‘If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.’

While I have to agree with Benjamin Franklin for the most part, I did start wondering the other day about planning our creative work, and whether we were really setting ourselves up for failure when we just run with an idea without really thinking about where it’s going.

I’ve always loved writing, and until I started my dissertation I didn’t really plan what was going to happen. Sometimes I’d hit a bit of a wall or have some discrepancies in the story, but for the most part, I’d love being surprised by the twists and turns that happened along the way – sometimes it was even as if I was reading the story for the first time. That kind of writing is great because it’s fun and based on reactions, and let’s be honest, sometimes doing something without any real structure is really freeing, and can really lift your writer’s block.

However not planning what direction you’re going in can be really detrimental to your writing. If you have no guidelines, how do you know where to go next? I found this as I got further into my degree. I realised I didn’t have writer’s block just because it happens, I realised I had writer’s block because I didn’t consider which direction I was going to take in the long run.

I don’t think I would have done as well at university if it hadn’t been for the screen writing module I did in second year. The level of planning that goes into writing a screenplay was something completely alien to me at first, but I slowly accepted the fact that I needed to adopt at least some level of structure (and the planning documents contributed to my final grade…)

Once I learned to plan, my work was completed faster and to a much higher standard, and while I still enjoy the freedom of not planning, I can’t actually do it any more. Even something as simple as a blog post, which used to be like stream of consciousness when I’d write on emphaticpanda.blogspot.com, has become a process which begins with a title, followed by in-depth bullet points before I finally open a ‘new post’ tab and actually write down what I’m thinking.

I found a happy medium between planning and having the freedom to be surprised by what I’m writing however. I think it was one of my tutors who suggested we wrote the key events of our narrative on post-it notes and stuck them to the wall, then we knew what would happen, but if we got bored of the storyline we could move around some of the key events to shake things up. Planned freedom. A strange oxymoron.

What do you think? How meticulously do you plan your narratives? Get in touch in the comments, or tweet us at @BrunerlWriter

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