I have been labouring over my synopsis, which I find the hardest thing to write in a book. Because I’m a seat-of-my-pants writer, I have been happily writing scenes without knowing how they fit together, just trusting that they will. It’s a bit like travelling by instinct instead of a map!
Sometimes I think I’m mad to write this way; it gives me vertigo. However I was gratified when I heard Philip Pullman say at the Oxford Literary Festival this year, that his advice is to write a story first and plot it afterwards, because plotting beforehand is death to a novel.
It doesn’t mean he’s right, but it does give me confidence that I’m not a total fool, although I often think I must be, because what if I spend all that time on it and I can’t make it work?
The real benefit of writing this way in my opinion, is that you find an order in what you’ve written, rather than imposing one on it before you start, and this makes the writing itself a true act of discovery. I am permanently open to what I will find and it’s an electrifying place to be.
These last few days however, I reached a critical point where I couldn’t go on without a bit of joined up thinking because I didn’t know how to decide what to write next. So I forced myself to sit down and think: What is this story about? Where is it going? How is it going to get there?
I’ve found it really painful, so much harder than the real writing. (Although it is of course, just as real.) All the time at the back of my head is a mean little voice saying, ‘You can’t do this. You don’t know how.’ Over and over. Fortunately there’s a stronger one saying, ‘I can and I will’, otherwise I would just give up.
I do know people who love plotting. They sit down and plot before they’ve written a word. I couldn’t do this because my ideas come to me either when I’m writing, or when I’m walking across a field reflecting on what I’ve written. It’s like falling in love. It happens when I’m not looking, and when it does, it’s heaven. Or maybe when it doesn’t, it’s hell! Anyway, it feels like a massive relief.
Anyhow, today, I finished my synopsis. Now I can get back to crafting the story, which is what I do best. More to the point, I can do it ith the security of knowing where I am heading this time, in more than the vaguest sense.