I’m told writers fall into two categories – plotters and pantsers. Plotters are those who know exactly where their story is going and have it all mapped out before they begin. Pantsers are the ones who plunge straight in and write ‘by the seat of their pants’.
By nature I’m a pantser. I’m allergic to spreadsheets, I detest timelines and never in a million years would I compile a chart with post-it notes summarising each scene. For me the joy of writing is all about discovery. Too much planning would ruin it. I do spend time mulling, however. The ideas stage is both tantalising and satisfying. Often I despair that my head simply won’t come up with the goods. I try to force it by brainstorming and all I achieve is utter exhaustion. Then I pop out for one of my Exmoor walks and – ping! Ideas! Just like those spring leaves and blossoms that you think will never arrive, then suddenly….
You need quite a collection of ideas to sustain you for a whole novel’s-worth of writing. That’s why I’ve been a bit slow embarking on my next book. Happily though, the ideas stage is now done. My characters are there, the plot is (flexible but mostly) there and all sorts of funny little details are queuing up to be included. So now comes the seat-of-pants bit. Now I can explore and experiment to my heart’s content. If it's anything like last time my first draft will be on paper within a matter of weeks (I prefer paper at this stage - that wonderful scribbly freedom!) There will be plenty more to do later: typing up, cutting, adding, rewriting again and again and again. Far more than if I’d planned it to the last full stop. But that’s all part of the process. I’ll keep coming back with fresh eyes and experiment some more until it works.
The world of harp practice is similar. When there’s a gig coming up – and there are lots this month - I have to repeat the same pieces again and again until I can play them standing on my head (not that I intend to!) Even so, I like to mix it up a bit. Spend some time improvising every day. Learn a new song. Rearrange an accompaniment. Keep myself on my toes. That way I'll never be bored. I may sometimes go off track but I discover unexpected delights and I learn more. It’s all important for keeping the music fresh.
There are many ways of achieving things and we all have our own methods. But I'd recommend exploring and experimenting. It can be a bonus to be a little on the wild side...