Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Plunging vs planning

I was reading last week about a couple planning to drive round the world in 800 days.  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-18355129 They seem very well prepared and I approved of all the neat boxes, but instantly, I was plunged into crisis. I used to be that kind of person too.  Why aren’t I planning a round-the-world trip? When did my life become so boring?  I don’t have adventures any more. Omigod, I’m middle-aged! And so on.

Not that I ever got myself organised to undertake quite such a mammoth trip, you understand, but I had lots of dreams.  When I was at university in Edinburgh, I wrote to British Leyland and asked if they would like to sponsor me by giving me a Land Rover to drive from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego.  

I have no idea what made me think that they would, given that I was 20, had never driven a four-wheel drive and had no organisational backing or relevant experience whatsoever, but eventually I had a pleasant letter (remember those?) back saying that they were sorry not to be able to give me their support but wishing me the best of luck for my trip, which was very nice of them under the circumstances.

I hadn’t planned anything beyond getting hold of a Land Rover.  I knew nothing about mechanics or visas or any of the myriad difficulties involved in driving the length of the Americas.  I didn’t even have anyone to go with me.  I just thought: ‘ooh, I’d like to do that’, and dashed off a letter to British Leyland.  God knows what I would have done if they’d said yes. 

Maybe I’d have got my Land Rover to Alaska and started driving, and just maybe I’d have made it to Tierra del Fuego.  Or maybe I'd have realised just what a ridiculous goal I'd set myself and how inadequate I was to the task.

It’s a bit like writing a book.  If you think too much about how difficult it is, and how unlikely it is that (a) you’ll ever get to the end, (b) anyone will publish it, (c) anyone will read it and (d) that you’ll make any money out of it, it’s all too easy to give up.  I’d certainly have given up if I’d known how long the whole process takes, but I tackled writing the way I planned my South America expedition.  Having decided it was a good idea, I plunged in without a moment’s thought or research. 

And was promptly rejected.  And then again.  At that point I did the sensible thing and borrowed Mary Wibberley’s book on how to write romance from the library.  Light bulbs started popping all over the place. I still had another rejection to go, but I was on my way. 

I’m thinking about that time now as I embark on my second time slip.  There seems such a long way to go, I can’t believe I’ll ever get there.  I’ve planned a strict writing regime (bird by bird), but it won’t be long before I start to doubt the story/characters/my ability (the equivalent of coming up to the first police roadblock and smudged visa issue when you’re driving round the world).  

So for now I’m refusing to anticipate all the difficulties involved and just doing it.  There’s only so long you can spend preparing and planning.  After a while, you have to get in and drive.  I may not be going round the world, but perhaps it will be adventure enough to write this book, and if I can get to the end, I'll be happy.


  1. Oh, I know, I know! (Sybil Fawlty voice.) Plunged into next book because they wanted to put the first chapter at the end of the most recent, and have now come to a dead stop in a blind panic. How I wish I was a planner.

  2. Gulp. Dead stops are not nice, I know, Lesley. Maybe more plunging is needed? Planning can only get you so far, I find. Having carefully written out my scenes one by one in my Amazing Plotting Plan, I keep forgetting to look at them now that I'm actually writing. Good luck!