I tried. I really did. People have told me for years. “Be more of a pantser,” they’d say. “Don’t plot so much. Surprise yourself.”
I knew I couldn’t sit down to write not knowing what would happen that day. Endings of stories often come to me immediately after the beginnings, sometimes right after the premise. Once the ending actually came first. I thought the “headlights” system would be a good compromise: plot only a few chapters ahead. (I call it the “headlights” system in deference to Patricia Highsmith, from whom I stole it. She used to plot that way, and used the analogy of a car’s headlights. You can only ever see a little bit ahead, but follow them and you’ll get all the way to where you’re going.)
I’m 21 chapters into the WIP. Three more are plotted. It’s an unholy mess. The time line is off. One subplot is missing. I’m trying to introduce it after the fact, but this requires going into already drafted chapters to insert information that should have been there in the first place.
I hate writing first drafts. I only get through them by building momentum and letting the narrative take over as I go, so I’m essentially typing up a story that is already fully formed in my head. All that’s left is the manner of telling. The events are already there. Writing without a definite plan of where I’m going is like trying to tie my shoes wearing mittens.
Tonight I’m getting out the index cards and capturing what has happened so far. Tomorrow I’ll start working on what comes next. The general form of the story is in my head, as well as where it has to wind up. I’m going back into my comfort zone.
I wish I could write something longer than a few thousand words without a detailed plan, but it’s time to admit I can’t. Thanks to everyone who encouraged me to give it a try. I can see why you enjoy it. I can even see how some stories probably should be written that way.
Just not by me.