Skip to main content

The Un-Plan

By May 5, 2009How To


When I was in grade school, fifth or sixth grade, I remember many nights of planning out what I was going to wear the next day. I’d pick outfits that were going to look ever so suave.

And without fail, every single time I wore one of these outfits, I was miserable. I have no idea if I looked cute or not – but I felt terrible. The clothes were too tight or too long or too fitted or too not at all me.

As I got older, I did this less and less. I know for a fact that by high school, these occasions were rare. My senior year, I never left my house unless I was comfortable – it was my thing. My parents thought I looked like a slob…but I was very cool in thrift store jeans, my big brother’s t-shirt and my Birkenstocks – let me tell ya.

Let’s be clear – I’m not a planner. To this day, when I get dressed in the morning, I’m led almost purely by my desire for comfort, barely by social doctrine. I learned that lesson well and it stuck. I look into my closet and pull out the first thing that looks like it’ll feel good. Then I look for what’ll feel good with that…and on and on…until I’m dressed.

The result isn’t always glamorous – but, lo and behold, it usually works out just fine, feels divine and sometimes still involves old jeans and perfectly worn t-shirts (and flip flops, I gave my Birks up years ago along with my Grateful Dead singing, VW bus driving, toe ring wearing, hippie boyfriend).

I write like I dress. I’m not a planner. I get an idea that feels good and I follow it to the next idea and the next idea and the…. You get the picture. And the project gets written.

And just like with my wardrobe, this ‘un-plan’ usually works out…

About five years ago, I was at the home of one of my all time favorite yoga/spiritual writers, Stephen ‘Kavi’ Cope. (If you are even remotely interested in growing yourself as a human, read his Yoga and the Quest for the True Self, you need not be into yoga to have your head implode and your life change to benefit from this book). Kavi was working on his second book, and in his office, taped all around the room at eye level, was a looooong strip of paper that contained a dramatic time line. It was the blueprint for his book.

It was detailed, it was the solution to a puzzle, it was magnificent. And all he had to do was color it in and stay inside the lines – and then he’d have his book.

“This is why I don’t write novels,” I said, wearily taking it all in.

Fast forward to today. I’m writing one [a novel, did I tell you that?] And I do have an outline. It doesn’t look like Kavi’s, but it’s not quite as follow your bliss as my usual writing. It’s more like a dimly lit path with guideposts so I don’t get lost. I know I need the plan, but I also need to trust and follow the way that I write best. Er, that would be, flying by the seat of my most comfortable pants.

Image courtesy of lifecreations

Join the discussion 3 Comments

  • Debra Snider says:

    So interesting! I outline when I write nonfiction, but my characters run the show when I write fiction. As A Merger of Equals developed, I prepared a chronology to keep up with it (and to make sure the final product didn’t have any of those timeline or plot inconsistencies that are so jarring to readers), but I can’t imagine having been able to wrangle the story into any semblance of an outline ahead of time. The characters just did what they did, and I wrote furiously to keep up with them – for 18 months. The same is happening now with novel #2.

    I love that there are many ways to approach writing and to write. And it intrigues me that your and my writing processes for fiction & nonfiction are exact opposites. Thanks for the fun post!

    (P.S. I do still have a well-worn pair of Birks. Best slippers ever!)

  • --Deb says:

    It’s funny because I actually LIKE to plan. And when writing fiction? Figuring out the plot ins and outs is my favorite part…

  • patriciaj says:

    I don’t like to plan, but I like to be organized. I often start a project and then realize, uh-oh, I need a plan to be organized. Got that?

Leave a Reply