Let The Subconscious Steer

Personally, I’m not too hot on planning what I write. I’m too lazy/impatient/easily distracted by alternative story lines (delete as appropriate).


Random image – Danish sculpture

In other parts of my life – when it comes to holidays or what’s for dinner for example – I’m happy thinking ahead. But spending hours (weeks) working out the structure for a novel? Nah. What’s the point?

I’m currently getting close to the end of my next book. Well, the first draft anyway. I reckon that I’m about four chapters or 25,000 words away from the finish.

But I’d come to a bit of a halt recently so I shoved it to one side for a few days while I got on with a different project (something non-fiction I’m working on). Then, the other evening, I decided it was time to pick up the novel again so I just sat down and started writing.

I had no idea what was going to come out and found myself writing a scene involving three teenage boys throwing a dead jellyfish around. I liked the scene but it had no obvious connection with anything that had gone before or that might lead the book forwards.

The next day, though, I was off on a bike ride and it suddenly came to me – for some reason I find my brain is at its most productive when I’m walking or cycling. The new scene leads neatly into a situation that needs to be resolved and also helps set up something else that I need to work into the climax of the novel.

Planning? Pah. Throw away all those self-help, ‘how to write a novel’ books. Just sit down and write. You might have no idea what’s going to come out but you might be pleasantly surprised.

When it comes to the final edit, the scene with the dead jellyfish might get cut (probably not) but that doesn’t matter. It got me moving and on to the next phase. To my mind it’s a lot easier to sit down, write and then edit. By that stage at least you’ve got something to work with.

To me, planning seems like going about it backwards. You’re editing the book and then writing. Where’s the fun and spontaneity in that?

I have ideas in my head but one of the best parts about writing a book is discovering how I’m going to get there. Sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes it comes completely out of the blue. What would I do with a plan? What happens if I come up with an idea for a scene or plot line that just doesn’t fit in?

I may not be the greatest novelist ever but that’s not the point. I’m a writer because I love writing and I love imagining and I love seeing what happens. I say no to planning. Just sit down and let the subconscious steer.


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2 responses to “Let The Subconscious Steer”

  1. Melissa Bowersock (@MJBowersock) says :

    Huw, great post, as always. I so agree with you. When I start to write a book, I have a bare bones idea of the major plot points and how it’s going to end, but beyond that, it’s all organic. Almost every time I sit down to write a spell, I have no idea what’s going to come out. That’s when you know it’s moved from the mechanical to the magical.

    • Huw Thomas says :

      Absolutely! I have an outline for the book in my head but it’s quite flexible and always open to revision.
      There was a character in the opening chapter who was only meant to have a minor, supporting role but he’s turned into one of the principal protagonists!
      I think Stephen King wrote something along the lines of the fact that all these people and worlds already exist – your purpose is just to let them out and you can’t control them!

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