The Wild World of Not Planning Anything Ever

Yesterday, Kate wrote this post about using Pinterest for planning. I read it with my usual mix of awe and “that sounds fake but… okay.” Don’t get me wrong—I have so much respect for planners. The idea of knowing what your novel will look like before you start writing it is incredibly impressive to me. I really admire anyone who’s smart enough to have it all figured out ahead of time.

Accepting You’re Not a Planner (at ALL)

That said, I’m completely incapable of planning. I barely even know what I’m writing about when I set out. I usually get a vague idea, and then things come together once I start writing it. “Um, so I think I want to write about a pregnant superhero… living with her wife… on a secret island.” From there, I usually Google pictures of gorgeous island cities while crying over how long it’s been since I took a vacation until my brain figures the rest out. “Why do they live on a secret island? Is the wife a secret government scientist? Is it a whole community of secret government scientists? What if my protagonist feels isolated because she’s not a scientist? Do they make fun of religious people like her? Oh! Maybe the loneliness drives her to make friends with other supers on the island…”

Truthfully, that example is pretty much the most planning I’ve ever done for any story. If I make it that far, I pat myself on the back and take a well-deserved three month break before writing a single word. Oops. But it’s a good example of how my brain processes things, I think. I often joke that my subconscious is a better writer than I am, because it’s usually not until I send it off to someone else that I even realize half of what I’ve written:

“I love the way you use sunlight over and over again as a symbol for the ‘blinding’ emotions!” (Wait, I did that? Wow, you’re right! I’m awesome!)

“The parallel between the cookies at the beginning and end was amazing.” (Oh snap, you’re right! I did book-end the story with symbolic cookie eating!)

“This character’s arc is so beautiful. I loved how the cat slowly becomes the replacement for the kid they lost at the beginning.” (Huh, I never even thought about that.)

Turning Coasting into an Art Form

Of course, I attribute a lot of this luck to voracious reading. Just like you can accidentally absorb a good sense of rhythm and an impressive vocabulary from reading, you can also absorb a nuanced grasp of plot and symbolism. But that only gets you so far.

For me, planning stifles all of my strengths. It just kills my whole writing process. When I was younger, I took all the prep advice to heart. I mean, you’re a bad writer if you don’t outline, right? What kind of author starts page 1 without knowing her characters’ favorite colors and tragic backstories? But the results of my planning were lackluster at best. Planning sucked all the fun out of writing for me, and I found myself dreading each chapter as I came to it. (It doesn’t help that I’m NOT a linear writer at all!) The years I planned were, almost always, the years I lost NaNoWriMo.

Now that I’m a more confident writer, I trust my process. I’ve found I do best jumping all over the place, writing whatever I’m most excited to write at that exact moment. I don’t start on page 1 without knowing everything about my characters; I start on page 113! I only write linearly and form a half-baked plan when I’m going back through and finishing the book. And that doesn’t happen until December (or if I run out of ideas to write near the end of November).

Harnessing the Power of Virtual Scrapbooking

So how does Pinterest help with my process? It’s just one of many tools I use, but it helps me passively work on my novel whenever the inspiration comes to me. Whether I’m scrolling through tumblr or researching an article for work, I frequently run across things I want to toss into my story. Pinterest works like a writer’s notebook for me. Using the browser extension, I just pin it to the relevant board (like this one) and continue procrastinating working on other things. As you can see from my example board, I can pin images and articles about every aspect of my character: breastfeeding, lesbian parenting, fashion, Catholicism, island living, personality type, hairstyles, superhero memes.

I don’t have any rules about pinning stuff. Should I make a board for the entire story or for each major character? Should I pin just aesthetic stuff, just research stuff, or everything that vaguely reminds me of the board’s topic? The answer is always yes! I do whatever works for a given situation, and I change my mind frequently.

Then, during November, I can skim through my Pinterest board and be instantly inspired. The visual factor really helps me snap instantly into writing mode. And if I’ve saved a cool infographic or article for research purposes, I just search my pins for it. It’s way easier than digging through a hierarchical bookmark folder labyrinth.

Staring Blankly but Calmly into This Year’s Void

TBH, I haven’t made a board for this year’s story. I’ll probably do that during November, when I run out of ideas but am not ready to start the linear fill-in-the-blanks process. For now, I’m way ahead of my average! I already know the protagonist gets back the London, and I’m pretty sure she’s gonna shoot the antagonist. I feel like such a planner this year. Time to take that hard-earned three-month break.

Do you use Pinterest? Have you found a way to collection inspiration and research that you think is way better? Let us know! (I’m always looking for the newest and shiniest stuff.)

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