That philosophy works beautifully while I'm writing short stories or stories with simple, single-line plots. I can keep it all in my head and I don't miss any threads when I finally get to the end and start tying everything up.
It also explains why I have four finished novels sitting in my drawer awaiting major edits - and they've all been waiting for years. The plots are still topical and, once they're tidied up, will be riveting, but that doesn't help the story now. I look at them and I sigh in exasperation. The project it too big, especially now that I have several new plots swimming in my head, clamoring to get out.
So, I've started to plot. I started two stories ago, with Just the Way You Are. I wrote 2/3 of the story and realised things were tangled up and I couldn't finish until I'd sorted it out. So I plotted out the story, worked out what needed to be fixed before I continued and decided where I was headed after that. It worked. Just the Way You Are is slated for publication with Dreamspinner Press March/April 2015.
With The Planet Whisperer (recently submitted, hope they want it) I mapped out the plot after 50,000 words. I got stuck and didn't know where to go from there so I wrote down all the sections of the story and filled in the gaps to show which scene fitted where. The story flows so much better than it was and everything dovetails nicely into the previous and next parts of the plot. I should have done this plotting thing years ago.
With the story I'm working on now, tentatively titled Shatternalia, I decided to plot it out from the beginning. I set up my notebook and wrote the headings on all the pages, then I sat and stared at the empty pages for a few days. Finally, I threw my hands up in the air and started writing a scene--any scene--just to be writing. Then I wrote another scene, and in my head I thought neither scene was the beginning and neither scene would end up sitting beside the other. There was more that had to be written to fit between them. I was running three different timelines with lots of named characters, all of which would converge in the last third of the book. At 12,000 words it was already getting complicated.
How do I fix it? How do I keep track of all the different scenes popping into my head at random times when I know I'm going to have to keep moving them around into different orders to make the story flow? How do I keep the three different timelines flowing along smoothly? Even if the reader never reads them chronologically, I have to know how they work chronologically.
I've done two things. The first thing I did was decide to use Scrivener to create this novel. I've played with Scrivener before but found it too bitsy for the stories I was writing: the last several have come to me chronologically and Scrivener destroyed that progression in my head. This story is different. I need something like Scrivener (there are other similar programs available) that allows me to keep all the scenes separate, easy to find and easy to move in relation to other scenes. So far it's working beautifully, although I'm not liking the results of the compilation. I'll work around that bit.
The second thing I did was buy a whole heap of index cards, string and bluetac, and remove the painting from the wall in my entry. I've now divided that wall into three for the three timelines (using the string and bluetac) and further divided those sections for the three parts of the story and all the different stages in between. I'm using the index cards to write down a summary of each scene that fits into each section and putting it in place. So far I've plotted two timelines 2/3 the way through. I'm a bit stuck on the third, but I'll write what I have planned first and trust that the third will come along in its own time.
I'm not plotting the end of any timeline yet. It's that old 'don't want to know' feeling. I'll need to know by the time I finish the first two-thirds, but not before then. The wall will wait.
Bottom line is I think I've found a system that's working for me with this story. It feels exciting and new and I can't wait to spend more time on it. Before that, though, I have edits to complete on Just the Way You Are, and I've just gone back to my day job after a holiday and the first month is always hectic. I'm expecting my writing production to drop to somewhere around the 1,000 words a week until I get on top of everything.