One of my favorite quotes pertaining to writing is by E. L. Doctorow. He said, "Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." That is how I feel when I start a new book. I might have the opening in my mind, and a few scenes in between, maybe the ending (which will usually change), but the rest comes as I travel that long, dark road with the “headlights” opening the way around each bend and over each hill, showing me things I wasn’t expecting and involving my characters in adventures I hadn’t planned.
Not all writers go about it this way. I am thoroughly amazed and impressed by writers who sit down and plot every last detail out before they put one word to paper. They use elaborate outlines up to a hundred pages worth--some even scene by scene. And there are those (it’s rumored) who even construct storyboards, sketches and all.
But this degree of organization not only boggles my mind, it makes me highly suspicious. Certainly these individuals run into some bumps in the road even with their detailed planning!
For me, every book idea is like a river, continually changing. Invariably, no matter the preparation I undertake beforehand, when I start writing, the characters say things I wasn’t expecting, do things I didn’t anticipate, open doors I didn’t know existed, and head down roads that weren’t on my map! Then along comes an intriguing character or idea that becomes integral to the story and not only puts my elaborate outline in the ditch but ultimately makes the book better and stronger. I always discover things about my characters and my plot that I simply couldn’t see until the writing began and the characters came to life. I’ve also discovered that these surprises are what makes the writing journey so challenging, fun, and rewarding.
In the end, it doesn’t matter how a writer gets from page one to the end. Some methods are better than others for each of us, but there is no right or wrong way. Do what works for you. One way or the other, all you really need when you embark on your writing adventure is a spare tire, a full tank of gas, and a really good set of headlights.