I wish I could say that writers just start typing and the story writes itself, but 9 times out of 10, that’s not how it works. No, a story requires thought and planning. Along the way, you might discover some genius and the words may start to flow more freely – but not until you've rolled up your sleeves and gotten down to work.
I think back to one of my first art projects. My twin brother and I were in the same kindergarten class, and the teacher asked everyone to create and color a picture about the ocean and give it a title. Our “artwork” would then be judged and the winners’ work put on display.
Right away, I pulled out my crayons and started coloring. When I finished, I had a purple octopus, fish of many colors and probably some attempts at ocean seaweed. I got in line behind my brother and waited while he talked to our teacher.
His was not nearly as colorful as mine. In fact, it looked like a meager attempt to recreate a bunch of blue and yellow flounders from The Little Mermaid. I was thinking to myself how mine was totally better than his.
The teacher asked my brother, “What’s yours called?”
“The School of Fish,” he said simply.
I was only four at the time, but I remember my jaw dropped. What looked moments before like a lackluster picture now took on a shade of simple genius. About that time, my four-year-old mind registered that it hadn’t even thought about a title.
The teacher turned to me. “What about yours?”
“The School of Fish,” I blurted. She looked skeptically at my drawing and said kindly, “How about ‘The Hungry Octopus’?”
Yeah, so much for that blue ribbon. And sure enough, my brother won it.
His drawing was no better than my own – maybe worse – but he had taken the time to think before he started scribbling. And his planning paid off.
And sure enough, he found some brilliance along the way.
I’m not saying that you have to plot out your story on hundreds of neat little notecards and then put them in order (although I’ve heard this technique works for some writers). For my books, I keep a running chapter outline in Word. Sure, it’s a work in progress, and certainly, as I type, I give my story the flexibility to “write itself” when I find something’s not working.
But the required element is planning and perspiration.
Booker T. Washington said, “Nothing ever comes to one, that is worth having, except as a result of hard work.”
Yes, my friends, that includes plotting out your story and taking the time to plan.