On the wall of our music studio at home, my husband hung up a plaque with one of our all-time favorite quotes by John Lennon: “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.”
That certainly has been the case in my own life. For example, years ago, in the wake of a painful divorce, I quickly wearied of my abrupt descent into dire financial straits as the single parent of a young son. I loved my job dancing in a small modern dance company, but I wasn’t exactly rolling in the dough. I announced to my friends that if I ever got married again, I’d certainly pick a well-off man who’d chosen a career that actually paid the bills. No sooner had I made my pronouncement than I met the new guy in our dance company, who was every bit as broke as I was. He was hilarious, sweet, and utterly irresistible. We fell madly in love and were married within the year.
My writing life has worked out much the same way. Prior to beginning a novel, I spend long hours creating bios for my characters and outlining what I anticipate happening, chapter by chapter. No writing by the seat of my pants for me! I’m one of those determined planner types.
The thing is, though, my plans and characters have this mysterious way of bending and changing. In my latest work in progress, for example, I recently passed the 150 page mark of my first draft. When I took a look at my detailed outline, I had to laugh. I’d long since deviated from my careful chapter-by-chapter plans.
Truthfully, I’ve found that’s just my process. There’s something about carefully planning ahead of time and having a general direction to shoot for that gives me the freedom to be open to new ideas.
For example, I’d pre-planned the supposed alibis of two characters who had reason to off my murder victim. In my planning stages, I didn’t even anticipate that these characters knew each other. But as I was sitting at my desk last week, it suddenly occurred to me how interesting it would be if they were both staying at the same hotel in the vicinity of the shooting and in fact, were together that night. Unexpectedly, an intriguing new plot twist emerged. And I have no idea where it came from! As my dear husband often says about his own experiences as a choreographer and song writer, “You have to trust the process.”
So, I’ve decided that at least for my process, writing is a lot like life. It really is what happens while I’m making other plans.
And all in all, that’s probably a good thing.