Tuesday, April 24, 2018

In The Distance (or the best laid plans...)

I’m not a planner. Not by a long way. In the past I’ve had jobs that called for ‘strategic leadership’ and long-term planning, and I suppose I must have blagged it because I never got sacked.

And rarely, as far as I can recall, did my long-term plans come to fruition. And if they did I probably wouldn’t notice because I forget my plans ten minutes after I make them and just do whatever seems the most sensible course here and now.

Some people are just wired differently. That’s okay, it wouldn’t do for us all to be the same. I’ve worked with colleagues who can peer into the distance and see it unfolding, their future (or that of others) all neatly laid out. They are good at making plans, setting goals and objectives. If we do this, then that will happen. The next step will be…, and then…

I’m rubbish at all that. It seems like some weird branch of alchemy to me but I worked in the public and voluntary sector for thirty years so that type of thinking was meat and drink to us. Public funding is doled out to those with the most convincing plans, the best worked out strategies for solving this or that ill.

It was always my observation that the only strategy guaranteed to work whatever the problem was to throw money at it, but suggesting this would have gotten me nowhere. No, my best bet was to get alongside the natural planners and schemers and try to pick the one most likely to get it right. Maybe that was my unique skill, my version of blagging – I was hopeless at coming up with plans myself, but I could spot a good one when it was dangled before me.

In all seriousness, though, I defy anyone to predict more than a few months ahead. Those clever souls who claim to be able to cast their imagination forward into the distance, three, four, five years from now – well, they live in a different world from me. Theirs is a world where governments don’t screw up and do ridiculous things for no apparent reason, economies don’t crash, key figures don’t post something outrageous on Twitter or worse still, get caught out telling lies. John Lennon was spot on when he observed that ‘life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.’

In my writing I adopt a similar attitude. I rarely plan a story from start to finish. I usually know exactly how it stars (the near bit) and I may have some notion of what could happen next. But the bits in the distance, the ending … well that’s often as much a surprise to me as it might be to the reader. We authors often talk about characters taking over and telling their own story, and I tend to rely on that. Thank goodness they don’t let me down as a rule!


  1. I usually have some sort of plan. But I'm used to the fact that things probably won't turn out the way I expect or predict. So far that has actually worked well. My life has been a lot more interesting than it would have been had it followed my expectations!

  2. I wonder sometimes, if I'd have been happier if the plans I made when I was much younger, had turned out that way. But as my husband told me many years ago, before we were married, "If you hadn't lived the life you did, then you wouldn't be the woman I love." So since I'm content in my life now, I guess all is for the best. Can't go back and change anything anyway.

    As for writing, I start out writing like you, Ashe, then the ending makes itself clear to me long before I write it. It's the little bits of dialogue and actions in-between that I don't know until I write them. Interesting how differently we all achieve the same goal, of a coherent story.

  3. The longer pieces I've written all started out as short stories (in my mind), then grew. So I suppose I don't really plan either, except in a fairly vague way, then watch the characters to see what they do. Re my plans for life, I was going to move to a big city and be a Writer - heh. So much for that. But at least I've earned a living all through my adult life.

  4. I love what you say about connecting with those who are planning. I think there are complementary skills here!


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