Do you plan your novel or screenplay in detail before you start writing, or do you make it up as you go along?
In researching for another blog post the other day I re-read Haruki Murakami's interview in the Paris Review (Summer 2004) and was fascinated again by his approach:
"When I start to write, I don’t have any plan at all. I just wait for the story to come. I don’t choose what kind of story it is or what’s going to happen. I just wait. Norwegian Wood is a different thing, because I decided to write in a realistic style. But basically, I cannot choose.
I myself, as I’m writing, don’t know who did it. The readers and I are on the same ground. When I start to write a story, I don’t know the conclusion at all and I don’t know what’s going to happen next. If there is a murder case as the first thing, I don’t know who the killer is. I write the book because I would like to find out. If I know who the killer is, there’s no purpose to writing the story."
So how does that work? He goes into a little more detail: "I get some images and I connect one piece to another. That’s the story line. Then I explain the story line to the reader."
He has an unusual attitude to endings: he doesn't really care for any kind of conclusion. The journey is more important than the destination.
That fits ithe surreal nature of most of his books. He says, "The good thing about writing books is that you can dream while you are awake. If it’s a real dream, you cannot control it. When writing the book, you are awake; you can choose the time, the length, everything. I write for four or five hours in the morning and when the time comes, I stop. I can continue the next day. If it’s a real dream, you can’t do that."
Of course there's a price for not planning, as he admits: "The first draft is messy; I have to revise and revise." He spends six months writing the first draft and then seven or eight months rewriting, and he's extremely disciplined, basically going into kind of a trance, going to bed at 4am, getting up at 9am, and running or swimming every day. Other than the fitness routine, which he considers essential to developing the stamina for writing a novel, he says he doesn't do anything but write his fiction when he writes.
With tne new writers I've met who say they prefer the "just make it up as you go along" approach, I often find they're less enthusiastic about revising and revising, or giving up their social lives. Maybe it's worth the loss of a little spontaneity to start with at least a broad outline but just as Murakami found his method, we each have to find our own.