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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

New Book Update: Best Laid Plans Oft Go Astray (But Don’t Let That Block Your Writing)

plan a writers blockYou might remember from a previous New Book Update, that my plan for revising my novel was to:

  1. dreamstorm possible new scenes and modifications to existing scenes
  2. then play around with new, modified and existing scenes on index cards or Post-it Notes to find a new structure (at the macro level of scenes)
  3. BEFORE I started actually drafting the new scenes or re-drafting existing scenes at the micro, word-by-word level.

I didn’t do it that way.

One night last fall in my Entering the Flow class, I was thrilled to discover an alternative for a scene at the end of Chapter 1 that had always bothered me. The original scene included the Hollywood cliché of one character asking another to knock him unconscious. The second character had no genuine reason to comply with the request. But a key plot point arose in that scene, so I tried to ignore the little voice that told me the scene felt contrived.

Back in March, when the plan called for moving scenes around on index cards or Post-It Notes, I thought that since the new version of Chapter 1 would affect the entire rest of the book, I may as well re-draft the chapter before making scene cards for all the existing scenes. Making scene cards for the entire novel felt overwhelming, so I took a little detour. The upside of the detour is that it kept me moving.

The downside is that the detour lasted three months and 11 chapters.

Because I was changing the last scene in Chapter 1, I thought I may as well trim the rest of the chapter to eliminate excess exposition. And since I was doing that, I should break the chapter into two and change the setting in the new Chapter 2 to fit the new scene card. I tracked how many words I cut every day and that became incentive to keep re-drafting. I slid into re-drafting and revising mode, and since I had momentum, I kept going.

I forgot about the plan to write scene cards for the existing chapters until two days ago when I realized I could replace the all of Chapter 12 with an alternate scene I dreamstormed back in February. But I’m not entirely sure that’s what I want to do. Now I need the scene cards for existing scenes, possible alternative scenes and completely new scenes so I can see how the alternate Chapter 12 could fit into the whole.

So I’m finally writing scene cards for the entire novel. I’m back to the plan. I wrote cards for the first four chapters last night. I’ll admit I’m not sure how long I’ll last with this stage of the plan before I need another detour.

stick-to-it writers blockStick to the Plan! Or Not…

I don’t know if my detour was a short cut or a delay. I’ll never know because I can’t go back in time and see what would have happened if I followed the original plan.

What I do know is that I showed up every day I said I would, cut 4,164 words and feel good about the progress I’ve made. That’s good enough for me.

Some people can’t stand to deviate from the plan. As long as that works for them, that’s great. But if a plan starts to feel like a straitjacket that keeps you from moving forward or becomes the source of resistance, it’s time to jettison the plan.

Is it time for you to take a detour?

P.S. I didn’t use Robert Olen Butler’s dreamstorming method to write the first draft of my novel, but I am finding it tremendously helpful in this revision. If you’re feeling stuck with a revision of a novel or memoir and want to learn how dreamstorming can help, stay tuned for my brand new, upcoming online Loft class Revisiting the Flow starting Oct 27, 2014.

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One Comment on “New Book Update: Best Laid Plans Oft Go Astray (But Don’t Let That Block Your Writing)”

  1. Joel D Canfield May 29, 2014 at 8:17 am #

    Like most people, I forget to ask myself if the plan is still The Right Plan. But when I pause and do that, it has always helped to have a chat with my unconscious to see if I’m seeking sabotage or looking for a smarter path.

    It’s rarely easy to decide. But once you’re here, there’s no point in wondering where other paths might have led unless there’s a clear and obvious lesson to be learned.


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