I enjoy future tripping as much as the next person. But over the decades, I’ve learned to treat it as a daydream rather than a plan. Because you know what Robert Burns said about the best-laid plans: they oft go awry.
In my youth (those years prior to fifty), I would spend hours concocting elaborate schemes for every “what if” I could imagine. (Sounds a lot like writing, doesn’t it?) My future looked like a giant flow chart in my head. Alas, few of those schemes came to fruition.
After those first fifty years, I concluded that the primitive tool of my intelligence is unable to anticipate the never-ending permutations of inciting events. Two consequences of this conclusion are: One, I’ve learned to become confident in my ability to respond to the unanticipated. And two, I now enjoy life as the surprise party it is.
Not that every day is full of surprises. Those are the days when the young me would have thought she was bored. The wiser me now sees these restful periods — opportunities to wander through my imagination unfettered. It’s a great time to go to a café, buy a cup of tea and people watch. Or clean a closet. Or take a nap. Naps are good.
During these quieter periods, I believe that my unconscious is busily working away organizing information and making new connections. This is the playground of the imagination.
And then one morning, I wake up with an idea and I run with it. I’ll see a painting in my head that I want to do. I’ll have an idea for a book. Or I’ll have the answer to some troublesome issue plaguing me at work.
I don’t worry about when the next idea will come. I’ve learned the more that I honor the ideas that come, the more they do come. It’s like opening a water spigot.
For the left side of my brain, there will be plenty of tasks to organize and execute as my inspirations are made manifest. So I suppose I’ve become a hybrid pantser-planner. Planning and preparation can streamline execution but slavish devotion to the outline can destroy the miracle. It’s like saying you don’t believe in fairies.
I do, I do, I do believe in fairies. And that is why I say, if your plans have gone awry, you’re one lucky writer. If the bounty of your life is defined by your plans, you will find yourself short-changed. Let the miracle of living in the moment carry and inspire you.