I have, in times past, written technical articles on project management. Simply stated, having identified something you want, project management provides you with the “tools” to manage all the activities and resources to get what you want, ideally with efficiency and effectiveness.
Let me illustrate using adjustable archery.
You have a target in the distance, a bullseye in the center. What you want is to shoot an arrow that hits that bullseye. In adjustable archery, you are allowed to adjust the arrow as it travels to the target. That is, after leaving the bow, the arrow is going slow enough that you can run along next to it and use your finger to nudge it up, or nudge it down, or nudge it faster or slower, or tilt it up or down - whatever it takes to change the flight of the arrow so that it hits the bullseye. You can make these adjustments for the whole distance to the target. In that way, you compensate for unexpected gusts of wind that blow the arrow off course, or rain that slows the arrow down, or, heaven forbid, the situation where the target falls off the holder and you have to stop the arrow in midflight while you set the target back up.
Well, there’s another way.
You have a target in the distance, a bullseye in the center. What you want is to shoot an arrow that hits that bullseye. Suppose, however, that you don’t adjust the arrow, you adjust the target. That is, after leaving the bow, the arrow is going slow enough that you can run down the field, grab the target and move it around until, as the arrow comes closer and closer, the bullseye is exactly matched to the path of the arrow. If, for whatever reason, the arrow goes a little left or a little up or a little in a direction that you didn’t expect, you move the target as needed. And, in fact, if the arrow has performance issues (it wobbles, for instance, so the tip of the arrow varies uncontrollably), you can make the bullseye bigger.
Try not to get hit by the arrow, by the way.
Let me jump from this analogy to the act of writing a novel.
Some writers are very good at knowing the beginning, the middle, and the end of the novel they are about to write. “Outlining” is an established and respected first step to developing any story. I read of an author and her friend going to a deserted cabin in the woods and spending every minute of every hour over the next few days wrestling while defining a new novel. Chapter by chapter, scene by scene, action by action, dialogue by dialogue, developing backgrounds to the characters as they go, working forward and backward, tweaking the plot or the drama or the emotion or the character arcs, they will work out every detail of the story until they have a full outline that covers every aspect, from beginning to end. They will not leave until they know they have a gripping, captivating, terrific, blockbuster of a novel.
Exhausted, the author goes back home and writes it up. Her focus will be entirely on putting words on paper that match the outline exactly.
I should point out that this lady has produced many incredibly popular novels and she’s rich, rich, and rich.
Then there’s me. I would note that I’m poor, poor, and poor, but let’s not get distracted.
I don’t create detailed outlines because I expect that the arrow (the plot, characters, etc.) will end up going in ways that I didn’t expect. In that case, instead of spending the effort and time to adjust the arrow to get it back on track, I just watch it. As it nears the end of its flight, I may see that it’s going to entirely miss the target (the climax, the ending). I will have to either move the target (change the climax or ending to match the flight), or throw away what I’ve done and shoot another arrow.
If missing an expected ending seems to be a regular event with my novel writing (and it is), I’ll not worry about the ending. I’ll develop a promising beginning and start writing. Along the way, if something goes differently than I thought, or becomes more complex and difficult, or begins to look more interesting than what I expected, I’ll let it roll; maybe it will work out, maybe not. Maybe a character does something that I didn’t expect or begins playing a larger part than I intended. I’ll write it that way and see what happens. I’m making up all the words, anyway; I’ll just make up different ones. I won’t sweat the end of the story because a different ending may be a better ending.
If my arrow does end up in a better place than my target, I typically assume that I had the target in the wrong place to begin with.
The important thing is that the story be honest, truthful, and authentic, and be a story that the reader will believe in.
It’s not only me (I’m not that original). I’ve read of other (famous and well-respected) authors who work with an unconfined attitude, with no worries about changing a story, with the courage not to be frightened if a plot seems better going in a different direction than expected, or if a character suddenly feels more authentic if, when encountering a closed door, will break it down rather than stopping to pick the lock.
I rarely begin a novel where I have no idea where I’m starting, where I’m going or how I’m going to get there, but I’ll listen along the way and move the target if I need to.
Don Willerton has been a reader all his life and yearns to write words like the authors he has read. He's working hard at it and invites others to share their experiences.