Motivation, First Drafts and Planning

I was following a conversation about creative writing on LinkedIn recently, and someone was talking about motivation. All the commenters were talking about what do you do when you are trudging through a first draft and you think that what you’re writing is rubbish. I replied with the following rant, sorry, spirited explanation of the important processes involved with getting your story actually done. I thought you would enjoy it, so I reproduce it here.

In my courses I point out that motivation is a tricky thing. Stopping at points where you know exactly what you are going to do next is a good tactic, but that presupposes that you plan what you do, which of course you should. Lots of people don’t plan because they like to be surprised at what comes next, and they think that planning somehow squashes the creative process. But think about it, would you stand up in front of 1000 people and start talking on a subject without any clear idea about where you were going with it? Would you embark on painting a 1000 foot mural on a wall without a clear idea? Would you start filming a feature film without a very detailed plan? Would you build a gorgeous one of a kind boat without a blueprint?

No you wouldn’t. Planning is everything, you must sit down and somewhat coldly and passionlessly plan what your story is about, chapter by chapter, how many chapters and how many pages. You should plan exact details about what happens in each chapter, forming a blueprint of what is going to happen and also not only what happens but why. Then you will almost never run out of steam because you ALWAYS know where you are going to go at every stage.

My students ask does this squash creativity? I always answer no, on the contrary it frees it. Because in those spaces in between the hit points, the points of interest, you can be free to improvise and create and have lightning flashes of insight which bring the thing alive. And what if it sucks in places and you don’t think it’s working very well? If your plan is good enough and detailed enough you will sail past those sticky patches easily and get to stuff you are more sure about. Then when you’ve finished that all important first draft you can go back and fix those parts that don’t work based on the rest of the stuff that went well. It’s all about the big picture.

I put it like this: Painters don’t paint their pictures inch by inch making sure they get every stroke right and figure out what the picture is going to be later on. They have a vision of what it looks like overall, they sketch it all in roughly, then refine it and refine it until they are happy with the plan. THEN they start applying paint to tie it all together, and if a bit isn’t working they revise it and revise it until it all works together. You should do the same, the first draft is a pencil sketch which you refine and perfect, until you are ready to start applying paint in the second draft and finish and polish with the third.

Art is not about about getting it right first time, it’s about exploring the world you create until it matches your vision. Only when it matches your vision do you show it to anyone else.

I’d recommend my own books on writing but that would be crass so I’ll point you to Roz Morris’ excellent “Nail Your Novel” because that talks about this process in a very lucid and easily workable way. Plus Roz is brilliant and deserves a much bigger audience.

Just my 2p.

“Nail Your Novel” is available on Amazon. If you don’t have it already go look now. Obviously my friend Nick Daws has written on this subject extensively too, and you can get access to his courses here or here.


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Thanks for reading, see you again soon.


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