, there are likely some 500,000 words of published and unpublished manuscripts, with at least that many words to go if all of these books ever see the light of day.

Yes, I need a plan. And I need to take to heart some words I’ve read about planning your writing.

“Some stories can’t be written now,” says Charity Craig in On Being a Writer: 12 Simple Habits for a Writing Life That Lasts (co-authored with Ann Kroeker). “They don’t fit together, or they compete…Or maybe the stories refused to be written. Either the story is not ready, or I’m not ready to write it…having a plan doesn’t mean having all the answers.”

Having a plan doesn’t mean having all the answers. That may be one of the most encouraging things I’ve read about writing. Ever.

Top photograph by Matt Artz via Unsplash. Used with permission.

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