The constant gardener

“I think there are two types of writers, the architects and the gardeners.” George R Martin

The first page of the 'plan' of my work-in-progress. It's very much a working document, full of aide-memoires, things to (re)consider and the like. The greyed-out scenes have been deleted but are kept in  as a reminder of things I've yet to cover

My work-in-progress plan, page one. It’s very much a working document, full of aide-memoires, things to (re)consider and the like. The greyed-out scenes have been deleted but are kept in as a reminder of things I’ve yet to cover

It might be time to admit that I’m not all that good at this ‘planning’ thing.

I’m trying. I should have learned by now. I could have saved myself a lot of work if I’d started my novels knowing exactly where I’m going. And I’m trying to absorb my lessons: I’m keeping a spreadsheet, a working document where I outline what I’ve done and what ideas/corrections come to mind as I’m writing. But it’d be a lot easier to make progress if I had every scene planned out, an end-point and an out-point already set down with only the actual words to be written.

But that’s just not me. I admire people who can work like that, I really do. It must be great to have that level of organisation, but I just have to leap in. The beginning of the novel is set and I know in what direction I’m heading: I know what sort of story it’s going to be and I have a rough idea of the length I’m aiming at. But what happens, to whom, at any particular moment – that I’m not so up with. Yet.

I like to think that this isn’t so much a product of laziness but because that’s what I really enjoy doing as a writer. I plant a seed. I watch it grow, watch it entangle with the other shoots. I cut back the weeds, fertilize it, give it water. And I work backwards: I see an interesting frond and I think ‘well, if we plant something in this patch of empty ground it’ll grow to meet it’. Sometimes I might completely uproot a sapling if it threatens to pull the climbing-frame right out of the wall.

This is really quite a silly way of working. I could – I should – have got it all worked out, a picture of my perfect shrubbery on paper before I planted the very first seed. I should have worked out exactly what equipment I needed, got my trowel, watering-can and my bark-chippings all ready before I even set foot in the garden. But…

But I love doing it this way. I love seeing what tendrils link with others; I want to see where they go. I love to improvise, to allow the blow of inspiration as I realise how to pull these shoots together, what will bind them tight and what choke them.

And anyway, is there really any difference? All it means is that, instead of taking all that time initially to map out my path, I’m doing it in medias res; the thinking all works out the same. It’s just done at different stages of the process.

What it means is that I’m constantly going backwards and forwards, rewriting scenes to allow new futures to spill from them and noting future-possibles for inclusion, when I get to the next crossroads and have to choose my path. Let nothing be lost, no idea, no matter how half-baked, be unignored.

The bad thing? This process is inefficient. How many scenes will I write then completely discard? How many times will I tinker with the same shoot – trimming, re-potting, fertilising – to turn it into the thread I’ve finally decided I need?

But I don’t mind that. It’s the beauty of writing without pressure, without a deadline: I’m doing this solely for myself. I can play. This is my back yard, my demesne, and I can do whatever I want.

And I am making notes as I go along, so my first task when I finish this draft will be to take those notes, take my coffee and my manuscript, and work out which lines I’ve not taken, which need repotting and which should be allowed to bloom.

Maybe I shouldn’t be calling this Draft One. Maybe I should call it Draft Zero, because the things I’m doing are so fundamental. But it’s a lot easier for me to work on something already written than to build from scratch.

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