Saturday, 24 April 2010

Writing, Planning, and The Tentacled Monster

‘Fantasy abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters; united with it she is the mother of the arts and the origin of marvels.’ Goya.

Writing novels is both a simple and a very complex process.

On the one hand I just sit down and write and write and write - and write - until the words on the page grow into the story that - in some ghostly pre-knowledge – I know it always was. This organic model is very attractive – it implies that we writers are extraordinary vessels for a pre-existing story, conduits that act to give form to random elements of our subconscious.

This makes great sense to me.

On the other hand my novel can become a wild creature. It can grow tentacles and flail about. It can grow wings and fly. It can spurt legs and go clumping down the road away from me. For a time this is exhilarating, exciting. Fantastic.

Again, this makes sense to me.

Then there comes a day my monstrous story gets wild, too wild to hold onto. I have to rein it in, to give it form, to shape it up. This process, done well, can have its own more intellectualised creative charge, profiting from the conscious rather than the unconscious mind.

Each time I ask myself how is it possible to pull this material into a readable state without losing the original organic energy?

One name for this process is planning. The very word sounds deadening, institutionalised doesn’t it? Like forcing the tentacled, winged, heavy footed creature into a rectangular box. But there comes a time that I must think of cause, consequence and shape, and make the novel do its work to transform the organic material into a coherent form. This is the other, necessary side of the creative coin that spins, eventually, into a publishable novel.

For me this more conscious planning happens in stages as the whole story evolves. Inside these stages there have to be open cycles of organic speculation, feeling, risk-taking. But it is the planning that takes the story forward.

But I’m becoming aware that when one has written quite a few novels, as I have, there’s the real danger that the planning itself may have become too embedded in the subconscious and can stifle the organic energy of the first writing. The creature’s wings are clipped and the tentacles not allowed to flail.

So I've made a decision to cultivate the wildness, the riskiness again, to let the creature rage, to grow tentacles and wings. And fly.

So far, so very exciting



  1. Am very taken with that notion that we are "extraordinary vessels for a pre-existing story"; makes great sense to me too. I am launching a writing group (well, groups plural, hopefully), here in deepest Devon in September and I will definitely be using that quote - full credit to the author of course(!) - to inspire those setting out on their writing journeys.

  2. Good luck with the wild creature Wendy!

  3. Wow Wendy! The search for balance between the freedom of creativity and the restraint of planning is so vividly and originally expressed here and I love the Goya quote! I think this dilemma is at the heart of much of what we do when we write, especially when we write long, where planning is more integral. It's great to be reminded that cultivating 'the wildness' and taking risks is the way to being truly creative and original.

  4. Good luck with your writing groups Boots (as if you need it...) The comradeship of writing groups are a kind of liberation to writers. Hope my quote generates some good discussion. wx
    Thank you Kathleen. I will try to be wild.
    Avril - these thoughts emerge from our great conversations.wx



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