Saturday, May 29, 2010

Writer as Planner

Zadie Smith has written an interesting number of essays in her recent book. There is an essay about writing which I find interesting. She has categorized writers into 2 camps: macro planners and micro planners. Macro planners are those writers who make plots, notes, characters, scenarios, research and what have you during the writing of their book. The actual writing is also done in a slap dash manner, where in the macro planner may write the ending first, then the start or middle part and so on. In other words, not in a chronological order but in the way his mind is organized as he gives form to his writing. This is the exact opposite of the micro planner.

The micro planner writes his work chronologically from star to finish. All the research and thinking is done beforehand before the writing can actually begin. Zadie Smith admits that she belongs to the micro planner school. This type of writer needs to work out their plot as they write chapter by chapter until the end. A lot of re-work occurs as the writer makes changes, for example starting with the first voice and changing to third person later on. So one can say that a lot of re-working occurs during the writing although in some cases once the work is done it is really finished. There is no first draft or second draft once the work is completed. The whole process I think takes more time than the work done by the macro planner.

I think writers may be a combination of both. For example, Hemingway is more like a micro planner although he does re-write a lot with many drafts if one understands his comments on writing. But Hemingway’s work seems to flow seamlessly like Marquez that one has the impression of Hemingway being a consummate micro planner. It is difficult to think that his work had a lot of drafts. The thing about successful writers is that they know how they think in terms of the craft of writing. Good writers subsume their writing CRAFT with the way their mind works. So the result is a natural method that fits their writing ability. I think struggling writers have not reached this understanding. So struggling or new writers have good writing ability but are unable to harness this skill into a working craft or technique.

Once an understanding is reached, struggling writers eventually become good professional writers, hopefully rich and famous as well.  In my case, I may be a macro planner by temperament and thinking but mistakenly works as a micro planner probably deluded by the Hemingway example. Perhaps this explains my failure. I often stop if I cannot proceed to the next chapter although I already have thoughts and ideas on future scenes. I guess it’s the journey of the writer as they struggle to find their voice, increase their writing skill and eventually devise a writing craft and technique. In fact it’s not the act of writing really but the act of creativity – the creation of a piece of work out of inner urgings. So the writer needs to understand how the act of creativity plays out with the way his mind works and expresses itself.

So it’s a mental exercise to understand how the mind works in terms of creativity. I guess this is the secret: by separating the task of writing and the act of creativity which is subsumed into one’s writing craft. It’s a more difficult challenge than it seems because one cannot put a technique into creativity. It’s also an act of understanding, to be aware of their mind’s inner working. So being Buddhist-like with the emphasis on meditation and self-reflection may help. The mind is naturally driven to distraction: reading too many books, DVDs or external activity in the hope of increasing one’s experience and, therefore, fuel the writing binge. Perhaps Eckhart Tolle is right: one cannot add experience or skills to learn about one self but to look within. Perhaps this is the starting point for the next journey.

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