Planning to Plan?

I’m notoriously bad at planning ahead. I’m not just talking about my writing either. I’m talking about life in general. Short-term, long-term, any-term. Want to know what I’m making for dinner this evening? So do I. Around 3:00 it will occur to me that I have to actually make something, which by this point in life, shouldn’t be such a surprise. After all, this dinner thing happens every day no matter how hard I try to avoid it. (And believe me, I keep trying to avoid it.)

I’m not ordinarily bothered by my fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants approach. After all, dinner still ends up on the table by 6:00 every day one way or the other. Some days I’m not quite sure how I pull it off, but I do, and I take a certain level of satisfaction from the challenge.

And then there is the writing. Ah, the writing.

I love to sit down with no real sense of who my characters are and why they are showing up on my page. I get an image in my head of someone or some interesting scenario and I run with it. I like it this way. It feels fun and fresh and I love being surprised by what comes out. I don’t expect everything to make sense in my first draft. This is the way I’ve done it for years and no matter what I’ve read to the contrary by those who prefer to do detailed outlines ahead of writing, I’ve never wanted to do it any other way than my own way.

But there is a downside to my method. Maybe it’s called “I’m getting old and wise” or maybe it’s just a shift in priorities? I don’t know. What I do know is that I’ve written 70,000 words on my current manuscript and that’s where it’s stayed because I honestly have no idea where to go from here. Every time I try to add something to the story, I end up hating it. In total, I’ve probably written closer to 200,000 words. It’s just that most of them didn’t survive the “next round” of rethinking and rewriting. This is the first time I’ve sat down to write a story and it didn’t magically unfold in front of me the way I like. Any other story and I would have scrapped it a long time ago.

There is something about this particular story that keeps me hanging on though and I’m hoping it’s not just the fact that I hate throwing away 70,000 perfectly fine words. I’m hoping that it’s because there is still a story worth reading hiding in there somewhere. Is this the story that is going to teach me the “lesson”? Is this the story that convinces me that everyone who tried to warn me to write an outline before page one was actually trying to save me from this madness? Tsk tsk… I should have listened.

Whatever the story is, it’s still hanging out there in some sort of tortured limbo state of first draft nightmares with little hope of becoming anything else at the moment. I’ve been pushing myself to finish it before the summer but clearly, that isn’t going to happen. The husband keeps telling me to put it aside and work on something else for a while. It’s a good idea but it isn’t working because the longer I go without progress, the more I start pulling my hair out in frustration. I have a good idea for the next novel but I can’t focus on it until I finally put my current work-in-progress out of its misery.

I’m in a bad place to be and it’s all because I dove in without my water wings and I’m still drowning. Please tell me there is someone that can cast me a line and pull me out? Thoughts? Suggestions? Have you ever been in this sort of situation and what did you do to save the work and your sanity?

In the meantime, that next novel I mentioned is not going down the same way. I’m already planning to plan. I’m going to do brainstorming, outlines, character sketches. I’m going to answer questions before I am forced to write the scenes that lead up to them. I’m going in with my flashlight next time and I hope to find my way to THE END with a few less bumps and bruises along the way.

Oh, and if you really want to be kind and help me out then by all means, buy my books in mass quantities so I can afford to hire a cook and not worry about what’s for dinner tonight. 😉

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